Archaeology as a discipline can help create understandings of the past that enable us to make better decisions about our future in many fundamental aspects (social, cultural, natural, scientific and environmental). Today many people throughout the world subscribe to archaeology in some way, perhaps to understand how and why we have come to be where we are and to appreciate the dynamic historical context(s) that nurtured changes in people's everyday lives. On the African continent, archaeology has demonstrated that humankind started in Africa and that some of the world's oldest civilizations are found on this continent. Yet many people in Africa are still unaware of the significance of archaeology. I have noticed that Somalis are often skeptical about archaeological work. The main question is, why should the past matter to Somalis?
In general, archaeologists have difficulties justifying investment in archaeology. When it comes to war zones, the protection of cultural heritage is even less of a priority.
In more developed parts of the world, countries have adopted the notion of heritage management and its potential impact on sustainable development. Should cultural heritage remain only something for the privileged countries where matters of peace, security, food and health have been largely overcome? At the same time, why should Somalis, many of whom are still at war with each other, start preserving and protecting their heritage? And why should the international community get involved in such processes in conflict and post-conflict contexts? The answers to these questions may be found in the nature of the Somali past.
This heritage, with such potential relevance for the world, is undergoing severe and irreparable destruction due to, among other things, looting. In the last 20 years, warlords have incessantly commissioned illicit excavations to finance the war, while poverty has led others to take up the looting and selling of artefacts (Abungu 2001; Brandt and Mohamed 1996; Mire 2007, 2008a). The result is one of the worst records of loss of archaeological remains in the Horn of Africa. Archaeology has become a source for local groups to exploit during these difficult conditions. However, it is noted that illicit trade in antiquities in Africa would not have continued to the extent it does without the demand for antiquities by privileged outsiders (Schmidt and McIntosh 1996; Brodie et al. 2001).
Furthermore, former Somali governments did not ratify the 1972 World Heritage Convention or the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict...
I have discussed elsewhere (Mire 2007) potential reasons behind the failure of Somali cultural-heritage preservation in the pre-war context. In particular, I have identified several approaches from different times in the last century that engaged with heritage without a significant dialogue with local communities. It was noted that an understanding of local heritage views did not seem to be part of strategies. In colonial times, unsystematic archaeological investigations took place and collections were moved outside of the country (e.g., Clark 1954; Curle 1937; Graziosi 1940). The Garesa Museum established in 1934 by the Italian administration was one of the major museums in sub-Saharan Africa (Museo della Garesa 1934). The collection included over 3,000 artefacts from all over Somali territory. This museum was by nature an ethnographic museum aimed at displaying the material culture of the Somalis from the colonial outsider's point-of-view. This is confirmed by the Italian exhibition publications such as Caroselli (1934) and the exhibition catalogue Museo della Garesa. After Independence this museum was left to deteriorate and the Somali authorities did not encourage curation of its content...
Furthermore, UNESCO consultants had put forward museum development plans (Mire 2007), yet these were neglected by the Somali government (M. A. Mohamed, personal communication, 18 March 2005; Posnansky 1979). In the 1960s and1970s, UNESCO commissioned reports on museum development in many parts of Africa and Africans were sent to training courses. However, Posnansky notes that “[B]y the late 1960s the situation in African museums had become quite desperate. Large numbers of personnel had received some training but most of it was inappropriate either because it was not designed for their own local conditions or because their museum infrastructure was unable to support the recommended procedures” (Posnansky 1996: 3)...
These approaches to Somali heritage and archaeology during colonial times and afterwards suggest the Garesa Museum and the UNESCO support for museum development were doomed to fail for a couple of reasons. First, the Somali government did not act on the UNESCO consultants' advice and recommendations since, it seems, the collections were not representative of the people's image of themselves (M. A. Mohamed, personal communication, 18 March 2005). Secondly, UNESCO itself was working without a dialogue with local communities. There was no infrastructure put in place for dealing with the notion of a museum and its local potential. Furthermore, archaeological research remained almost totally alien as very few locals were involved in it before the war.
