National, News

South Sudan celebrates International Museum Day

By Charles K Mark


South Sudan, a country without a single museum, has on Monday joined the globe for the first time, to mark International Museum Day, this year, in Juba.

Celebrated on the 18th of May every year since 1977, the event is designed to increase public awareness of the importance of museums.

South Sudan, lacking one of the vital institutions that preserve and showcase artistic, cultural, historical, and traditional artifacts, has woken up to recognize its significance.

The Minister of Culture, Museums, and National Heritage, Nadia Arop Dudi, graced the event with a call for a collective response towards the establishment of museums.

She admitted that with their presence, individuals can gain valuable insights into the creation of the ancient historical events of South Sudan.

She believes that the young East African nation holds a rich repository of wealthy history that is mandatory to be preserved and passed on to the next generation.

But the minister fears that wars and challenges have inevitably kept the country’s politicians busy instead of focusing on the national heritage.

“Even if we do not have a museum, it is good that we recognize this day. We are establishing a museum even if it is not a real museum,” Arop remarked.

The Minister previews the possibility of privatizing the institution, calling it a collective effort for the establishment of museums in the country.

“Culture is our heritage and history, but any history needs to be preserved,” she noted with concern.

Preserving cultural heritage is the process of keeping and protecting the tangible and intangible aspects of a culture with historical, artistic, or social value.

Some ways to preserve cultural heritage include participating in or organizing cultural events and traditions.

Others include cooking family recipes, learning, and speaking ancestral languages.

However, many traditions apply various disciplines of preservation and conservation to cultural artifacts, buildings, films, records, and digital materials.

Dr. Justin Billy is dean of the school of arts, music, and drama at the University of Juba and chairperson of the National Council for Music, Drama, and Theatre Professionals.

As a national expert for music and drama with UNESCO, Billy said there is a need to redefine the concept of museums in the South Sudan context.

He is worried that preserving cultural heritage in a civilized world could easily lead to lost culture.

“50 years ago, Murle used to draw a tattoo using cultural and local items to identify themselves in society. But nowadays, they draw tattoos of heavy artillery to represent their beliefs, but those days they believed identifying themselves with animals, birds, and all that was what described them best, but it has now changed,” the expert stressed.

Billy explained that to establish a genuine national heritage that truly preserves the true image of the people, much needs to be invested in research.

“We experts are people who know what they are doing in that field. We need a budget directed toward that specific agenda. We need commitment on top of political will for all this to be put into reality,” he mentioned.

The expert said having no museum may mean having no history to pass on to the next generation, or it might also mean having a diluted and baseless mix of cultures.

South Sudan’s Culture and National Heritage

The culture of South Sudan encompasses the religions, languages, ethnic groups, foods, and other traditions of its people.

There are over 60 indigenous languages, most classified under the Nilo-Saharan Language family.

While the northern parts of the whole Sudan are predominantly Muslim, South Sudan is predominantly Christian or African traditional animist, with a small number of citizens as Muslims.

The Director of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Ministry of Culture, Museums, and National Heritage still believes South Sudan is still fertile ground for research on heritage.

Mr. Deng Nhial Chioh stressed that it is high time the country put together its wealth of culture into documentation before the young generation misses a golden opportunity.

“We have not yet been affected by modernization or by globalization. So now, if you want to find the past, the ancient people are coming to South Sudan. But now, with the challenges of migration and displacement, we have been a little bit affected. Because of the war in the people’s minds, instead of using spears, they are using guns. So we need to be quick to document and preserve the culture,” he reiterated.

For his part, Charles Kitab Biimo, Acting Director General of Museums in the Ministry of Culture, said much awareness is needed for people to learn about museums.

He said a budget has been drafted, and the allocation of such a budget will support the efforts of the ministry in establishing a country’s first museum.

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