By Ogar Monday
Cross River State is known for its tourism potential and the state’s ability to pull crowds to its capital city of Calabar during its widely celebrated annual Carnival Calabar held during the yuletide and tagged “Africa’s Biggest Street Party”.
When visitors come to town, they go for sightseeing in some of the most beautiful tourist attractions the country has to offer in the state; from the Tinapa Business Resort, to the Marina Resort, Drill Ranch and the Calabar Old Residency Museum amongst others which is of particular interest due to its uniqueness.
The Old Residency Museum, which was originally known as the Government House is a prefabricated structure of Scandinavian red pine wood shipped from Britain in 1884 on the instruction of Consul Edward Hewett and erected in Old Calabar to accommodate the early British Administration.
The building, a stone throw from where the Nigerian Government had housed Liberian Warlord Charles Taylor, a walk from the presidential Lodge had itself housed the prison where Oba Ovonramwem of Benin was kept in 1897 after his kingdom was invaded. A tale, renowned Nollywood producer Lancelot Imasuen tried to tell in his film, “Invasion 1897”.
“It was here that the old British colonial administration operated from. The building was a Mecca of a sort (sic), as it was a wonder to behold and one of the only such building in British West Africa” says Mrs. Anna Effiom ,Curator of the Museum.
The building which served as both the residence and administrative headquarters of the colonial government is one of the only few history museums in Nigeria and hosts some of the most preserved artefacts and documents dating back to pre-colonial period.
“Because this is a history museum, different from the Slave Museum in Marina Resort, War Museum in Umuahia, the National Museum of Colonial history in Aba it has some of the best and most preserved historical collections in the country” says Mrs. Evelyn Osuagwu who works in the Museum and also serves as the Treasurer of the Calabar Museum Society, A Non-Governmental Organization made up of staffs of the Museum and lovers of Museum working to promote and preserve the museum.
“The Museum exhibition tells the story of old Calabar as a cluster of native settlements on the Calabar River, early cultural, economic and missionary centre and first headquarters of British colonial administration of the Niger Coast Protectorate, Oil River Protectorate and later Southern Nigeria protectorate”.
“The Museum has a collection of ritual terracotta and other materials excavated locally by Late Professor Ekpo Eyo and dated 400AD-1500AD” writes Emmanuel E. for UyoCalyaxis.com
The Museum which has a research library, Museum Kitchen, Museum Shop, craft village and a fairly conducive but seldom used exhibition hall also has slave trade history collections and a very expansive collection on pre-colonial and colonial palm oil trade.
Between the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Federal Government had concluded plans to demolish the building, along with several others around the area and erect new structures. But the Museum was saved through the protest of Nigerians interested in culture and museums.
“It took the concerted effort of persons like Prof Ekpo Eyo and other Museum lovers for the Government to rescind that decision. That is why you see the museum surrounded by Government structures” Effiom said.
Professor Eyo was the first indigenous Nigerian to head the museum, following his appointment as Director of the then Federal Department of Antiquities in 1967 and has contributed immensely to the development of Museums in the country.
It is following the footsteps of Professor Eyo that the Calabar Museum Society thrives. The society provides a platform for people in different fields and interest to get themselves involved in the work of the museum and compliment what the National Commission on Museum and Monuments (NCMM).
“Calabar Museum Society is a body consisting of people of all works of life and disciplines, who have declared their intention to, and desire of promoting public interest and awareness in museum activities, thus fostering appreciation of the cultural and natural heritage in Cross River State and beyond” said Dr. Ogbonna Iroha, President of the Calabar Museum Society and lecturer with the University of Calabar at the First Ekpo Eyo Memorial Lecture.
With as little as N100, the museum opens its doors to visitors with an accompanying tour that takes the visitor round the facility, but visitors rarely come and the government rarely assists with the paucity of funds that affects the museum.
“People, especially children these days no longer value history, this is evident in the way children and to a large extend some parents see their languages” Effiom said.
“But there is hope” the curator says, adding that, “the Museum with the assistance of the Calabar Museum Society is not giving up, as we organize programs that draw visitors to the museum and help spread the work we do here”.
The Museum also organizes holiday tours for children, where they are encouraged and taught to value their tradition and promote same.
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