One of Antigua’s most important buildings that protects the island’s treasures is in danger. Termites are threatening to destroy the historic 18th Century museum that proudly displays the islands’ rich cultural heritage. Originally the Court House, the building itself has stories to tell.
The historic building was transformed into the National Museum of Antigua and Barbuda in 1985 by the Historical and Archaeological Society in partnership with the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. Funding for this was provided by a grant from UNESCO and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The Historical and archaeological Society provides materials and pays to maintain the old structure as government no longer contributes and the museum is not linked financially to any organisation. It is kept alive by an active and current NGO and Non-Profit organization of volunteers.
Housing a vast collection of artifacts, artworks and documents that chronicle the history, traditions and heritage of the islands. From the indigenous Arawak people to the colonial era and the struggles for independence, the museum encapsulates the essence of Antigua and Barbuda’s cultural identity. It brings Antigua right into the space age with its newest exhibition from Keisha Schahaff’s journey into the stars. The museum is a vital educational resource for visitors from around the world and provides lectures, publications, historical research.
Now this cherished institution is facing a dire situation. Damage caused by the earthquakes in 1834 and 1974 has never been adequately repaired but today a more destructive force is in play. Termites, relentless destroyers of wood, have infiltrated the museum’s walls and roof, threatening to erase years of history and culture.
Dr Reg Murphy says “we have subterranean and the type that flies…. live in the walls and find their way into the beams…. We cannot see what is happening until it’s too late.”
The termites are wreaking havoc on its wooden structures and artifacts. These silent destroyers tunnel through the wood, feeding on cellulose and weakening the museum’s foundations. Left unchecked, the termites can cause irreversible damage, leading to structural instability and the potential collapse of the building.
Already, parts of the ceilings are visibly eroded away; valuable artifacts and artworks within the museum are at risk of being devoured by these insidious pests. Walter Berridge, Chairman of the Historical and Archaeological Society said “The Museum has been patched and like a wounded soldier returns to battle! It is in dire need of urgent repair.”
Compounding the problem is the museum’s lack of funding to combat this latest challenge. Without adequate funding, it is challenging to implement effective pest control measures, conduct necessary repairs, and safeguard the museum’s precious collection.
The museum’s limited budget is stretched thin, with little left to allocate towards these critical preservation efforts or new exhibits. Mr Berridge told me “Much of our funds…. were re-invested in the maintenance of the building……. diverted from their intended purposes such as the creation of new exhibits and technology.”
The old building consumes all the museum’s scant resources; exhibits are suffering, publications, storage, training, development of new exhibits are stalled as all revenues and focus are on keeping the historic building alive. As a result, the termites continue their destructive march, threatening to erase the historical legacy of Antigua and Barbuda.
The historic museum of Antigua and Barbuda, lovingly preserving the nation’s cultural heritage, faces a formidable challenge. With limited funding to combat this destructive force, the museum’s existence hangs in the balance. It is crucial for the local community, government, and international organizations to join forces to save this invaluable institution to ensure that the history, traditions, and cultural legacy of Antigua and Barbuda continue to inspire and educate generations to come. Asks Mr Berridge: Where do we go in 2024?