The social life of a small ethnology museum in Limpopo, South Africa

Hendricks, Lisa Victoria (2020-12)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2020.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This mini-ethnography is concerned with a small-town ethnology museum, the Aranya Museum, and the various actors that entered and engaged with the museum and its artefacts during a period of transition, which started with the death of its long-time curator. The museum, like many others in South Africa, was founded by a lone man and was animated by a colonial collecting ethic that had become deeply unfashionable post-apartheid. Indeed, the literature shows a radical shift in museum collecting practices that has seen “source communities” becoming involved in and laying claim to their ethnic heritage in such ethnology collections. Contrary to this trend, the Aranya Museum held little interest for the museum’s “source communities” who expressed no intention to appropriate or reclaim ‘their’ indigenous artefacts. Instead, local white, wealthy and landed businessmen became publicly invested in this seemingly inconsequential museum precisely because it contained artefacts of the area’s black communities; artefacts which were, at the time of my research, susceptible to appropriation. In the context of looming land claims and racial tensions in this small town, this appropriation was in opposition to the interests of people whose ethnic identity and heritage were contained in the museum. Inspired by Appadurai’s (1986) The Social Life of Things, I show how this literally and symbolically set the collection and its personnel in motion. At the same time, the “source community’s” dynamic understanding of heritage and of tourism has given rise to plans for possible new ethnology museums in the area, mapping onto existing political and economic divisions within the community.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie mini-etnografie is gesituasioneer in ‘n klein dorpie waar verskeie sosiale akteurs betrokke geraak het in ‘n etnologie museum, die Aranya Museum, gedurende ‘n oorgangsperiode wat begin het toe die museum se langtermyn kurator oorlede is. Soos baie ander museums in Suid Afrika, is dié een geloods deur ‘n man wat geïnspireer was deur ‘n koloniale versamelingsetiek. Ná apartheid het die etiek hoogs problematies geword. Inderdaad, akademiese werk dui op ‘n radikale verskuiwing in museumsversamelingspraktyke waarin “oorsprongsgemeenskappe” toenemend betrokke raak in etnologie museums en waar hulle dikwels eise instel op ‘hulle’ etniese erfenis in sulke versamelings. In teenstryd met dié neiging het die Aranya Museum se “oorsprongsgemeenskap” min belangstelling getoon in ‘hulle’ kultuurerfenis binne die museum. ‘n Groep plaaslike, ryk wit mans het wel probeer om die niksseggende versameling te probeer kaap omdat dit die plaaslike swart gemeenskappe se kultuurerfenis bevat het. Die objekte het gedurende my navorsing beskikbaar vir sulke kaping geword. In ‘n konteks waarin grondeise en rassespanning in die klein dorpie hoog geloop het, was die kaping in teenstryd met die belange van die mense wie se etniese identiteit en erfenis in die museum vervat is. Geïnspireer deur Appadurai (1986) se The Social Life of Things, wys ek hoe die proses letterlik en figuurlik die museum se versameling en personeel in mosie gesit het. Terselftertyd het die “oorsprongsgemeenskap” se dinamiese begrip van erfenis en toerisme meegegee dat hulle planne gemaak het om nuwe etnologie museums in die area oop te maak. Die planne was geskool op bestaande politieke en ekonomiese verdelings in die gemeenskap.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/109108
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