Ethnography and Natural History: Whose idea and What do they mean in Museums by Nelson Adebo Abiti

Panel: Transdisciplinary Provenance Research on Objects from Colonial Contexts 
Tuesday, 22 June, 11:15 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. (CET)


We are in the paradox of understanding the inherited colonial museum that hold memories of cultural objects into the disciplines of ethnography and naturalness as an African Museum. But whose idea should we think about in these disciplines? Who can understand and reinterpret the cultural heritage of the society? The idea about the past that has continued to reflect backwards through accumulation of natural history collections is yet contested issue in our museums. The difficult question in this concept of natural history is to engage in the debate of tribal ideas about the indigenous man and the human skeletons being incorporated into the classificatory aspect of natural history. In the ‘Tribal’ framing of people of Uganda and the ideas of curiosities of ethnographic, and the categorization of the society along the lines of ethnic and natural history studies have embedded the very knowledge of the anthropological practices in the museums. In the East African countries, we have national museums that hold muted names of ethnographic and natural history collections that have become a source of provenance to the colonial architect. If we are to be inclusive, interdisciplinary and questioning the very notion of provenance and its colonial-ness, who has the right to tell the story ethnographic and natural history collections.


Nelson Adebo Abiti has spent more than 10 years of being curator for Ethnography and History at the Uganda National Museum. He is currently a PhD student of History at the University of Western Cape in South Africa.  He also an MA in the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at Sainsbury Art Gallery, University of East Anglia in 2015. Abiti spent much time at the British Museum –Africa section engaging with the Ugandan collections and researching.  Abiti has co-curated exhibitions on ‘Road to Reconciliation’ in post conflict situation of northern Uganda. He also co-curated the Milk exhibition project in Uganda and Switzerland; and the recent ‘Unseen Archive of Idi Amin’ that opened at Uganda Museum 18th May 2019. Abiti’s research focuses on the history of ethnographic collections and exhibitions framing at the Uganda National Museum. He has also engaged with community work in post conflict northern Uganda on transitional justice and memorials.