Thursday, September 16, 2010

Staunton's Frontier Culture Museum ... dedication of new West African Farm

Cross-posted at the Washington Examiner

In the heart of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is the Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia, an outdoor, living-history, hands-on historic experience for young and old alike. The museum, through period-costumed interpreters, presents the story of the people who settled in the Shenandoah Valley, beginning with recreated farms from Ireland, Germany, and England. The journey continues with their migration to America represented by the American farms and school house.

This weekend another part of that story will unfold as the Western African Farm is dedicated. After much research and a year spent building an Igbo farm village, a grand ceremony will take place on Saturday, September 18, when the museum will be open free of charge to the public to attend the West African farm dedication and explore all the farms.

The Igbo (pronounced "Eee-boo") represent 300,000 African captives brought to the colonies between 1700-1775 with the overwhelming majority originally from West and West Central Africa, now known as the nation of Nigeria. Virginia, with its large tobacco farms and agriculture base, imported many slaves to work as craftsmen, artisans, farm field hands and domestic servants.

The Igbo were highly successful in Africa as they adapted farming techniques suitable to the rain forest environment. Yams were a main food source, planted in fields cleared and burned from the surrounding rain forest and, as yam yields increased, so did a man's standing in the community. The Igbo were also successful in finding uses for local trees, especially palms, for food and materials. Their skills extended to metal-working, wood-carving, basket-making, pottery, and textiles, and they were experienced traders.

The addition of the new farm is an example of an Igbo compound in the 1700s made up of buildings to house a man, his wives (usually two or three), his children, and dependents. The size of his compound was a measure of his success.

When approaching the West African Farm at the Frontier Culture Museum, one of the first things visitors will see are non-native banana and palm trees outside the red mud wall of the compound. Inside are several structures with clay walls and raffia palm thatch roofs, all built from local and imported materials. The central structure within is the man's day house called an obi, with buildings for the man's residence and his wives located behind the obi.

Saturday will be a celebration at the Frontier Culture Museum as Igbo from throughout the United States and the world converge on Staunton to participate in the ceremony. The dedication begins at 11:00 a.m. but observers may want to arrive a little earlier to try and get a good vantage point because of the number of spectators who are expected. The Governor of Nigeria will be in attendance as well as many other dignitaries.

If you're going:

West African Farm Dedication of the Igbo Farm Village
Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia
1290 Richmond Road
Staunton, VA 24401
September 18, 2010
11:00 a.m.

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