Only through knowledge of the past can this torn and fractured society be healed.
A courageous documentary transfering the hidden, forgotten and largely ignored ancient South African artefacts of the British Museum into a contemporary currency or future South African generations.
There exists a store of South African cultural and heritage artefacts in the Ethnography section of the British Museum. Many of these estimated 5000+ artefacts have been hidden from view for over 150 years.
The value of this collection is to “set South African’s dreaming again and provide a new lease of life in our spiritually deprived society,” explained Credo Mutwa on his visit to the collection in 1996. According to the notes of philanthropist Leslie Ann Van Selm who accompanied Mutwa on the visit, the artefacts included “beaded cosmic charts and love letter necklaces, leather and bead thongs, Zulu girls waistbands, wedding adornments, snuff cloths, wooden carved pipes and a beadwork collection of 1000 items. There was a leather necklace studded with yellowing lion’s claws that belonged to Shaka Zulu and items from Mutwa’s forefather, Dingaan.”
At a press conference in Trafalgar Square 1996, Mutwa explained: “These works of art timeously document the history of our families, our clans and villages that make up our age-old societies. These priceless pieces of our identity were shipped off our shores through nothing but dubious and surreptitious means. The collection has never been documented or catalogued. Now our knowledge has been erased and stolen from us and we have very little evidence of Africa’s pre-colonial history. In these boxes could lie the answer to our salvation and where we will find the Holy Grail and the Covenant that will lead our people from darkness. I am talking about a renaissance.”
With no access for South Africans to these artefacts and their cultural legacy it has enforced a gap in memory of what happened in the early 1800s and before. Some of these ancient artefacts are over 300 years old and hold the key to Southern African spiritual practices, stories, crafts and languages.
Within these stores lie the profound knowledge of an ancient African culture’s indigenous knowledge of astronomy, nature and the language of symbols which was used in all aspects of life: from education to healing, sacred ceremony, the legal system and the environment. The memory of an ancient spiritual and cultural knowledge of age-old practices of families, clans and villages are the essence of the African history. They are the seeds of the present and future, providing indisputable pointers towards increased knowledge and new areas of investigation, whilst providing the validity and dignity of the African cultural experience.
The Holy Grail documenatry provides an inventory of the missing South African artefacts; a virtual (website and film) exhibition to bring the artefacts into the public debate and make them accessible to commmunity leaders, heritage practitioners and teachers to provide an accurate, decolonised cultural heritage of this collection and thereby returning the knowledge of the collection to the communities that need them and upskilling South African heritage resources and museums.
"I became filled with a fanatical obsession; I realized how rapidly Africa was changing. I realized to my shock and sorrow that the culture of my people, a culture that I had thought immortal, was actually dying." Credo Mutwa
LIST OF RESOURCES:
1. Document of 4 framed artefacts
2. Fact Sheet: Revival of the British Museums South african artefact Collection
3. South African Collections in British Msueum : press and statements by Credo Mutwa
4. Tales from Africa’s Trevor Trove: Book By Credo Mutwa
5. Repatriation of African artefacts – an article by Struan Douglas