ASOR and CAH Propel Cultural Heritage Advancements in Niger

By Maki Garba | President of Culture, Art et Humanité (CAH), Niger

Introduction: Following the successful cultural heritage project in the Maghreb region of North Africa, ASOR implemented a mirror project in the Sahel region of West Africa. The current project, funded by an anonymous donor, supports local populations in documenting, preserving, and raising awareness of the cultural heritage of Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali. Actions implemented in these three countries, with the assistance of local partners, helped document dozens of sites at risk, while also bringing awareness to an endangered cultural heritage in a region constantly plagued by political instability and unrest.

In 2024, News@ASOR will feature a series of accounts written by African implementers on this important work. In this article, Maki Garba | President of Culture, Art et Humanité (a non-profit organization established in Niger), describes his organization’s efforts to document heritage in Niger.

Poster advertising the training offered by ASOR in Niamey in July 2023 (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanité).

In Niger, the cultural heritage sector finds itself regrettably lacking in partners. Thus, the implementation of the American Society for Overseas Research (ASOR) project in Niger, funded by an anonymous donor, presents an undeniable opportunity for significant advancements in cultural heritage documentation and preservation throughout the Sahel region.

Training in cultural heritage documentation tools took place in Niamey in July 2023.
Practical training on QGIS (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanité).

ASOR and the Nigerien organization Culture, Art et Humanité (CAH), recently reached a significant milestione, despite the tumultuous coup d’état on July 26, 2023, through comprehensive documentation of the diverse cultutral heritage belonging to ethnic and religious communities in Niger. This endeavor, vital for the preservation of Niger’s tapestry of local, regional, and national heritage, was made feasible through ASOR’s provision of financial backing, expertise, technical assistance, and training sessions utilizing advanced computer-based documentation software.

KoboToolBox questionnaire prepared for the collection of cultural heritage information in Niger (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanite).
QGIS mapping of sites in the region of Dosso (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanité).

CAH partnered with ASOR for a series of online introductions on Zoom, followed by a lengthy and enriching cultural exchange of best practices in Tunisia. During this trip, CAH’s teams were acquainted with documentation methodologies and actions to raise awareness of Tunisia’s rich heritage, providing, thus, valuable insights for their work in Niger. The firsthand experience gained in Tunisia underscored the tangible impact of documentation and outreach efforts, serving as a catalyst for further progress in Niger. The task of documenting Niger’s cultural heritage relied on implementing the use of professional software such as KoboToolBox, KoboCollect, QGIS (geographical information software), and photogrammetry presented formidable hurdles, which CAH were trained in.

Heritage documentation initiatives in Niger have covered multiple focal points, with diverse themes guiding their activities. Commencing within the walls of the National Museum, trainees delved into the meticulous documentation of tangible relics and artifacts representing Niger’s rich ethnographic tapestry. This initial phase set the stage for a following captivating journey to Boubon where pottery productions are exclusively executed by women potters. In this tourist village, located in southwestern Niger, trainees diligently documented the production of handmade pottery jars while engaging in an enriching intercultural dialogue with the Boubon potters. This village is known for the transmission of pottery making passed down from mother to daughter for centuries. In order to organize themselves, the ladies developed the “Soudji cooperative” and created their own pottery syndicate. They eagerly engaged in discussions with us, explaining to us how they plan safeguard their traditional craft and expertise.

As their president Mdm. Mounkaila Halima stated: “Pottery is our work, and it requires our full strength and commitment. It is a task that prevents idleness, dependence on others and cheating. It is nourishing for the potter’s soul and time.” She stated that pottery-making brings her and her friends closer to their ancestors and heritage. She stated: “The child who refuses the banco (clay), would be refusing his mother and his father, therefore denying the heritage of his parents.” This event served as a platform to illuminate the challenges and actions needed to preserve this ancestral craftsmanship.

Rural street and mudbrick houses of Bororo women (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanité).
Women from Boubon preparing the clay and shaping handmade pottery (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanité).

In Konni, nestled within the Tahoua region, a significant communal event unfolded, characterized by an impactful intra-religious dialogue uniting Christians and Muslims. This gathering served as a platform for profound facilitated conversations among community members, delving into the intricacies of their cultural heritage, with a particular emphasis on the inclusion of minority factions. Notably, representatives hailing from the Bororo Peul/Fulani and Tuareg communities of central Niger played an active role in these discussions, articulating their collective dedication to preserving both tangible artifacts and the intangible essence of their cultural legacy. This concerted effort underscores a broader trend across Niger, where communities are forging alliances to safeguard their diverse cultural heritages, ensuring their endurance for generations to come.

Type of handmade painted jars held by one of the trainee during the documentation process (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanité).
Boubon potters finish handmade vessels by wet smoothing (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanité).
Ladies preparing the freshly prepared pottery jars for the traditional backing process (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanité).
Pottery jars fully covered with tree branches for baking (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanité).
Tattoos identified in 2019 on a woman’s hip and lower back © Anne Austin
Pottery vessels stacked in a heap in a firing pit (left) and final products ready for sale (right) (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanité).

In a commendable collaboration praised by Nigerien cultural authorities, including local and regional directors and ministry officials, valuable insights and documentation have been amassed. Recognized as a vital endeavor, the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage demand meticulous upkeep, stringent security measures, comprehensive documentation, and conscientious awareness campaigns. Such efforts are indispensable for ensuring the sustainable management of Niger’s diverse patrimony safeguarding it for the benefit of future generations.

The ASOR project in Niger carried by CAH and other partners marks the beginning of a wide documentation and preservation agenda, with the aim of establishing enduring partnerships and implementing strategic action plans in the years ahead.

Visit to the national museum to do some ethnographic and archaeological documentation tasks (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanité).
Traditional mudbrick houses at the national museum garden (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanité).
Visit to the Regional museum of Dosso (Photo credit: (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanité).
Inter-communal dialogue with the Peul Bororo and Tuareg communities of Niger (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanité).
Different types of clay ovens in Boubon (Photo credit: Culture, Art et Humanité).