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Sierra Leone’s National Museum was originally opened in 1957 as the Museum of the Sierra Leone Society. Its membership comprised mainly colonial expatriates and members of Freetown’s Krio elite.
In contrast to the national museums of Nigeria and Ghana, which opened in the same year, Sierra Leone’s museum was modest in scale. It passed into state ownership in 1967 and is now run by the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs.
The museum has been the focus of a series of bi-annual workshops run through the Africa programme since 2009. The Programme has also made an important contribution to an innovative project that aims to improve access to information about the collections and heritage of the country.
- National Museum Sierra Leone
- Sierra Leone Monuments and Relics Commission
Map of Sierra Leone showing the locations of partner organisations
Acting chief curator Josephine Kargbo with the new accessions register for the National Museum, November 2009
Olivette George-Cole numbering and recording accession details of a sowei mask in the National Museum’s collection, November 2009
Ian Noah taking photos in the ‘studio’ at the National Museum, March 2010
The new sowei mask display, November 2010
Local craftsman, Claudius John, with one of the foam-covered wire figures that were used as mounts for displaying the newly commissioned masquerade costumes, November 2010
Joseph Lahai of the Gbortima Cultural Group, attaching dyed raffia to the Ndoli Jowei mask, March 2011
Krio artist Julius Parker preparing initial drawings for the masquerade mural, March 2011
The new masquerade display at the National Museum installed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of independence celebrations, April 2011
Documentation, digitisation and display
Since 2007 the Africa Programme has worked with an external consultant to develop and maintain relationships through dialogue with key stakeholders in the cultural sector in Sierra Leone. In addition, the Programme has supported a series of embedded training activities that have provided practical guidance on collections management, from object documentation to storage, IT skills and digital photography.
One of the highlights of this collaboration has been the development of new displays for the museum’s permanent galleries which opened to the public in April 2011 as part of the celebrations to mark Sierra Leone’s 50th anniversary of independence.
Mural created for the Sierra Leone National Museum by local artist, Julius Parker in 2011
Reanimating cultural heritage
The Africa Programme supported the British Museum’s participation in a three year AHRC-funded project entitled Reanimating Cultural Heritage: digital repatriation, knowledge networks and civil society strengthening in post-conflict Sierra Leone.
The project has created a digital heritage resource that provides access to collections relating to Sierra Leone in museums in the UK and West Africa and also sponsored a number of innovative outreach projects in Sierra Leone. This web-based resource uses social networking technologies to develop communities around the collections.
The project was led by Dr Paul Basu at University College London and partners included the National Museum of Sierra Leone, the British Museum, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Glasgow Museums, World Museum Liverpool, and the University of Sussex Informatics Department.