Role Of Communities In Cultural Resource Management

Source: Okeke Vivian C. (Mrs.) National Museum Of Unity, Enugu

Cultural resources of both Archaeological and Ethnographic nature abound in Nigeria. These exist in both tangible (movable and immovable) and intangible forms. These resources are of high quality and have been sources of identity and pride to the communities where they are found. And the significance of these heritage resources to the cultural development of Nigeria cannot be over emphasized; they have given the country a time depth of more than 8000 years as are evidenced by the Archaeological discoveries at Dufuna in Yobe State, Nok, Igbo-ukwu, etc.

They have also contributed immensely to the social, political, economic, religious and technological development of the people. Furthermore, the existence of these cultural resources has attracted large numbers of scholars of both African and European extraction to the country (particularly after the Benin expedition of 1897). Thus, we cannot talk about Nigeria without its rich cultural and natural heritage spread across the country, which have placed Nigeria on the cultural map of the world. However, our cultural resources whether tangible or intangible are constantly facing a lot of challenges which have made it imperative that their management at the local level be addressed.

Some of these are;
1. The systematic imposition of foreign religions and their attendant civilizations on the indigenous population.

These forbade the adoration of other gods, the use of objects associated with African Traditional Religion (ATR) and the participation of their members in traditional rites, rituals, ceremonies and sometimes festivals.

2. Illicit trade in antiquities by organized smuggling syndicates across the world, have led to the internal looting and vandalization of museums, shrines, palaces etc, thus resulting to the degradation and erosion of our cultural heritage, pride and to the gradual loss of our identity.

3. Internal loss from overzealous religious worshippers who believe that the willful destruction of cultural objects and burning down of shrines etc will surely earn them a place in heaven and win them more converts. In addition, this group in their fanaticism, encourage the boycott and abandonment of the intangible practices associated with different aspects of our culture.

4. Ignorance by many community members of the value of cultural resources and the importance of their preservation has led to the neglect of many monuments, sites, natural landscapes and even intangible heritage (Folktales, moon light plays/dances, and rites of passage etc) these latter were at the fore front of socialization in traditional societies.

5. Destruction of cultural property and sites in the name of modernization and development as seen in the activities of construction companies and other builders all add up to form some of the threats faced by cultural resources in Nigeria.

To help safeguard cultural and national resources world over, there are legal frameworks for the preservation and management of our tangible and intangible heritage: while the national laws are contained in the cultural policy of 1988 and decree 77 of 1979 now CAP 242 of the laws of the Federation – the decree establishing the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), the International laws are contained in the conventions and recommendations of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and in the code of Ethics of the International Council of Museums (ICOM). The preservation and management of culture in Nigeria is directly under the NCMM, this it does, through the National Museums.

At the local level, communities have the onerous task of ensuring that our heritage resources in their localities are located, preserved and well managed because these resources have their origins in the communities and their significance and history are well known by the indigenes.

Cultural resource heritage of communities are of immense socio-political, economic and cultural value to the people in particular and to Nigeria in general. They are an embodiment of the people's way of life, their inheritance to be held in trust, used judiciously and passed down to future generations. The existence of these resources has set up an enabling environment for the growth of natural and cultural tourism. Their proper management at the local level will help prepare grounds for community empowerment and development Strategy (NEEDS) agenda. To this effect therefore, all stakeholders of cultural heritage at the community both at home and in Diaspora should have the urge to preserve that which have been bequeathed to them by their fore bears. Communities should recognize the threat of foreign civilization to their indigenous culture and thus do the following:

Incorporate their norms, values and culture into their town Union constitutions as some communities have done. Such constitutions should embody all that is supreme and dear to the people. They should also include guidelines for the maintenance of their intangible heritage to ensure that these are kept alive. Furthermore, customary rules affecting intangible heritage like chieftaincy titles, marriage, burial/funeral ceremonies, customs etc. should be embedded in the constitutions. By so doing, the communities would not only have preserved their culture, but would have also documented them for continuity.

Communities should work hand in glove with the established cultural organizations of the Federal Government such as National Museums, to document their tangible and intangible heritage resources. To effectively do this, there should be a high level of involvement between the communities, Local Governments and the Museums.

Some communities have popularized their festivals/ ceremonies. They have made them national and indeed international events examples are the Osun/ Oshogbo festival, Argungu fishing festival in Kebbi state. Others are the Yam and Mmanwu Festivals of the Igbo, Durbar in Kano, Leboku in Cross River Area etc. documentaries on these and many more should be detailed, accompanied with voice explanation or written footage of what is going on and copied into celluloid films, video tapes, flash drives, CD ROMs etc. these should be centrally preserved in the Museum Libraries, State Libraries, National Libraries, etc. Many of the already documented intangible heritages are presently in private hands and with time may suffer damage and loss.

Group of communities in a locality can come together to form non-governmental organizations, whose aims will be to preserve the culture of their people and see to its continuity. An example is the “Mbido Igbo” organization formed by some communities in the Aguata LG Area of Anambra State. The organization is poised to seek ways of harnessing all tourism, arts and cultural potentials of its member communities into tourism investments. Membership of such a synergistic organization as mentioned above should include traditional rulers and other influential members of the communities to ensure seriousness, financing and continuity. Regular meetings should be held, guides and security provided where heritage sites and monuments have been identified. The duties of such guides should then be to see to the care and maintenance of the sites and monuments, documenting their authentic history and reporting threats to the historical sites, for prompt action.

The organization should work hand in glove with Museums in mounting enlightenment programmes through the electronic and print media of their locality. Such enlightenment programmes should be done with stern warnings against the destruction of cultural properties.

Community schools should also be involved in the care of cultural resources, because the school children are members of the community. Lessons on the values, significance, history and needs of their cultural heritage should be inculcated early in the minds of these children. During such lessons as social studies, history, government, etc it should be ensured that the local heritage resources are used in pointing out examples in school topics where they may be relevant and excursions to heritage sites and monuments should be encouraged.

The management of our heritage resources whether of cultural or natural form starts from the communities where they have their roots; and for the most part, are kept, lived and appreciated. They have to be properly taken care of, so that they would not be destroyed along with vital aspects of the people's identity and history. Loss of our heritage in whatever form can never be retrieved or reconstructed; therefore, communities which are lukewarm in the management of the heritage are urged to develop interest in them and help the nation to achieve the established goal of the cultural policy – Development.

ICOM code of Ethics, 2002
Decree 77 of 1979
Constitution of Mbido Igbo organization
Constitution, rules, customs and traditions of Igbo-ukwu Community, Anambra State

Oyeleran, P.A. (2001), “Community Participation in Tourist Resource Management in Nigeria. Hope publications, Ibadan.

Okpoko, A.I. (2006) Preserving the Ethnographic and Archaeological record in the public interest. Unpublished lecture note.

Okeke, Vivian C. (2006) Community Participation in cultural Resource Management: Case study of Igbo-ukwu (IAMS Project)

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