Re-engaging with Colonial Archives in Decolonial Times
The Re:]Entanglements project was led by Professor Paul Basu at SOAS University of London, with partnerships across various institutions in the UK, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and beyond. These institutions included the Nigerian National Museum, the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the British Library Sound Archive, the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Royal Anthropological Institute, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the UK National Archives.
The challenge of the project was to re-engage with the ethnographic archive assembled by colonial anthropologist, Northcote W. Thomas, between 1909 and 1915 in Southern Nigeria and Sierra Leone. The objective was to better understand the historical context in which these materials were gathered and to examine their significance in the present day. This required exploring the latent possibilities of the collections and understanding their meanings for different communities today.
Yvonne Mbanefo, a cultural consultant and Research Associate in the project, was tasked with several key responsibilities to help bring the project to life. These included enhancing and editing audio recordings, curating, transcribing, translating and re-recording old audio recordings, delivering talks and masterclasses, summarizing field research notes, writing articles, sourcing images, crowdsourcing for language and culture experts in both the Edo community and communities in Sierra Leone , and reimagining objects and materials in the collection.
The outcome of the project was a highly significant one, culminating in an exhibition at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, with multiple partnerships in West Africa, the UK, and beyond. The project was a great success in reuniting some of the photos of the individuals taken with their present-day descendants, and the YouTube channel and Facebook group were instrumental in educating the public about the project. Additionally, Yvonne's work in translating and rewriting stories from books written by N.W. Thomas, as well as creating re-purposed educational materials from the collection, helped to bring new life to this remarkable ethnographic archive.