The Ooni of Ife visits Black Cultural Archives

Ooni of Ife visit BCA 20170320 © KBD Photography

The occasion of His Imperial Majesty, Ooni Oba Adéyeyè Enitan Ògúnwùsì's visit to Black Cultural Archives (BCA) on Monday 20th March 2017 will be remembered as one of the most magnificent days in the life of the organisation. On entering the BCA site, HIM requested some water to perform a libation to acknowledge the ancestors and to bless the space. Such was the start of this glorious day. There was no need for introductions. It was undoubtedly clear... the Ooni of Ife and his entourage had arrived. Paul Reid, (BCA Director) and Dawn Hill (BCA Chair) officially welcomed our guests.

Exploring the exhibition

Now that the energy throughout the entire building had been totally transformed, two parallel programmes started. The Royal party toured the Black Cultural Archives to learn more about the organisation. Whilst this was taking place a larger group of invited guests shared in the occasion by being entertained by Poetic Unity, a group of young spoken word artists. The Royal party stopped at the bust of Len Kwesi Garrison (Founding Chairman). Here George Fawokan Kelly (sculptor of the bust), Marie Garrison (Patron) and Tunde Garrison (Len and Marie's Son) spoke about the bust and Len's vision. 

We went into the exhibition space where Doreen Foster (Deputy Director) spoke on Rights of Passage, the current display of archive material. Munira Mohamed (Learning Manager) and Sarah Buntin (Learning Officer) spoke on the public programme, work with schools and collaborations with further and higher education.

Discovering the archives 

From here the party went into the archive store where the Ooni of Ife and Yoruba Kings were drawn to a pair of wooded Ibeji objects that represent Yoruba twins and a Mende head. 

Victoria Northridge (Collections Manager) shared what we know about the objects. Then we had the good fortune to receive a much fuller explanation from our experts. HIM very generously offered to send diviners to work with BCA to help interpret the objects, speaking directly as an authority on Yoruba history and culture.

The discussion in the archive revolved around museum practice and how African artefacts should be treated. We were reminded that these objects have spiritual power and should be respected accordingly. This theme of what constitutes appropriate museum practice ran throughout the visit. At each point the Ooni of Ife, with contributions from the other Kings reconfirmed their clear desire to work with BCA to take this teaching and understanding to another level. Our party traversed through the building, and with every twist and turn through the corridors a customary announcement would be heard. The Royal party was on the move and a clear path in the crowd would appear.

Novelette Stewart (BCA Trustee) presented the first object on display in the Reading Room. This was a bead-embroidered traditional Yoruba crown that would have been worn by an Oba. On the crown are a number of tiny birds. Novelette introduced the item and the Royal party enriched us with the mysteries of the crown. These tiny peacocks we were told have a magnetic pull on other birds that would follow them. They are on the crown of the Oba to represent strong leadership.

It was encouraging to hear that the Ooni thought that BCA was doing an excellent job to safeguard and protect the artefacts within its collection. BCA accepted the very kind offer to work together on exciting projects going forward.

Maureen Roberts (BCA Trustee, also representing the London Metropolitan Archives) spoke to a collection of photographs relating to Standard Chartered Bank; the bank's influence throughout Africa; the inauguration of Charles Dunbar Burgess King who was President of Liberia (1920 - 1930); the visit of a Nigerian Oba to Tooting College of Art in the 1970s; and a copy of the South African Bill of Rights that was signed by President Nelson Mandela.

Natalie Fiawoo spoke on BCA's Family Ties project. This is the story of the Togobo-Adamah family, a Ghanaian (Ewe) family and their fascinating history. The story revolves around Togbui Adamah II and the migration of a people from present day Togo to present day Ghana, now residing throughout the world. Natalie showed British Government correspondence to Chief Adamah II - between the District Commission of the Colonial Office and the Ewe people. This included a number of photographs including one of Togbe Adamah II and elders from the late 1800's.

Sharing knowledge and making bonds

HIM then addressed a full gathering in the Learning Centre. Here he spoke about the origins of mankind coming from the tropics of Africa and his mission being the promotion of Yoruba tradition and the unification of Africa. The community was moved by each and every word and Ooni of Ife took questions from the floor. A CNN Africa interview that was live streamed followed the address from BCA. Views of the interview currently exceed 300,000. Watch the interview.

To close this historic day, HIM the Oni of Ife generously donated a framed piece of artwork to BCA and spoke passionately about the important work ahead of us. This was followed by a Shango ritual in BCA's courtyard that marked the beginning of a new relationship between Black Cultural Archives and the Kingdom of Ife.

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