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Combating Poverty Through Art: The Kalahari Indigenous Peoples

Botswana National Museum ventured into a mutual partnership with the San peoples of the Kalahari Desert to establish an eco-museum known as the Kuru Museum in an effort to improve the livelihoods of the impoverished San communities.

This museum is located in the Kalahari region is managed by a board of trustees, constituted by locals. The Botswana National Museum plays a parental role to the Kuru museum by providing it with technical and financial support. Through partnership with indigenous communities the National Museum demonstrates strategies by which museums in third world countries could facilitate economic and social development of indigenous peoples.

Via the Kuru project, the National Museum is empowering the San communities to initiate their homegrown economic opportunities. The museum is providing a forum for indigenous peoples to determine their local development by the advent of cultural tourism.  It also empowers the San community to sustainably preserve their tangible and intangible heritage by commodifying their cultural products. Placing value on the San art works facilitates preservation of their collective identity.

Museums especially across Africa are confronted with the complex task of decolonization. However, the Kuru museum is a practical example that indigenous peoples are capable of managing and operating their own museums from grassroots levels. The community conceptualizes and implements exhibitions and other programmes of the Kuru constituent museum. The institution nurtures social space where values of self-determination, consultation and transparency over cultural heritage are valued.

The Botswana National museum via the Kuru eco-museum creates economic opportunities for indigenous people using their own material culture. The museum provides an exhibition space to display their handicrafts. It also runs a curio shop that sells art works on behalf of local artists. Providing the San an opportunity to sell their handicrafts creates a stream of income which enable them to acquire amenities such as health care, fresh water, food and shelter.  The Kuru museum is economically feasible as it gets a share of the profits accrued from art work sales. The organization relies on funds generated from sales of art works to finance its day to day operations.

The Kuru institution is successfully retaining partnership with the local community. This eco-museum has made itself relevant to the livelihoods of the community through providing socio-economic incentives to ordinary San peoples. The display of the San fine arts serves as a platform for these communities to express their values, beliefs, creativity and collective concerns through the medium of art. The museum also plays an intermediary role between the San and the free market. For instance, instead of selling their cultural objects by the roadway or in the black market San artists do business formally through a museum curio-shop. The Kuru concept illustrates that collections and exhibitions are a vehicle that could be used by local communities to attain sustainable social and economic development.

This museum is probably the most popular tourist destination in D’kra village where it is located. Most tourists travelling to the Kalahari Desert usually make a stop at the museum. Subsequently economic benefits trickle down the local economy. Tourist visiting the museum are main customers to local restaurants, nearby lodges, gasoline filling stations and other service providers.

Botswana National Museum in collaboration with the Kuru and other constituent museums under its auspices is ameliorating the aftermath of income inequalities among the marginalized communities. The Kuru eco-museum is serving a community in a remote area without factories, industries and limited agricultural activities. Thus the National Museum through the Kuru ecomuseum safeguards the local Kalahari economy by availing culturally relevant economic opportunities to indigenous peoples  .It is worthwhile to bear in that residents of the Kalahari are indigenous peoples with little or no marketable industrial skills but rich in their own indigenous knowledge. The Kuru museum  serves as a catalyst for their indigenous knowledge to be commodified and thrive in the market. In most cases societies of indigenous peoples are politically and economically marginalized. However, through the Kuru Eco museum indigenous people contribute to the gross domestic product of Botswana as they bring foreign Exchange in the country. This occurs through revenues generated from sales of their Art commodities to international tourists.

The Kuru Cultural Festival

Botswana National Museum in partnership with the Kuru museum initiated an annually Kuru cultural festival. The Kuru cultural festival has grown into an international cultural event which attracts tourist from all walks of life. This cultural festival provides a public platform for the San peoples to display their verbal, visual and performing art such as traditional dance, cuisine, music, paintings and sculptures. During the festival tourists interact with the indigenous people and witness first hand their culture.

The San people during the festival mingle with the people from other cultures. The Botswana National Museum recognizes that development is equally social as it is economic. Subsequently the museum creates a social platform for indigenous people to interact with the rest of the world and break the social walls of marginalization. The Kuru cultural festival is also an opportunity for the museum to do a massive cultural edutainment. This is beneficial for the San descendants who may not be familiar with some aspects of their cultural heritage.

The National Museum of Botswana through Kuru ecomuseum  is enhancing citizen participation of indigenous peoples in local development. The advent of cultural tourism renders it possible for the museum to generate income for San artists and their community in general. Ecomuseums  are instrumental in facilitating participatory development for indigenous peoples in developing and under developed countries.

About the author – Goabaone Montsho

Goabaone Montsho is a curator working in the ethnology division of Botswana National Museum. His job entails curating thematic exhibitions, documenting ethnographic collection of the museum and disseminating ethno historic information to museum visitors. Goabaone also works with researchers and students conducting research in the museum.  He graduated with a Bachelors of Arts Degree with a major in Anthropology (2010- 2014) from Vancouver Island University in Canada and has a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration (2016- 2018) from the University of Botswana.


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