HISTORICAL TREASURES IN RUINS: SALVAGING ARCHIVES IN NIGERIA.

Author:Adewumi, Afolasade A.
 
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ABSTRACT

Records provide the link between the past and the future. They are the repository of the intellectual and creative independence of a community. The creations of the human mind are open to loss from both natural and man-made forces if delay is allowed in caring for them in the appropriate manner. When historical records are destroyed, history is wiped out forever. Archival records hold information about who we are and where we come from. Records substantiate history and give cultural context to the lives of human beings. This article depicts the relationship between national archives and national identity in a bid to showcase the need for the Nigerian Government to pay special attention to protecting the national archives from destruction, rot and decay.

  1. INTRODUCTION

    Those who control the PRESENT control the PAST, those who control the PAST control the FUTURE. (1)

    Archives have been defined as 'records which have value for permanent preservation or have been selected for transfer or have been transferred to an archival establishment.' (2) Archives have also been defined as collections of documents or 'records' which have been selected for permanent preservation because of their value as evidence or as a source for historical or other research. (3)

    The National Archives Act defines records as:

    all papers, registers, printed matters, books, maps, plans, photographs, microfilms, cinematographic films, sound recordings, or other documentary material regardless of physical form or characteristics made or received by public or state offices, or by business houses or companies, private bodies or individuals in pursuance of their legal obligations or in connection with the transaction of their proper business, but does not include library or museum material made or acquired solely for reference or exhibition purposes, extra copies of records kept only for convenience of reference or stocks of publications; (4) Records are produced and made use of on a daily basis as human beings relate with one another and carry out their day-to-day activities. Proper accountability can never take place without records or when records are not properly managed. Archival records include a wide variety of forms such as correspondence, notes, books, plans, maps, drawings, photographs, films, microfiches, sound recordings and computerised data. (5)

    It must be emphasised that not all records qualify as archival material. Records that are no longer in use become archival materials if they are selected for permanent preservation as a result of the importance placed on them. Information relating to political, economic, legal, social and cultural developments of bygone years can be gathered from archival materials.

    Records are important components of development. Past records give a research base to researchers in their bid to generate new knowledge for development processes. (6) Past records are used to plan for the future and also serve as part of a nation's heritage. It should, however, be stated that knowledge about the past is not only retrieved from what was written down by those who lived in that era but also from what they built, what they wore, what they put in their houses, what they did to their gardens, all their survivals both deliberate and accidental, constitute heritage. This article however focuses on documentary heritage which consists of information that was deliberately written down. (7)

    This article is divided into five parts, the first being this introductory. The second part discusses archival records as cultural heritage while discussing the dangers archives have been prone to from time immemorial. The third part discusses the emergence of archives in Nigeria. The fourth part discusses the protection available both internationally and locally for archives in Nigeria. The fifth part is the recommendation and conclusion.

  2. ARCHIVAL RECORDS AS HERITAGE

    Record keeping originated in early times when man saw the need to hand over knowledge from one person to another. This was done through pictures and symbols, ideographs, pictographs and later alphabets. The emergence of cities with formal governments, educational systems and highly developed and complex commercial activities warranted the need for records to comply with some benchmark. (8) The use of papyrus scrolls for writing gave way to vellum codex before paper books came into existence. Libraries therefore evolved to cope with urbanisation and the progress of knowledge and education.

    3000 BC marked the existence of some of the earliest known libraries and archives of ancient Africa in Egypt where governmental records, legal records, business records, treatises of religion, astrology, medicine, mathematics, literature and history were kept. (9)

    By the twentieth century, libraries as repositories of records had metamorphosed into an institution that met the needs of societies as they preserved information that formed the basis of government, economy, property rights, national and ethnic identity. Social, political, religious systems, creeds, world views and ideologies found rationalisation and support in library materials. The philosophical bases of education, intellectual development and social progress find their roots in records held in the libraries. Advanced culture also finds support in library holdings. (10) Library records piece together parts missing from jigsaws; they can bridge together societies that have a complicated and varied national identity. (11)

    As far back as 1980, the humanist attitude towards books was reflected in an address given by the popular historian Barbara Tuchman at the Library of Congress thus:

    Books are the carriers of civilisation. Without books, history is silent, literature is dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilisation would have been impossible. They are engines of change, windows on the world, and (as a poet has said) 'light-houses erected in the sea of time.' They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print. (12) Development in societies is encouraged by knowledge gained from past interactions. Culture being the attitude of a people to the future of their traditional values faced with the demands of modern technology which is an essential factor of development and progress. (13) With language making memory to be in print, knowledge becomes available in literatures which have derived value from being used to make a positive impact on a generation over and above the generation before it. People also get to learn not only their own culture but the way of life of different tribes and peoples over several periods in history. (14) Life in modern times has become complex because human beings, while holding onto the basic aspect of their culture, have mingled with other cultures from which they adapt one or two things they find attractive. It is the little knowledge of their own culture kept by that people that is passed on to the generation coming after them as their identity. When identity is not preserved, this leads to cultural decline as was the case in the last days of the Empire when Rome began to neglect its libraries. (15) Library records form the primary safeguard against cultural extinction.

    Wartime strategies have traditionally involved the targeting of libraries as a way to erase identities, to massacre a cultural memory and to offend the community on a personal level by...

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