My previous attempts to understand the neglect of Somali cultural heritage and the failure of its preservation have concluded that the current looting and destruction of Somali heritage is more or less a result of the ways that Somali material heritage was engaged with by the various actors mentioned above (Mire 2007). The little research undertaken before the war, mainly by outsiders, has had little effect on spreading archaeological knowledge through education and museums. I wanted to know what Somalis think of this neglect of tangible heritage, the loss of artefacts and sites to looting and destruction. The results of this research have been published elsewhere (Mire 2007), but the following discussion will reiterate several important points. Archaeology seems to be an alien topic to many Somalis. Archaeology per se was not of significance to them. When studying Somalis' views on cultural-heritage management and the significance of archaeological remains, I realised Somalis have their own perceptions of heritage, why it should be preserved and also how....
Oral communication and transmission of skills is still the main system of learning. Recently, use of mobile phones, which people all over Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland use due to the booming local telecommunication business (e.g., Telesom, Somtel, Nation-link, Dahabshiil), has taken electronic oral communication to unprecedented levels. Radio and television have also contributed to oral systems of communication. Many people are still illiterate, and therefore listening and talking play a more important role than reading and writing. It is not surprising that oral traditions and transmission of knowledge have survived in this part of the world, since not only do large parts of societies remain nomadic, but these societies are also selective about technology and promote oral communication technologies.
Previously, due to a lack of dialogue and understanding there has been a clash between this indigenous approach and best practices of heritage management and archaeological research, as world heritage policies have mainly focused on artefacts and monuments.
The knowledge-centred approach is a useful tool in terms of engaging local communities in cultural heritage management and archaeological research (Mire 2007). Professionals in Africa need to pay attention to local heritage management concepts and practices. It is therefore crucial to study these concepts and adopt them to complement our current best practices. My recent return to post-conflict Somaliland in 2007, where there is a new interest in heritage as a means of reconciliation and sustainable human development, was also an opportunity to test the knowledge-centred approach, particularly in the cultural landscapes and material culture of Somaliland.
By investigating locals' knowledge about the tangible and intangible heritage that surrounds them in Somaliland's different provinces, I was able to make use of the knowledge-centred approach and its main component of identifying local heritage and its views and practices. The best way to do this was to carry out interviews and outreach. Such work can be combined with archaeological survey and inventory of cultural properties. Before uttering our archaeological assumptions and presumptions (or our knowledge) it is important to start with an open mind and ask people what they think about a site, an object, a landscape, a feature in the landscape, a behaviour or an act. A second step is to consider this information and test its grounding in the cultural and local setting. By accumulating such insights one is allowing him/herself to learn something new, whether a point of view or a practice. It shows humility on our part as specialists, and empowers the local population by displaying that our knowledge not only needs complementation, but also alteration and modification to allow synthesis and analysis to occur. This approach also allows local voices to be heard and local practices to be an integral part of our practice. This opens up the possibility of exchange and mutual appreciation between local people and the archaeologist or heritage worker. Before discussing details of projects making use of the knowledge-centred approach in Somaliland, it is important to note some critical obstacles in the protection of Somali cultural heritage and the emergency context of our work in conflict Somalia and post-conflict Somaliland.
What I term the Somali cultural emergency has existed since the civil war began. The preceding discussion noted the illicit trade of antiquities and looting of archaeological sites that have taken place in Somalia. Recently, Somali cultural heritage is in emergency due to ideologically motivated destruction of archaeological sites as well as prohibitions on the practice of certain cultural traditions. Political Islam has increasingly become a central aspect of the Somali conflict (Menkhaus 2002). There is a political threat against Somali traditional culture from groups advocating strict application of Sharia law. At the moment, there are different wars going on between Somalia's Transitional Federal Government, Sufi adherents and these new groups. Somalia's correspondent for the BBC, A. Mohamed (2009) noted that graves are being destroyed by members of radical Islamic groups. The Sufi sites and shrines being destroyed are sacred and often located in important pre-Islamic centres. These sites are part of sacred landscapes and centres for the annual commemoration of religious ancestors and lineage founders. Furthermore, Somali popular music and traditional performance art (dances and songs) are forbidden in the areas controlled by radical groups.
