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Visiting The National Museum

Visiting museums, galleries and open houses has always been a great interest of mine. These places are steeped in history and the knowledge gained, despite only touching the surface is a great start in understanding our world. For me, I believe it is quite hard to talk about the past and our collective culture in a very knowledgeable manner. This trip to the National Museum was well overdue to try to enlighten myself about our culture and learn something new.

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On getting to the museum, I thought I would be one of the very few visitors and was surprised to see about four different school groups and a group of Italian tourists. Walking through the front door, it was hard to establish where to go. There were no signs pointing towards a front desk so I walked towards the museum shop and enquired about the museum.Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

I was told I could buy a ticket for entry from them for N200. I then had to ask where to start the museum tour as once again there were no signs.On seeing everything they had, I can now say that the museum can be divided into four sections.

  • The first of which I have dubbed ‘figures of ancestral traditional worship’ – which leads out onto;
  • The courtyard – from which you can access;
  • Nigerian art in the circle of life – an exhibition in a separate room, and then;
  • Nigerian governments: yesterday and today – which is located outside the main museum building.

The first part contained figures and sculptures of small deities and gods, and an impressive collection of masks and masquerade costumes from ancient civilisations like Nok, Benin and Ife. Prior to the widespread belief in Christianity and Islam in Nigeria, ancestral traditional worship was the norm. The belief that death does not end life and its extension into the afterlife was part of everyday life. It was interesting to see the beliefs people strongly held onto and practised for such a long time. There was an eerie and creepy tone to the first part which I am sure is not intentional but I would not want to be there after dark! The artefacts are in a good condition and the area is kept clean and air-conditioned.

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Going out onto the courtyard, there is an extension of the artefacts kept in the first part of the museum. Major upkeep to this part would not go amiss. I then entered a separate exhibition which tracks traditional life in Nigeria from fertility and birth to adult life, death & burial and finally reincarnation. This exhibition brings it all to life to the actual reworking of traditional Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa homes. As a visitor, you get to understand what it was like to live in Nigeria in a time before colonisation. You understand the order of societies, customs and see the gods they prayed to. It also reminded me that as much as I see depictions of masquerades, it is only the Eyo masquerade of Lagos that never fails to scare me.

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Once you exit that part, you can then go on to see the final part of the museum regarding the Nigerian governments. This is housed in a separate building to the museum and was most lacklustre part of the experience. It was intriguing to see the car in which General Murtala Muhammed was shot in during the military coup of 1976 however this exhibition needed more context. We were provided with pictures of the key players in Nigeria’s history from the inception of protectorate to date but there was a lack of detailed explanation regarding the various stages of Nigerian independence. The part of the museum could be expanded to really provide clarity to visitors.

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It would be very useful if there were signs directing visitors on where to go and what rooms to enter next. On leaving the first part of the museum, I emerged into a courtyard and was quite confused as to where to go next. I had to go all the way back to the front desk where I was told that the second part of the museum was behind an unmarked door. I was not surprised though, the lack of understanding about the use of signage and maybe some leaflets were evident. It was also quite sad to see the museum attendants sat on the floor or on the phones talking quite loudly. One or two seemed quite surprised to see me in the museum…looking at stuff. They did remind me not to take pictures, which is something I guess is hard-wired in them.

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Nevertheless, the museum has quite a good collection of artefacts, more so than I expected to see when I visited. The tour guides are quite enthusiastic and knowledgeable from what I could hear from the tour group near me if you believe you require one. If you are curious about history and gaining knowledge about our country, I do recommend that you take a short visit as part of a tour of museums and galleries in the city. Not even small dent to your wallet.

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Location: 2 JK Randle Street, Opposite Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos
Fee: N200
Time: 1 Hour

Author: Lola Anderson

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