First Somali cultural museum in North America set to open

6:03 PM, Oct 16, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - North America's first Somali museum dedicated to the country's culture and history will celebrate a grand opening this weekend in Minneapolis.

The Somali Artifact and Cultural Museum will be the first museum of its kind outside of Somalia. Many of the country's museums were destroyed in the civil war.

The museum is the longtime vision of Minneapolis restaurant owner Osman Ali, who went back to Somalia in 2009 and realized many young people no longer understood the country's nomadic traditions.

"And I said, the culture is going to be lost," said Ali.

With Minnesota the home to the largest Somali population in the country, it seemed only fitting to establish the museum in Minneapolis. He begin to collect more than 700 Somali artifacts, from containers that carried camel's milk and preserved food, to ancient writing tablets, instruments, weapons, clothing and utensils.

Museum Board Abshir Isse proudly rolled out a prayer mat made of animal skin dating back hundreds of years. All of the items in the museum are handcrafted from only two materials available to the nomadic people: animal skin and wood.

Ali has included items from his own family, including a hand carved cup his mother used, and his dad's animal branding iron. He hopes to collect a greater understanding that enlightens Somalis and educates all people.

"Teach them this culture, what does this consist of? What is this made of? How people were a living long time ago," said Ali.

Museum Outreach Director Sarah Larsson says the museum has many stakeholders beyond the Somali community.

"Somalis are playing the role European immigrants played in the 19th and 20th centuries. I am coming into this also from a family of immigrants. My grandparents immigrated here from Poland and we have that memory and experience of holding onto your culture," said Larsson.

Ali began his collection in the basement of the Bright Moon Café, which he owns, but says many more items are on the way, like a traditional Somali hut. As the collection grows, the museum will likely expand accordingly.

It will be staffed by volunteers three days a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9am-5pm. It will also host school field trips, tours and classes. Call ahead before visiting at 612.998-1166 as the museum is still in need of volunteers.

The Somali Artifact and Cultural Museum grand opening is free and open to the general public on Saturday October 19th, at 1516 East Lake Street in Minneapolis, from 3pm-9pm in the basement of the Plaza Verde building.

Learn more at www.somalimuseum.com

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