The !Khwa ttu Heritage Centre
On 24 September 2018 - Heritage Day in South Africa - the only heritage centre in the world dedicated to the San opened at !Khwa ttu. The Heritage Centre will help fulfil one of !Khwa ttu’s primary roles: to bring cultural restitution to the San.
It was always been one of the broader aims of !Khwa ttu to build a museum that will enable the San to tell their story in their own words. Currently there are a handful of National museums, university museums and smaller private museums that include sections on the San. Notably, however, there are no museums that are specifically focused on the San. Furthermore, of those museums that do include the San, few enable the San to tell their story in their own voice and on their terms.
The !Khwa ttu San Heritage Centre consists of three key elements: the Heritage Centre building at !Khwa ttu, a number of community satellites located in carefully selected neighbouring countries, and a digital archive to ensure that San communities have easier access to their documented heritage.
!Khwa ttu museum aims to be a world class initiative. Building on examples of indigenous museums and cultural centres found amongst other recent hunter-gatherer communities, the museum aims to draw out and relate what is special about the San. On a larger scale, it goes further, to locate the San and their experiences within that of regional history and the regional environment, and within the more global colonial and post-colonial recent hunter-gatherer experiences.
The !Khwa ttu Heritage Centre will be a place to inform and inspire all manner of visitors, from the San themselves to school children, tourists, government and NGO workers to academics.
The museum development has gone hand in hand with new education programmes and, just as importantly, a sensitive re-development and re-organisation of an already beautiful site.
‘Traditional’ museums have long been about displaying artifacts inside museum buildings. In recent years trends have moved more towards interactive displays and, when appropriate, outside demonstrations or even ‘living museums’. One of the key challenges facing the !Khwa ttu museum project is how to represent people's whose lives are not characterised by material possessions and for whom life is lived overwhelmingly outside. The !Khwa ttu concept will combine a rich account of San past, present and future that is presented in highly accessible and interactive, but nonetheless authoritative formats, inside new and specially adapted and constructed buildings. In addition to this, the museum is very much about being outside and learning something of the skills, knowledge and beliefs that have enabled the San to survive against extreme environmental and social odds. Outside trails, interactive exhibits and guided events will open up the life of the San. Even the play area will be teaching the children something new.
We believe at !Khwa ttu that the San have a particular relationship with the world that not only deserves recognition and respect but has much to offer contemporary society in terms of environmental knowledge, environmental care, self-reliance and social quality. The !Khwa ttu museum does not just tell the story of the San but introduces or re-introduces people to a particular way of living that links closely to environmental education and pressing global issues of sustainability.
Please do check back to this page over the upcoming months to find out how our plans are progressing.
By Chris Low