Regarding natural threats to Somali cultural heritage, the tsunami on December 26, 2005 devastated many Somali submerged coastal landscapes as well as the significant archaeological site of Ras Hafun. Yet Somalia was one of the few countries omitted from the ICCROM report on the damage caused by the tsunami (Endicott 2005, see document link in the bibliography). So far there has been no assessment of the damage inflicted by the tsunami on cultural heritage on Somalia's coast. However, brief assessment of such damage to Somaliland's archaeological sites such as Hiis, concluded that irreparable damage had taken place. In addition to the devastation felt by the current population of Hiis whose houses were destroyed, archaeological sites and materials were either covered by sand or washed away. Other environmental issues devastating Somali heritage include desertification. As a result of the latter, sand dunes have a great impact on the conditions of many sites, including the rock art sites of Somaliland (Mire 2008a).
Lawlessness in Somalia has paved the way for international criminals to act with impunity in the country. I have been made aware of criminals taking advantage of this chaos, not only by commissioning illicit digging and illicit fishing as I witnessed in Somaliland, but also by dumping toxic waste in Somali waters. On top of this, severe poverty and prolonged droughts threaten all Somali regions. Archaeologists, like environmentalists and other specialists, should feel a responsibility to intervene when international agreements and regulations are being violated. Archaeologists who found themselves in war zones most often have left the country altogether or simply ignored the problems rather than dealing with the ethical issues they raise. As noted by Pollack, although mentioning the recent and few attempts by major archaeological organisations to tackle ethical issues in archaeology in war zones, “none of these organizations offers any guidelines or suggestions regarding appropriate practices in wartime contexts…” (Pollack 2008: 357–358). Archaeologists have recently highlighted the ethical roles of an archaeologist active in conflict countries (Hamilakis and Duke 2007; Meskell and Pels 2005). If ethics and politics are inseparable (Hamilakis 2009), political awareness and ethical archaeology come with a price; the archaeologist will have to make a choice. Others dealing with heritage management in conflict situations (Yahya 2008) have highlighted the potential archaeology holds to facilitate understanding of the past which different groups can appreciate.
In Somalia and Somaliland, dealing with archaeology as a discipline is itself a political and ideological choice. Archaeology is alien as a topic and recently political voices are being raised against the subject. This threat is not only facing sacred shrines but also rock art sites, which many Somalis refer to as houses of the “devil.” Such figurative art is a prohibited form of art according to some fervent Muslims. Hence, publicly promoting and safeguarding these pre-Islamic sites is not seen as important by some religious groups. Also, within Islam, the ideas of radical groups and Sufi groups clash and lead to battlefield conflicts in southern Somalia and the destruction of sites of Sufi saints. Is it, then, my responsibility as an archaeologist to point out that such sites have important historical information to offer the world beyond their current ritual significance to some groups? One may argue that on the issue of ideologically motivated destruction of archaeological sites, it is crucial that archaeologists encourage knowledge of cultural heritage and the past that can promote cross-cultural understanding. Furthermore, archaeological heritage demonstrates diversity that has potential to engage the whole community and promote dialogue, which may foster mutual respect.
One important aspect that heritage professionals need to start discussing is treating cultural heritage as an emergency issue in conflict and disaster zones. Cultural-heritage support should be a humanitarian priority along with other priorities such as security, food and health. There are lessons to be learned from Somalia and its short history of archaeological research and heritage management. Very little effort has been made regarding preservation of Somali cultural heritage in the last five decades and these efforts have ultimately failed. This is evident from the ways that Somali cultural heritage and archaeological research have been pursued in colonial times and postcolonial times prior to the commencement of the civil war. The failure of these efforts is partly due to a lack of recognition of the significance of an appropriate dialogue between various groups who have an interest in the preservation of this heritage. It is also due to neglect of Somali cultural heritage, which has continued during the ongoing civil war. Consequently, Somali people are losing their only source of (pre)history. This has created an emergency equivalent to any other emergency in the sense that the society is losing an essential part of its existence. When ancestral shrines and grave sites are desecrated and sacred sites are destroyed, people experience a mental trauma. Cultural-heritage specialists can contribute to a reconciliation process in these situations. Managing cultural heritage hence is not only managing materials and monuments, but also providing support and guidance to the people who suffer mentally. This is something that cultural and heritage experts should offer. Heritage workers should plan support mechanisms for preparedness, response and recovery before, during and after emergencies. International organisations should also support people in a holistic way that includes cultural-heritage awareness and work alongside heritage workers in planning humanitarian actions.
