It has taken half a century for the dream of Léopold Sédar Senghor, the poet first president of Senegal, became a reality. Last December it opened its doors in Dakar the Museum of Black Civilizations, which traces the culture, beliefs and knowledge of black African peoples from antiquity to contemporary creation. Most of the 500 exhibits have been donated for the occasion by other museums and many identification panels are missing, but this new space intends to complete its huge rooms and become a benchmark in Africa.
The building is imposing. Built in just two years by the Chinese Government on an area of 14,000 square meters and with a cost of 30 million euros, is inspired by a cabin impluvium typical of Casamance, region of southern Senegal, with a round floor and three stories high. In the center, a gigantic iron baobab sculpted by the Haitian artist Édouard Duval-Carrié confirms the intentions of the museum, the largest in the country and one of the largest in Africa with capacity for 18,000 pieces, to become a hug between yesterday and today and between all the black, African and diasporic cultures.
"I had no idea that iron metallurgy was born on the African continent 2,500 years before Christ," says Seynabou Diallo, a young student who visited the museum for the first time last week. "What I liked is the story of Ishango's bone, the world's first calculator that was recorded 20,000 years ago on a baboon fibula and was discovered on the shore of Lake Eduardo," she replies with a hint of pride. Companion Omar Diallo.
It was in April 1966. In full euphoria after the recent African independence, the city of Dakar hosted the first World Festival of Black Arts with the support of Unesco and the participation of fifty African, American and European countries.
It was there that Léopold Sédar Senghor, the poet who contributed so much to the dissemination of the concept of blackness who later became Senegal's first president, launched the idea of a museum that would show the world African creativity. Writers, artists, musicians and intellectuals from all over the world celebrated the initiative then. Today is a reality.
All this information is found by the visitor in the first exhibition of the museum, located on the ground floor and named Africa, cradle of humanity. Replicas of skulls that explain human evolution open the door to the statuettes of the ancient Nok civilization, that flourished in Nigeria at the beginning of our era, or the spectacular costumes of the dozo hunters of Mali, full of amulets.
In the midst of a debate on the return to the African continent of works of art plundered by European colonizers, the archaeologist and director of this new museum, Hamady Bocoum, relativizes: "If they come they will be welcome, but if they stay in Europe, nothing happens. . They call it African art, but it was the foreigners who gave it this meaning, for us they are just objects of daily use or worship that have done an excellent job as ambassadors of Africa in the world. "
The presence of the sword and other objects belonging to El Hadji Omar Tall, an important religious and warrior leader of the 19th century, stands out in a glass urn located in the room devoted to monotheistic religions. This piece has just been returned to Senegal by the Musée de l'Armée from Paris. However, it is contemporary art that dominates the upper floors of the museum, from the series of photos winning the last Biennial of Dakar, work of Laeïla Adjovi, to sculptures by Ndary Lo, including pictorial or audiovisual contributions from Latin America, especially from Cuba and Haiti.
"The 21st century is the century of Africa," says Bocoum, "and there can be no economic emergency without culture. There are already many ethnographic museums and we do not want to be a subaltern museum, but a living one, that shows the African creation throughout the whole history ". The exhibitions will be all temporary in a space that aims to become an attraction more than a city in the process of change.