Ethiopian private Museum
Museum curator employs artefact appeal to draw tourists
By Jamil Khan @ The Gulf Today-Sharjah, May 05, 2012
DUBAI: The recently concluded Arabian Travel Market (ATM) — a major event targeting tourist industry professionals not just of the region, but also those from around the world — proved to be business-wise, successful for many. And for some, it was an extraordinary platform to shed light on the region’s in general and their country’s in particular, rich historical background.
Ethiopian national Abdullah Ali Sherif, was one such individual who participated at the event, displaying over 70 historical artefacts in an effort to promote his country, Ethiopia, as a major tourist destination for those who visited the exhibition held at the Dubai International Trade and Exhibition Centre last week.
Sherif, owner and curator of Sherif Harar City Museum, located within the walled Jugol of Harar, Ethiopia, has been collecting a range of rare historical items during the course of the last 20 years and has spent millions of dollars in establishing his own private museum in the Ethiopian city. This was the first time he was participating as part of the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism delegation, which had their country’s stand at the exhibition.
Sherif has spent his life acquiring and developing the Sherif Harar City Museum facility to restore and exhibit centuries’ old artefacts produced by various groups in and around Harar city and the region during that period.
“The aim of the museum is to impart a knowledge of the region’s cultural heritage. Currently, students from local schools and universities, besides visitors from all over the world, visit the facility to acquire knowledge of the rich past of the region,” he said.
“It is my first participation in the ATM, and we had over 70 antique items displayed at the Ethiopia stall. Visitors showed great enthusiasm in knowing details about each and every single artefact displayed, but especially so, a set of rare books, including a 1000-year-old manuscript of the Holy Quran and 500-year-old books, evoked great admiration. The range of items at the country’s stall included ethnic jewellery, coins, stamps, seals and centuries old traditional clothes,” he added.
The city of Harar is the capital of the Harari People’s National Regional State, located 525 kilometres east of country’s capital Addis Ababa. This region’s unique importance in early Islamic history was confirmed when a group of Muslims (companions of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)) migrated from Makkah to Habasha (present-day Ethiopia) and took refuge under the regime of Najashi, the then king of Habasha.
Sherif, in answer to a question, said today, approximately 21,000 persons live within the 0.6 square kilometre-limits of the old city of Harar and comprise various groups, which are diverse in language, religion, and in social and cultural practices. He started collecing artefacts since 1989, with his first major project being the recording of Harari songs.
The encouragement extended to him by the community helped him continue his quest to acquire other historical objets d’art, which later turned out to be the first step towards establishing his own private museum, the first such museum in the whole of Ethiopia.
“During the last 20 years I have collected over 50,000 items in and around the city of Harar and the rest of Ethiopia, with the aim of bringing the rich history of the area under one roof. While the majority of the items collected belong to Islamic period, some are from the Christian era.
“The range of artefacts in the museum include rare books, seals, historical manuscripts in Amharic, Harari, Arabic and Roman languages, coins representing different regimes ruling the area throughout its history, hand-made traditional baskets known as ‘waskambai,’ incorporating complex and traditional patterns, as also traditional costumes belonging to that period,” he said.
His overriding enthusiasm to keep history and culture alive moved Sherif to continue his journey. The support of the community who donated their family belongings that were passed through the generations, and the contribution of the Ethiopian government, have rendered his project successful.
Since the museum’s opening to the public in 2007, students as well as tourists have been amazed by the range of exhibits put on show by Sherif.
“During the last two decades, I spent around $5 million to collect these rare items. Today, they are worth over a billion dollars,” he added, with a proud smile on his face.