The Guardian has an article from archaeologist Sada Mire, reflecting on the different approaches to the past in African cultures and societies: “Here’s why we need more African archaeologists”. Mire writes about her own experiences as a Swedish-Somali archaeologist, coming into the field and encountering communities that value festivals and traditions more than objects and museums.
I studied archaeology in Europe, and when I went back to Africa I assumed that the methods I had learned applied universally. However, I quickly realised that locals had traditional ways of preserving their heritage. Their approach preserved knowledge and skills rather than objects or monuments. It is easy to take for granted our way of keeping things in museums. Yet many cultures do not have the tradition of museums as a concept. They are a European transplant in much of the world. Instead, knowledge is passed on through oral culture, festivals, songs, poems, commemorations and casual conversations and observations. Heritage can be just as much about relationships and performance.
Academic archaeology has been built on an incomplete foundation. Some have held the goal of understanding cultures of the past in their own terms. Putting descriptions of objects and sites into academic publications, without a deep engagement with communities, has helped to maintain the idea that serious archaeologists can engage with the past while maintaining a minimum of engagement with the present.