Somaliland has a nascent democracy and peace. Here, the main challenges are institution and capacity building, policy and strategy development. The Department of Antiquities is set up to manage cultural resources in Somaliland, and my task involves the initiation, implementation and development of heritage management strategies and programmes for sustainable development. This involves, among other things, cultural resource management for sites, monuments and museums. However, there are many emergencies in Somaliland and culture is but one of them. There is extremely little governmental funding available for the governance of culture. There is no cultural emergency response plan either. Cultural property in Somaliland is disappearing systematically due to uncontrolled development (new roads and growing cities) and continued severe looting. Severe poverty triggers the latter activities. The solution to the problem needs to be multiple, not only addressing education and awareness but heritage work also must aim to create economic opportunities for local people. The potentials of cultural heritage resources must be highlighted to the looters and it must be made explicit how future possibilities surrounding education, job opportunities and tourism can benefit them in the long term...
This work needs financial support and resources that are beyond what the Somaliland government can offer. Somaliland's lack of international recognition not only halts economic development in the nascent democracy, but also impairs the chances for fundraising for basic development projects that are acutely needed (Mire 2008b). Since Somaliland is not recognised by the UN, it is not eligible to ratify the UN convention. Also Somalia's failure to ratify the World Heritage Convention of 1972 means that Somali heritage, wherever it maybe in Somali territory (including Somaliland), is not entitled to support from UNESCO. Also, given the lack of national antiquities legislation, investment by UNESCO or other heritage organisations in potential World Heritage sites in Somali territory will most likely remain absent. Hence, it is imperative to develop antiquities laws for Somaliland which can form the basis for heritage protection. Somalia, being in a state of chaos, has no influence over Somaliland. Somali heritage in stable Somaliland faces a great dilemma in its urgent need for resources as long as Somaliland remains unrecognised by UN and its member nations. Therefore, there needs to be a joint effort for protection of the national heritage of Somaliland. This task calls for the cooperation of all relevant governmental and non-governmental, national and international agencies, educational institutions such as universities and the private sector.
My work with the Department of Antiquities attempts to consolidate archaeological practice in the country under the control of a governmental body for the governance of cultural heritage. Setting up of the Department of Antiquities was the first step. This department is the authority that manages heritage and communicates its significance to the people of the country. The second step was to introduce the role of this department to all other government institutions and ministries in order to organise and pave way for legations. Also, one important task for the implementation of this agenda was to send a governmental delegation (led by myself) to regional and local centres as well as remote areas of archaeological interest. The task of this delegation was to explain the new policy in place regarding the practice of archaeology in the country. One other important education project was to talk with local people and hold seminars either near or at archaeological sites. Through this interaction with local people, many archaeological sites were placed under the supervision of prominent local individuals. However, these sites make up only a fraction of the known archaeological sites in Somaliland and many more sites need supervision. Furthermore, these measures are the bare minimum. Documentation, recording and conservation have yet to be implemented. However, challenges remain in terms of the lack of local individuals with heritage management and preservation training, as well as the lack of museums where collections could be held for protection, research or display.
