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    African Voices

African Voices

African Voices is an ongoing special exhibit of Africa’s peoples, cultures, and economies, and their influence around the world. The exhibit is divided into themed sections on either side of the gallery, described below. If time is short, however, the gallery’s center walkway, called Walk Through Time, summarizes much of the content.

If you’re doing the full tour, the first section of African Voices is titled Living in Africa, and it covers everything from simple wood and stick houses, to public spaces. A highlight is a Somali portable house, made of sticks bound together with twine, and built by the women of the family. Its basic framework is small and light enough to be carried by a camel. In Somali culture, women own the home, and it’s eventually inherited by her daughters. Also on display here is a set of carved house doors from Zanzibar, which separate private residences from public spaces and are a visual indicator of a family’s wealth.

The next section is titled Kongo Crossroads, covering the interactions of the Kongo people with Americans during the time of the African slave trade. The displays show that some of these cultures’ religions seem to have adopted elements of the others they saw.

Next up is a section titled Global Africa, highlighting Africa’s approach to global problems such as the balance between conservation and commerce. In Tanzania, for example, tourism is a huge source of revenue, and visitors come to see the native wildlife. Setting aside large swaths of land for tourism sometimes conflicts with the lives of Tanzania’s indigenous people, such as the Maasai, so the Tanzanian government has set up the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to try to balance out everyone’s needs.

The far end of African Voices is the Freedom Theater, with displays and a short film on the history of slavery and apartheid, including the Americas from 1626 through 1865, and South Africa until 1994. It may seem unusual to have a film about slavery in a museum dedicated to natural history, but this one is well done. If you’re looking for a quick break, stop by this tiny theater for a few minutes.

Walking back up the right side of the African Voices hallway, you’ll next see Working in Africa, with examples of pottery-making and metalworking, with examples ranging from folk ark decorations to gold jewelry made for royalty. The metalworking display leads into Market Crossroads, one of the best parts of African Voices, showing the central role of outdoor markets in many African cities. The market here, from Accra, Ghana, holds up to 30,000 traders selling everything from food and household goods, to clothing and auto parts. Check out the clothing prints on sale in the market – each print or pattern on display tells a story, and the story is summarized on signs next to the prints.

The final section of African Voices is Wealth in Africa, with wealth defined as money, knowledge, and personal connections. There’s an unusual, airplane-themed coffin at the end of this display, which we suppose demonstrates the deceased’s status and passion for flying.

Other Lands at Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History