How Bujora museum keeps Sukuma culture alive

How Bujora museum keeps Sukuma culture alive

According to historians, the Missionaries from Cuebec set up the Bujora Sukuma Village Museum in 1952. Exhibits include a replica of a traditional Sukuma house and compound, home of a Sukuma blacksmith, and a traditional doctors’ house. Others include a royal pavillion for Sukuma history as well as musical instruments, including a drum collection, just to mention a few.

A local expert Luiza mwijage told this paper that the sukuma museum promotes the Sukuma and contemporary arts of the Sukuma culture “This is an interactive environment that allows Sukuma leders to teach the younger generation traditional history and arts. For over four decades now this centre has attracted many visitors who come to see the wonders of the Sukuma culture,” says the expert.

Local experts say the Sukuma Museum, reflects the research work of the Sukuma Research Committee, the Bana Sesilia, as well as Father David Clement’s philosophies (1922-1986) concerning the collection of information and part of the colonial legacy of culture collecting. To realize his ambition to utilize autochthonous symbolism in the church, Father Clement proposed that “one required a thorough knowledge of the local environment through very close observation and analysis.

In short by research into local customs, crafts and musical rhythm. In an attempt to extract himself as an outsider from actual research and to involve local individuals, Fr Clement organized a team of indigenous Sukuma to serve as the Bana Sesilia (People of St. Sesilia) and the Sukuma Research Committee. Writing about the Bujora Museum one author, says, “Thus the Bujora Museum was designed to preserve the Sukuma culture for the benefit of the Sukuma visitors.

Although western tourists now make the long journey to visit the museum, the Bujora Museum was intended to benefit Sukuma individuals and inform them of their cultural heritage. When you enter the Museum, the first story begins at the “base” of the throne in which one views a collection of royal objects, such as stools, fly whisks and crowns. There are also charts of royal lineage in several of the fifty-two Sukuma chiefdoms and the names of the chiefdoms are inscribed around the exterior of the Pavilion.

Displayed on the upper level, which can be reached by a narrow, circular staircase, are royal drums that have been donated to the museum by local chiefs. Observers say the structure called the “Royal Pavilion” perhaps best illustrates the display tendencies of the Sukuma Museum. Ironically, the larger than life exterior of the Pavilion does not seek to replicate an “actual” Sukuma structure.

A royal dwelling ( Ikulu) would resemble a traditional Sukuma homestead in shape, but would be set apart by its size and by the decoration of the roof pinnacle with shells and often an ostrich egg. At the Sukuma Museum, however, the Royal Pavilion resembles a large stool and serves as a symbolic demonstration of the Sukuma chief through the image of the royal throne.

It is also important to note that the pavilion, which serves as a structure for the display of royal regalia and provides a history of several Sukuma chiefdoms, consists of an enormous royal throne with a second story to house the royal drums. The image of the throne is repeated throughout the museum (as actual stools for games, as a logo and as sacred symbol in the church) and with repetition comes a certain presumed authority.

The stool (isumbi lya itemelo in Kisukuma) serves as a symbol for the chief’s rule,One historian, Hans Cory has suggested, that the word for “chair” is closely linked to the idea of rulership.For example, to say “to take away from the chair” historically signified to “dethrone.”

Opposite the Royal Pavilion and near the Sukuma “homestead” is the Iduku, or traditional doctor’s house, where the objects used by different types of Sukuma healers are displayed alongside photographs of famous healers, “This building is constructed of concrete, but is designed to replicate the shape and size of a traditional Iduku, a thatched conical dwelling.

Objects such as medicine calabashes, protective medicinal horns, divination implements, flywhisks and doctor’s staffs are displayed inside the structure,” narrates Mr Mwijage. “Traditional medicine existed in the Sukuma Sukuma society since time in memorial.The people believed that their medicince came from God...A healer, locally known as ‘Nfumu’ or Manga, was expected to be knowledgeable on curative medicines, protection, and he or she was able to identify causes of ilness by dream or conducting rituals,” explained Mr Mwijage.

Moving to the Balongo (blacksmith) house, a round structure thatched from top to bottom, you can also view the objects used by the Sukuma blacksmith, such as the cowskin bellows and large stones used during forging, as well as the agricultural hoes and spear heads that are made by the blacksmith. At Bujora centre , there is an enormous Church built under a guidance of Fr Clement in 1952 where local people are taught Catholic Liturgy todate.

This church was designed by cultural Arctic’s and attracts every visitor who comes to explore this majesty of the sukumaland, “As you can see most of the facilities inside this Church are designed in forms and structures of the Sukuma like traditonal tools. In the early 1960s, many Sukuma people here in the proximity wrongly thought that Fr Clement and his team was just trying to ridicule, misinterpret and even misuse the Sukuma culture.

But in actual sense, he was showing the indigenous people that their life styles were of great value and meaningful, and at the same time preseving the traditional culture of the Sukuma speaking people,” says Mr Mwijage. Next to the Royal Pavilion, a billboard sized map displays the fifty- two historic Sukuma chiefdoms). It is possible to determine the most powerful chiefs, by the amount of land depicted on the map.

The billboard map asserts a historical authority and the continuity of royal tradition, which is further emphasized by its surrounding context. The map also serves as a backdrop for two bao (isolo in Kisukuma) games of poured and painted concrete, complete with royal stools, which museum visitors and guests are permitted to use.

Many local experts think that the juxtaposition of the map of Sukuma chiefdoms and the bao games suggests the peaceful battles (perhaps mythical) between chiefs through the playing of bao for land. It has also been suggested that bao was played as a means of appropriating lands up until the time when the German colonizers arrived in Tanganyika in 1880s. The chief who lost would forfeit half the land in his chiefdom. The less-successful a chief was at bao, the smaller his or her chiefdom.

This installation documents the history of Sukuma chiefdoms while at the same time mythologizing royal lineage and chiefly hierarchy. There is also the Dance Society Pavilion, where one can hear about the history of Bagika and Bagalu, the competing dance societies, and see the costumes and objects used by many different dance groups within these societies.This building is creatively fabricated and painted in bright white, blue, black and red.

Today, as a cultural centre, the Sukuma Museum has continued on as a “living” museum. The structures of the Museum remain a constant reminder of a historical moment of the Sukuma culture, and also serves as a cultural base for visitors from all over the country.

FROM TABORA WITH LOVE: If it was possible, I would open a school for thieves

DEAR nephew Milambo Greetings from Dar es Salaam ...

Author: DASSU STEPHEN in Mwanza

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