New Materials and Contexts

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

While museums are thought of as passive repositories of cultural heritage, museums are in fact powerful ideological tools. The National Museum of Niger in Niamey was built soon after independence in 1960 under the sponsorship of President Hamani Diori, who wished to express the country's ability to create cultural monuments and to preserve the country's national cultural heritage. The museum included workshops where craftsmen and women created examples of pottery, weaving, and brass and silver casting by several Nigerien peoples. There was also a zoological park, which housed giraffes, elephants, hippopotamuses, and other large animals found in Niger. The museum housed a fine collection of artifacts and costumes of the peoples of Niger and a large display of examples of the many architectural styles of the Hausa, Fulani, Djerma, and Tuareg peoples. The museum was a magnet for both visitors from abroad, who were suitably impressed by the efficiency with which the museum was managed, and for the people of Niger, who visited in very large numbers. In recent years the museum has fallen on very hard times as administrators have changed and funds have been lacking to care for and feed the animals.