The African continent is home to a diverse range of cultures and traditions which are reflected in museums located across the continent. The vast collections of art and artifacts in African museums represent the history of its people and culture, preserving and showcasing African heritage for future generations and those from the diaspora.
Opening the door to the continent’s vast array of contributions to the world’s art, science, nature, history and archaeology, these 10 museums in Africa are places to visit to expand your mind and renew roots with the motherland.
Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and Mausoleum (Accra, Ghana)
Located in downtown Accra, Ghana, the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and Mausoleum is the final resting place of Ghana’s first President, who served from 1960 to 1966. The design represents an upside-down sword, an Akan cultural symbol of peace, which is made from Italian marble with a black star at its apex to symbolize unity. The mausoleum is surrounded by water which is a symbol of life. The museum houses the personal belongings of Nkrumah, including books he authored, archives and official photographs.
National Museum of Yaounde (Yaounde, Cameroon)
The National Museum of Yaounde is an African art museum that displays the rich history of Cameroon, a central African country on the Gulf of Guinea. Located in the ancient presidential palace in Yaoundé, the museum hosts permanent historical exhibitions as well as more contemporary programs, such as its recent art presentation of Cameroonian sculptor Dieudonné Fokou.
The House of Slaves and Door of No Return (Dakar, Senegal)
The House of Slaves and Door of No Return is a haunting memorial to remember and honor the victims of the Atlantic slave trade on Gorée Island off the coast of Dakar. For nearly 40 years, the House of Slaves was curated by Boubacar Joseph Ndiaye, the authoritative voice and architect of the memorial.
As a representation of African, European and American history, this UNESCO World Heritage site remains an important place to remember the inhumanity of slavery.
Benin City National Museum, (Benin City, Nigeria)
Located in the city’s center on King’s Square, Benin City National Museum presents significant artifacts from the Benin Empire, which include terracotta renderings, bronze figurines and cast iron pieces, as well as ancient art. The museum first opened in 1973. One of its most interesting exhibits is the head of renowned Queen Idia, who reigned as Oba of the Edo people from 1504 to 1550.
Apartheid Museum (Johannesburg, South Africa)
Known as the premiere museum featuring artifacts from the 20th century and designed by a team of curators, filmmakers and historians, the Apartheid Museum is home to artwork, photography, film footage, text panels and artifacts from South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime. The museum stands as a reminder of the rise and fall of apartheid and to “never forget.” Its Nelson Mandela exhibit features the famed apartheid activist as a leader, negotiator and statesman, reflecting on his 27 years as a political prisoner and his ascendance to the presidency of South Africa.
National Museum of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)
Despite its small size, the National Museum of Ethiopia holds one of the world’s biggest treasures, the partial skeleton of “Lucy,” a miniature human believed to have lived over 3.2 million years ago. The museum also stands as a home for the country’s history, with large sections dedicated to its ethnographic and paleontological structure. There are also plenty of arts and crafts, featuring many of the country’s traditional weapons, jewelry, utensils, clothing and musical instruments.
Cape Coast Castle Museum (Cape Coast Castle, Ghana)
Located in Cape Coast Castle, the museum component educates about the unfortunate interactions between local communities and Europeans during enslavement. Visitors can view maps of trade routes and objects which were used as currency in trades, such as glass beads, whisky bottles and firearms. Not for the faint of heart, guests can experience the auction blocks and holding ships that carry the weight of their ancestors whose lives were brutally stolen.
Zanzibar National Museum of History and Culture (Zanzibar, Tanzania)
Known as The House of Wonders by locals, the Zanzibar National Museum of History & Culture was first built in 1883 as a ceremonial palace for Sultan Barghash. It displays artifacts from Swahili civilization and 19th century Zanzibar, its maritime culture of the Indian Ocean and the Swahili Coast and the history and architecture of Stone Town, Zanzibar’s industrial heritage. All of the museum’s displays are labeled in English and Swahili. Just outside the museum’s entrance is a live-sixes mtepe, a traditional Swahili sailing vessel made without nails.
National Museum of Mali (Bamako, Mali)
Located in the nation’s capital, this collection of archaeological and anthropological finds takes you through the country’s rich history. Cultural landmarks such as the mosques of Djenné and Timbuktu are located on the National Museum of Mali’s outside grounds. Inside, visitors can study the traditional dress, instruments and ritual objects that are associated with Mali’s various ethnic groups.
Kitale Museum (Kitale, Kenya)
Opened to the public in 1924, the Kitale Museum is the first museum of Kenya. Its collections feature many items from various Kenyan tribes, such as the Luyha, Maasai and the Turkana, showcasing pieces from traditional Kenyan homes, along with weaponry, utensils and musical instruments. The museum also has a nature trail filled with native flora. The Kitale is part of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), a multi-disciplinary institution that collects, studies, preserves and presents Kenya’s past and present cultural and natural heritage.