Most people know of the remnants of Sierra Leone’s colonial history on Bunce Island and Banana Island. But you don’t have to step on a boat to experience the rich cultural history of the country. Freetown in itself has plenty of historical sites that you can visit, such as the Cotton Tree, Wilberforce and the Sierra Leone National Museum. This article will give more information on the latter, hopefully encouraging you to visit the museum that is packed with rare relics, contemporary paintings and a wealth of information on Sierra Leone’s history.
Odelay devils and nomoli
The museum has been in existence since 1957. Dr. Easmon, a Sierra Leonean doctor, wanted to preserve the cultural artefacts of the country. It started with a small collection that, in 60 years’ time, has expanded to an impressive array of masques, sculptures, paintings, tools and crafts.
All these pieces are on display in the two halls that the museum has. The first hall has a collection of about 10 full-body masks, of which some belong to the mysterious secret societies. The most impressive one must be the ‘Odelay’, a devil from Port Loko that was made especially for the 2017 Independence Celebration. It is covered in an intricate design of shells, beads, wooden sticks, and coloured threads; an arrangement with hidden meanings that take years of study to decipher.
Thankfully, the National Museum has skilled and knowledgeable guides who can explain every single cultural symbol. They know the stories behind traditional clothes, shuku basket weaving, what artifact belongs to which tribe and how all compartments of the collection came into possession of the museum. If you have enough time, the guide can go into detail on the nomoli, +500 year old stone sculptures of which researchers speculate served as mini-gods. Or explain how Freetown came into existence, referring to photographs and drawings of Krio wooden houses, which were constructed when the freed slaves settled in Freetown.
It is not just sculptures and tools, the museum has an ever-changing exhibition of paintings. The second hall recently displayed Art Appeals for Peace, an exhibition in collaboration with Museum Kunst in Düsseldorf. The paintings were on temporary display until the 26th of March 2018, after which the exhibition moved to Germany.
Also, on the first floor, the British Council has two multimedia exhibitions called the Rivers of the World Exhibition and Stolen Lives. They delve into the history of slavery in Sierra Leone and especially on Bunce Island, which used to be the base of slave trading in the 17th century.
All in all, the National Museum is a treasure of knowledge that will enrich your experience of Sierra Leone. Walking around Freetown knowing how it developed, or seeing a masquerade during independence will be seen from a new perspective after having visited the museum. The National Museum of Sierra Leone is part of the historic tour through Freetown that VSL offers.
How to get there
The National Museum is located at the junction of Pademba road and Sanders Street/Siaka Stevens street (the road changes name after the roundabout at the Cotton Tree).
Monday to Friday: 8:30 am- 4:30 pm
Saturday: 9:00 am- 3:30 pm