International Museum Day is celebrated globally on May 18 every year. The prime objective of celebrating this day is to raise awareness about the importance of museums. The theme for Museum Day 2019 will emphasise on ‘Museums as cultural hubs: The future of tradition’. Museums are an important link between the past and the present. These are the places to preserve and showcase the tangible heritage of mankind and the environment. The Cambridge dictionary defines museums as “places of study, buildings where objects of historical, scientific and artistic interest are kept, preserved and exhibited”.
Museums offer more than just collections and exhibitions of antiquities. They have been founded for variety of purposes. They play a very important role to inspire interest in heritage. Visiting a museum provide information and insight into one’s identity. Museums are considered centres of research, education and public outreach. Research on museology shows that museums are becoming an important place of attraction for communities to discuss new ideas, and spend time with friends and family.
Museums hold the ‘cultural wealth of the nation’, providing insight into the collective rich human heritage. In most developed countries of the world, museums are the main recipients of revenue from visitors contributing directly to the tourism economy. After the 18th Amendment, heritage management has become the responsibility of the provincial governments .Consequently, provinces are coming with their own legislation for the preservation and conservation of heritage. These laws, inter alia, provide for the preservation and protection of antiquities and make it illegal to excavate or collect remains from archaeological sites without licence from the government. However, more needs to be done. It should be the top priority of the government to preserve the important historic, cultural and national aspects of our history. Besides, there is a dire need to start a nationwide National Historic Preservation Programme (NHPP).
For preserving and safeguarding cultural heritage, the government of Balochistan is taking several steps such as allocation of sufficient funds to the culture sector, creation of new jobs for field archaeologists, survey of archaeological sites and GIS Mapping, and preservation and conservation of heritage sites. Most significantly, a museum is near completion in Quetta to preserve and display centuries-old artefacts discovered in different sites of Balochistan.
The department of culture, tourism and archaeology of Balochistan is planning the digitization of antiquities and developing web applications allowing safe and secure access to visitors to get more information about the items on display. The Quetta museum will not be just a place for housing artefacts. It is also meant to provide research facilities to the students of universities. Furthermore, the government is planning to establish the Mehrgarah Museum at Sibi to showcase the Mehrgarh civilization of 7000 years BCE.
In Pakistan, there is a need for training programmes for museum staff through international institutions that have expertise in conservation techniques. The documentation and inventory management of artefacts is very important. The development of Cultural Resource Management (CRM) with the task to carry out activities pertaining to compliance with all legislation meant for conserving cultural resources could be an important step. This approach requires new ways of thinking about archaeological standards, ethics, principles, and a wide range of training. This kind of framework today is practised in many developed countries of the world. The threat factor to heritage is manifold including natural and manmade disaster, illegal excavation and smuggling of precious antiquities. This issue further leaves us with a very critical question: what part of our past must we save, and what part can we do without? In order to generate interest and connect with people, our museums are required to broaden their scope. They must be community oriented and people oriented as well as professionally sound with well-trained staff. Above all, they need to be children friendly as they have to play a major role in the development of our country in time to come.
It goes without saying that the value of artefacts is not in their sophistication or undeniable beauty but in the information they provide. Museums are places from where we get this information about our heritage, and it is our national obligation to preserve and protect our heritage in a sustainable manner.
The writer is the secretary of theDepartment of Culture, Tourism & Archaeology, Balochistan.