Many people in Somaliland show great interest in cultural resource management and there is a need for trained archaeologists and heritage workers to work with them and study the history of the region together. Archaeology in Somaliland is in a very early stage. Working at sites here, we are creating local stakeholders since in many cases local people are not aware of the archaeological potentials of their area. Many people are not familiar with archaeology and only realise these potentials through our visits or “discoveries.” However, as soon as such work takes place, we often have many locals who volunteer to work on the sites with us and facilitate our work. Key in this early interaction is dialogue between the site, local people, researchers and the government organisation. This dialogue is encouraged within the safeguarding programmes that have been put in place. These programmes include the Local Education and Safeguarding Programme (LESP), the National Inventory List, the Archival Programme, the Archaeological Rescue Project and the Public Education and Heritage Awareness Media Programme.
The Local Education and Safeguarding Programme aims to assist communities and government staff in acquiring basic knowledge of the significance, protection and preservation of cultural heritage. This programme provides crucial information for the protection of sites and monuments. In order to safeguard cultural heritage at the local level, it is crucial to engage with the local community. The LESP is based on and facilitated by the knowledge-central approach as a locally appropriate theoretical framework and our field officers are embedded in the local community. The first stage of the programme is to visit a site or landscape. By visiting a site or locating a site, we identify cultural property that needs attention. At this stage, we also identify particular groups or individuals who may have knowledge about and interest in the site. We note their views and general knowledge about the site. Our knowledge about the archaeology and the site's potential significances is also shared. Having established mutual interest and respect for each other's views and knowledge about the site we appoint a local person as a custodian of the site. The Department of Antiquities has recruited local people in various areas, particularly to safeguard the most prominent archaeological sites. The second stage of this programme is to provide capacity building for the staff and communities based in different areas of Somaliland.
When dealing with local heritage, it is important to identify sites with local knowledge and interest in mind. The knowledge-centred approach facilitates work in our investigation of what the locals see as significant heritage. Many times there are sites and features in the landscape that the archaeologist does not recognise as something important, such as mountains, springs or even trees. By observing and acquiring knowledge about their uses, we are able to recognise their importance. These seemingly unimportant landscape features are often more significant to the locals than some archaeological sites. In times of conflict we need to have this knowledge and be prepared to act to protect these sites. Particularly with regard to rituals sites, not many locals will want to discuss what they are doing at a particular site. For example, the Sufi saints' shrines are important for their adherents but not at all important for other religious groups. By empowering each group and taking on the responsibility to protect the heritage of all groups, we enable understanding and work on ways to avoid conflict or destruction.
When carrying out archaeological survey of selected areas of Somaliland provinces (from east to west: Sanaag, Togdheer, Saahil, Hargeysa and Awdal), local people are often involved in the initial creation of data about sites. The knowledge-centred approach is helpful in generating valuable discussion with local people about their cultural heritage and why there is a need for its preservation. The survey officers record histories and information about people who know something about sites and their functions.
Also, we hold high-level meetings with ministers, MPs and representatives of UN agencies, NGOs and universities to raise awareness and generate wider discussion around the role of cultural resources in the development of post-conflict Somaliland. Such events and commentaries are often televised by Somaliland National News as well as international news agencies such as Universal TV, Voice of Africa and BBC Somali.
Post-conflict Somaliland still lacks functioning museums. This factor contributes to the disappearance of artefacts. Potential collection and artefact repatriation projects as well as archaeological rescue projects are extremely challenged by this lack of storage and research space. Our current museum development process is halted due to the lack of vital resources and infrastructure. Museums are needed for storage, display, research, public education and activity centres. The material that is excavated or acquired in other ways should be safely kept in a protected space. The Hargeysa museum building still stands, although since the war it has been utilised as a hospital. At the moment, we are in the process of negotiating with the occupants and hope to find another place for them to work.
The Department of Antiquities is considering opportunities to set up a virtual museum since there are many collections held outside Somali territory. Since the early twentieth century, Somali heritage has dispersed due to a lack of protection and storage facilities, among other things. Some of the work being planned includes locating artefacts and archaeological materials currently held outside Somali territories at various research and teaching institutions, as well as in private and public collections. The Department of Antiquities is aiming to start the process of identifying and subsequently cataloguing these foreign-based collections in cooperation with their various holders. We also intend to make use of the Diaspora and their skills and knowledge about Somali heritage.
