Morija Museum & Archives is located in the small picturesque town of Morija, 45 km south of the capital of Lesotho, a small, landlocked, mountainous country in southern Africa. Morija is a site of national importance, established in 1833 as a centre for literacy, education and leadership development. It played a pivotal role in nation building during the past 175 years.
Morija also became an important cultural centre where Basotho and western traditions interacted, and where some of Lesotho’s greatest writers and composers lived and drew their inspiration, including Thomas Mofolo and JP Mohapeloa. Thus, Morija became known popularly as the ‘Well-Spring of Learning’ (Selibeng sa Thuto).
From Small Beginnings
The Museum was formally established in August 1956 through the advice of the Regent, Queen ‘Mantšebo. Morija Museum & Archives was Lesotho’s pioneer in heritage management and education, and remains its premier cultural institution.
The Museum built upon the work of over a century of private collections held in Morija of cultural and historical artefacts and an extensive archive of rare documents and books which recorded the growth and development of the Basotho people. These collections were housed separately at the time.
In 1985, Queen ‘Mamohato persuaded The Ford Foundation to assist in construct-ing permanent facilities to house both the museum and archival collections so that this centre of learning could play a larger role in the life of the nation. Additional assistance from Goldfields (South Africa) and the Netherlands-Lesotho Foundation ensured that Phase I (the Archival Building) was constructed in 1988. In early 1989, a full time Curator was employed (Mr. Stephen Gill).
As funding for Phase II (Museum Exhibit building) was not forthcoming at the time, the decision was taken to house both the archival and museum collections in the new Phase I building.
Growing Programmes and Influence
Morija Museum & Archives seeks to portray the larger history and living traditions of Lesotho/the Basotho through a range of edu-cational programmes and activities including the arts and culture, science and the environment as well as a network of allied heritage and tourism sites.
During the past 20 years, over 170,000 visitors have enjoyed the Museum. They include internal and international visitors, school groups from around Lesotho and researchers of Basotho art, history and culture. At the same time, MMA staff have been involved in numerous research, publishing, media and consultancy projects.
Since re-opening in 1989, the Museum has undertaken a number of internal improvements and community-based projects:
- The Museum grounds have been beautifully developed and landscaped, historic out-buildings have been renovated, and a Tea Room , picnic facilities and natural amphitheatre have been opened or enhanced
- The archival collections, which have grown substantially, are being re-organised and catalogued according to current international standards, and discussions with potential partners are now underway to begin digitising the most important sections of these collections so that these can be available for on-line research
- An Outreach Programme to schools has been established in order to make services more widely available
- An Arts & Crafts Centre has been established at Maeder House (the oldest building in Lesotho which is located in Morija) for the sale of locally produced crafts, exhibitions by Lesotho artists and the training of young people
- Walking trails in the hills above Morija were established and relations developed with a growing range of private stakeholders (B&Bs, catering and pony-trekking) in order to promote the larger Morija area as a tourism destination
- The old site museum at the historic Masitise Cave House in the south of Lesotho has been restored and exhibits have been considerably upgraded
- Efforts are now underway to document, develop and promote a wider range of heritage sites with tourism potential across Lesotho, and
- The Morija Arts & Cultural Festival together with the nationwide School Cultural Competitions has developed since 1999 to become Lesotho’s most prestigious annual cultural event.
These and other achievements would not have been possible without support from a growing range of partners in the private sector and allied organisations, and especially from the Ministry of Tourism, Environment & Culture which has provided recurring funding since 1996 to employ additional Museum staff.
Phase II Expansion Plan
Given the great strides made in programme development over the past two decades and growth in the number of staff members, the current infrastructure – originally intended to house only the Archives – has become increasingly inadequate and congested. Thus, the MMA Board and Phase II Task Force have revised plans for this expansion project, so that Lesotho’s leading institution of culture and heritage management can move into the future with confidence.
The centerpiece of the plan is the proposed two-story addition. It would: create more room for museum exhibits, archival collections and researchers, provide for a multi-purpose room, additional offices and work space, enhance existing facilities and provide space for new income generating activities. The entire building will be more energy efficient and user-friendly to the physically-challenged.
Timing, Goals and Benefits
Phase II should take 3-4 years before being ready to open to the public. Assuming that funding is located during 2012/13, the new facilities would be opened to the public in 2015/16.
Scope of the Phase II Project
- Expand exhibition space for the Museum’s collections and modernise display designs
- Expand storage and research facilities for the Archives
- Expand office and meeting space
- Develop a virtual museum through the online presentation of digitised archival materials, photographic collections, etc.
Goals for Phase II
- Improve the size and range of exhibits and introduce display techniques such as multi-media presentations and interactive technologies
- Develop the MMA website with both free and income producing content
- Integrate Maeder House Arts & Crafts Centre more fully into the Museum grounds
- Improve the security of the growing archival collections by ensuring that a Reading Room for researchers is re-established
- Create a multi-purpose room for seminars, training, catering, video presentations and cultural performance
- Improve the energy efficiency of the main buildings, and
- Improve accessibility for the handicapped.
Benefits of the Phase II Development
- Enhanced revenue through increased visitation, retail sales, venue hire, catering, and Internet sales of both merchandise and Archival material
- Increased participation in educational, cultural and creative programmes
- Increased awareness of the Museum and Archives to viewers around the world
- Increased awareness of Morija as a historical and cultural centre
- Increased capacity to accommodate more and larger research projects
- Increased amenity in the working environment for staff and volunteers
- Develop the talents of local artists and youth
- Develop a better-structured tour of key features of the larger Morija/Matsieng area, thus highlighting its significance in nation-building, education and creativity as well as promoting interaction and learning from local resource persons about various aspects of culture and the community.
It is anticipated that assistance will be required in order to achieve these benefits. The projected budget for this project is R 8 million (USD 1 million).
For further information about Phase II or the work of Morija Museum & Archives, please contact the Curator, Stephen Gill, at (+266) 5885-8662 or 2236-0324 (office). Copies of The Story of Morija Museum & Archives: Pioneers in Heritage Management & Education in Lesotho (2005) the MMA Strategic Plan 2010-2015 as well as financial audit reports are also available.