Curiosity is a good thing. For those of us who are curious about the ancient world and have a need to discover the source and unearth the past to make sense of our present world, a museum ticket is our gateway to other worlds!
My curiosity led me to uncover the mystery of the word museum or mouseion (Greek) meaning the seat of the muses. In Greek mythology the nine muses were held in high esteem. The Merriam-Webster dictionary attributes the inspiration for song, poetry, the arts, and sciences to these sister goddesses. The Muses were to be enshrined in these edifices as a source of inspiration. According to Britannica.com, a mouseion was built to be a designated institution for philosophical discussion and contemplation. It was intended to be a place of learning and the arts. Today, the purpose of a modern museum is basically to collect, preserve, interpret, and display objects of artistic, cultural or scientific significance for the education of the public, but there is more. For me, a museum is a sacred memory bank that evokes a deep sense of reverence.
In honour of Black History Month and to commemorate the history and contributions of the people of African descent in Bermuda, there are at least two museums that bring attention to our history specifically. These are the Bermuda Heritage Museum in St. George’s and the National Museum of Bermuda in Dockyard. Although not a museum/building, the African Diaspora Heritage Trail (ADHT) in Bermuda was created in 2001 as part of the UNESCO Slave Route Project₁. Persons of African descent were pivotal in changing the course of history in Bermuda through their fight for freedom and justice during the period of enslavement and segregation in Bermuda. Several slave revolts took place in the 17th and 18th centuries as they sought liberation from an oppressive oligarchical regime. The attempted slave revolts and poison plots of 1730 which led to the trial and execution of Sarah (Sally) Bassett, the expulsion of all free negroes and an Act “laying an Imposition on Negroes Imported and other slaves imported into these Islands” is passed to control the enslaved black population₂.
A century later in 1835 the ground-breaking case of the ship Enterprise carrying 78 American enslaved persons was diverted to Bermuda due to a storm and in need of repairs. By this time, the British Empire had freed all those enslaved in Britain and its colonies in 1834 by an Emancipation Act to abolish slavery on August 1, 1834. A further Act to repeal “all Acts and Enactments applying exclusively to the free blacks and free coloured persons, and to confer on them all rights and privileges enjoyed by the other inhabitants of this country,” is passed₃. As a result of the Emancipation Act, one Black Bermudian Mr. Richard Tucker, President of the Young Men’s Friendly Institution, applied to the Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus to have all the enslaved people on the Enterprise released, of which 72 of the 78 were released₄.
These are just some examples of major contributions by Black Bermudians that altered the lives of many for the better over the centuries, but I want to draw the readers attention to a phrase taken from the additional Act created immediately after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1834, “and to confer on them all rights and privileges enjoyed by the other inhabitants of this country”. As museums collect, preserve, interpret and display the objects relevant to historical shifts in a nation, I think their greatest work is interpreting why a historical event is so relevant. Historically, black contributions and events were purposefully left out or misinterpreted as insurrection as they challenged the status quo or dominant narrative at the time. I believe it is incumbent upon museums to put events into context for patrons so that a healthy appreciation for black history which is really our National and shared history can be properly understood by the entire population.
A Personal Story
Several years ago while in Frankfurt I had the opportunity to visit the Jewish Museum / Museum Judengasse. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. I was able to visit in the evening and for some reason this made the whole experience even more mysterious because I was able to view everything without the daily throng of people and by what seemed to be candlelight. The atmosphere was thick with a silent reverence that I can still feel today. Viewing the artifacts made lovingly by Jewish hands while separated into the first Jewish ghetto in Europe from 1462 left me with such precious memories and reinforced my appreciation for the culture, craftmanship and painstaking preservation of Jewish life in the Judengasse for over 600 years. I not only saw the art, but felt the heart and intent of this museum, an experience that I will never forget.
Photo by sandra-seitamaa-w7aYivCxlAA-unsplash
- The He(Art) of the Museum – by Cindy Steede Almeida - February 21, 2021
- Tikkun Olam / Ubuntu: We are one – by Cindy Steede Almeida - December 10, 2020