In 2007, we initiated the repatriation of stolen antiquities to local communities in relevant areas of Somaliland. By working with local people and involving them in the protection of sites and in cultural heritage management, we enabled the repatriation of stelae stolen from burial sites. For example, decorated stelae were stolen from a burial near Buroe. The work involved tracing the items and bringing them back to the community and the custodians of the site. Through a local campaign by the Department of Antiquities, the elders of the village were notified about the loss of the stelae and made aware of the significance of the stelae. This notice prompted the elders to take up their own search for the stelae. The stelae were, in fact, on their way to Boosaso to be shipped to the Gulf and sold on the antiquities market, but the alerted elders tracked the grave robbers and brought the stelae back to the community. Although there are more examples of such local dedication, looting continues and our efforts and resources are not sufficient to tackle this severe problem.
Although the infrastructure for tourism is poor, there are enough sites in or near the larger cities of Somaliland to be visited by tourists. In particular, the rock art sites provide a ready resource for income generation through tourist activities. Somaliland receives cultural and environmental tourism, although in small groups. There is no need for substantial facilities for such small groups of tourists as long as there is protection and conservation awareness. At the most popular sites, we have put in place tourism-management measures. The economic and educational value that results from these tourist sites is important to the Somaliland government.
Furthermore, the natural landscapes as well as the nomadic life style attract many tourists to the region. However, there are also concerns over leisure hunting in which critically endangered species of wild animals including the rare wild ass (Equus africanus somaliensis) have been killed. Often tourists from the other side of the Red Sea have been associated with such acts, since most of these tourists come to the African side of the Red Sea for hunting.
The article has argued that a lack of dialogue and research into local perceptions explains why current best practices of heritage management, with their focus on monuments and objects, were not embraced by traditional societies of the Horn of Africa; Somali society places greater value on the preservation of knowledge and skill than it does on objects. Also, the study suggests archaeologists and heritage experts need to use their skills and knowledge to help emergency and disaster zones gain international support in dealing with the protection of their threatened cultural heritage. In emergencies, people suffer not only in their lack of access to security, food and health but also mentally through the loss of their homes, their valued belongings, their graveyards and their sacred sites. All of these inflict trauma. It is therefore crucial that the professional community considers the idea of cultural heritage as an emergency issue and it needs to speak up when such loss is taking place and have response and recovery actions in place. There is a need for archaeologists active in Africa in particular to investigate local heritage management practices. The knowledge-centred approach facilitates insight into the Somali context; we learn exactly what heritage is relevant to different local communities and why. Even before a conflict arises, this knowledge and understanding should be part of our preparedness and will enable us take informed actions to prevent potential destruction. A key factor in the prevention of human-made heritage disasters is dialogue between different groups and potential cultural diversity should be promoted and respected.
Also, there must be an effort to have cultural emergency preparedness and response in conflict zones. At the moment, there is no infrastructure for cultural emergencies in the policies of the international community in places like Somaliland and Somalia. Somaliland struggles to raise funds since is not recognised internationally and cannot access funds available to nation-states. The Government of Somaliland is struggling to finance non-priority issues related to culture. However, the fact that a country like Somaliland can still recognise the significance of its heritage and provide some funding for its protection and preservation is commendable. The international donor community should take this into consideration.
Somaliland provides a unique opportunity to test the knowledge-centred approach within communities. It also provides opportunities to study local heritage awareness, nascent tourism and how cultural emergencies can be dealt with in conflict and post-conflict contexts. This paper attempted to provide a platform for how to best engage different stakeholders in cultural heritage, taking into account local peoples' and businesses' interests regarding economic development, tourism and education, researchers' scientific investigations, and heritage practitioners’ roles in safeguarding and preserving this heritage for the future generations. The knowledge-centred approach has enabled me to engage with local people on an equal level. By acknowledging that they possess knowledge about their heritage and the past which is crucial for our work, they also feel empowered to take part and contribute their insights into many aspects of my work as a researcher and heritage practitioner.
Sada Mire, Copyright Springer, © 2011