The Musée des Civilizations Noires, in the middle of the administrative district of Dakar, the capital of Senegal, even before being opened to the public had probably already beaten an unenviable world record, that of the longest length of the times of realization: conceived in 1966 by the first president of free Senegal, the intellectual Léopold Sédar Senghor, the work took 52 years to complete.
On the other hand, it can boast a true record and it is that of being the only museum of its kind in the whole African continent, and therefore in the whole world: it is in fact something more than a museum of African art. It is, according to the intentions of its creators, a place in which to preserve and preserve all the objects and all the testimonies that tell the journey of Africa from the time of Lucy, the australopithecus found in Ethiopia to whom the origin of the humankind, to those of European colonization, to those most fruitful of freedom and autonomy.
The building is circular in shape and its configuration refers to the walls of Great Zimbabwe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the capital of a kingdom that in the mists of time had brought prosperity and development to the communities of southern Africa. The exhibition area reaches 14 thousand square meters spread over four floors and has been designed to host more than 18 thousand works considered significant for telling the story of the continent.
However, many of them can be found in museums around the world, spoils of predatory wars fought by the old colonizers who, together with the raw materials of the countries, also brought home extraordinary works of art or local crafts. This is why, at least for the first few years, the museum will not house a permanent collection, but will live on the exhibition of materials and works loaned by the countries that now keep them in their museums.
For the inauguration an agreement was made in particular with some French museums, benefiting from the colonial stay which ended only in 1960 after 14 years of administrative and commercial control.
Most of the exhibits on display came from the Musée Branly in Paris, given that right there is one of the richest collections of African objects that arrived in France as spoils of war in the colonial era, but it is from the Musée de l’Armée that it arrived one of the highlights of this first exhibition, with a high symbolic value, namely the saber of Al-Hagg ‘Umar, spiritual leader of the Toucouleur Empire, a territory now located between Senegal, Mali and Guinea, defeated by the French in 1864. Ad they were joined by other exhibits that tell the story of the continent and try to do so by freeing themselves from the subordination to Europeans from which Africans still suffer today.
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On the other hand, Senghor’s idea was precisely to show the world that even in Africa it is possible to celebrate the greatness of the men who populated it by showing what they were capable of doing. According to the current management of the museum, Senegal could claim more than five thousand objects from European museums that exhibit them to the public because they are the result of looting and robberies perpetrated over the decades against the resident populations.
It would be a fair compensation, if you think about it, to those who have had to pay a huge tribute to the evolution of human history.