The relocation of the Walter Roth Museum has been placed on hold as consultations will be held with stakeholders, including museum staff and members of the indigenous population before any further decision is taken.
This announcement was made yesterday by Minister of Education Dr Rupert Roopnaraine at the National Toshaos Council’s (NTC) 10th Annual Conference which is currently underway at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre, Liliendaal, to resounding applause.
This comes almost two weeks after the Ministry of the Presidency had announced plans to have the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology moved from its current location and President David Granger had confirmed that the decision had not been “whimsically” made.
It was while the floor was open to participants to pose questions to Minister Roopnaraine and his team on the topic of education yesterday, that Toshao Patrick Gomes of Maruranau in the Rupununi took the opportunity to air his concerns over the plan to have the museum relocated.
“This is a serious issue,” Gomes said, “because our people need that connection with the past to know where we came from, where we’re going and who were are… I am asking here at this forum for all the Toshaos to make recommendation to the Government of Guyana that the Walter Roth Museum remains where it is because we do not want to lose our heritage or our artifacts.” Responding, Roopnaraine, under whose ministry the Department of Culture falls, said, “What I have done is, I have asked the President to put the question of the Walter Roth Museum on hold until we have had an opportunity to discuss this situation thoroughly with the Toshaos, the Anthropologists and so on.
I believe that you, yourself here at this conference have sent a very strong message about the Walter Roth Museum,” the minister said.
Two Fridays ago, following the revelation by Minister of State Joseph Harmon the previous day that the government was considering moving the museum, a statement from the Ministry of the Presidency confirmed it.
The National Museum was put forward as the new site and it was stated that work would be carried out at the National Museum to ensure that both facilities meet international standards.
Immediately, there were several appeals against such a move, led by co-founder of the Walter Roth, Jennifer Wishart, who, in a letter to this newspaper, said that the consequences of such action would be dire as there would be damage to and loss of artifacts.
Days later, when President Granger was asked about the move, he had stated that it would go ahead despite the protestations as it was administratively important and all efforts would be taken to ensure that the collections were not damaged. The President had pointed to organizational changes being made in the Ministry of the Presidency such as the setting up of a Department of the Environment and a Department of Protocol, which would like be housed in the Main Street building.
It was subsequent to this that engineers assessed the National Museum’s premises and found that it was not conducive to having an extension built.
Walter Roth staff were then asked to consider the top storey of the Guyana Post Office Corporation building, which they declared to be unsuitable.
Former minister of culture Dr Frank Anthony was among those who had warned against moving the Walter Roth.
“I think it’s a real tragic decision… It has been around since 1974 and over the years and to date continues to be developed. You have a lot of collections there that anthropologists and archaeologists have discovered, some date back to the 1800s and some are not in the best of conditions that can be moved just like that,” Anthony had told Stabroek News.
Extensive works of co-founder of the Walter Roth, Dr Denis Williams, which are of national and international significance are stored in the museum.