The Unique Perspective Of Living Museums In Africa

Mafwe Living Museum in Namibia

What Makes Living Museums So Unique?

Most museums nowadays have progressed from the dusty old relics of days gone by thanks to informative, interactive displays and relatable information. However, there’s one kind of museum that takes things a step further, for the ultimate enjoyment of visitors.

In Africa, living museums are a unique way to explore ancient civilizations for firsthand learning and real-life inspiration. Keep reading to explore what living museums are, why they’re so important, and where to enjoy them.

What Is a Living Museum?

A living museum aims to recreate historical settings and illustrate the ways of the past in a practical way. These unique museums hire actors to bring history to life as accurately as possible, using the implements and methods employed during the relevant time frames.

They attempt to imitate both the human interactions and physical conditions of the environment of the times. Visitors are able to view a wide range of details glanced over in the history books, such as the daily living conditions, situational challenges, and established traditions of distinct cultures or groups of people. In this way, they conserve and preserve these long-forgotten ways of living to help both students and interested travelers gain insight and perspective to guide their perceptions of how and why history may have unfolded as it did.

What You Can Expect at Living Museums

These museums typically use two kinds of costumed interpretations. These are:

  • Re-enactments

These actors go about the daily tasks of the time in full regalia in a traditional setting, using the tools available at the time. For instance, visitors might view a blacksmith, dressed in the fashion of the time, making weapons or tools, using forging equipment that closely replicates the original.

Not only do the actors look the part, but they closely imitate the language, mannerisms, and attitudes prevalent in the setting. They only interact with visitors in a way that their character might.
For instance, these actors might describe their tasks in simple terms like, ‘I am making a horseshoe’’.

  • Interpretations

These costumed actors are interpreters with a good knowledge of the historical times represented and how they relate to the present.

They speak from a modern perspective to help visitors understand the enactment before them by explaining its components and the activities of the in-character actors. In some cases, they might demonstrate additional tasks to their audience.

An interpreter would discuss the role of the blacksmith by talking about their working conditions, other tasks they might perform, their status in the community, etc.

Most interpreters have a thorough grounding in the historical periods under discussion and may have completed many hours of study on the subject.

The unwritten rules of their trade include:

  • Avoiding information that is irrelevant to what is on display
  • Provoking thought among their audience
  • Providing context for the actions represented
  • Adopting a specialized approach when presenting to children

In this way, all living museums aspire to represent an accurate reflection of the past, without undue influences from later periods in history.

Why Visit a Living Museum?

While you’ll find living museums around the world, Africa boasts some of the most accurate and authentic ones. These actors are still very much in-tune with the old ways of doing things.

It is the African way to remember and celebrate individual cultures and traditions and as such, this knowledge is faithfully handed down from generation to generation.

These actors are dedicated to preserving the ways of their ancestors and understand the significant role they play in keeping their culture alive.

When you visit a living museum in Africa, you’re helping to create ongoing employment for local communities. You’re helping people earn a living doing what they do best instead of migrating to unfamiliar urban environments in search of menial work.

By keeping these communities together and thriving, living museums play a vital role in preserving and celebrating diversity among population groups.

These museums also provide opportunities for cultural exchange as well as enjoyment. Not only do visitors get to experience a different worldview, but a visit to a living museum is also a fascinating and informative outing.

In the simplest terms, if individual cultures don’t work hard to preserve their unique traditions, we’ll all end up the same, and that would be rather boring.

Where in the World Can you Enjoy These Experiences?

Some of the best-known living history museums around the world include:

  • Plimoth Plantation, Massachusetts
  • The Medieval Centre, Denmark
  • Coggeshall Farm Museum, Colt State Park, USA
  • Burnaby Village Museum, British Columbia
  • Black Country Living Museum, UK
  • Penghu Living Museum, China

In Africa, you can explore the culture of your hosts at the following living museums:


  • Ju/’Hoansi (San culture) near Grashoek
  • Mafwe (Mafwe culture) in the Zambezi (Caprivi) Region
  • Damara (Damara hunter gatherer culture), near De Riet
  • Mbunza (Munza culture) near Rundu
  • Ovahimba (half-nomadic Ovahimba culture), near Oukongo
  • Khwe (San culture) near Divundu
  • Hunters (San culture) near Tsumkwe

South Africa

  • Waterberg Living Museum, Vaalwater
  • !Khwa Ttu Living Musuem, Darling
  • Kleinplasie, Worcester
  • The National Museum, Bloemfontein

You can enjoy these interactions on one-hour or four-hour tours and even overnight adjacent to some of these museums. While Namibia has the monopoly on authentic showcases of traditional life, you’ll also find some immaculately preserved small towns, like Matjiesfontein, where time seems to have stopped centuries ago.

Discover More of Africa’s Most Fascinating Places

When you visit Africa, you’ll find no shortage of surprising and enlightening places. Apart from living museums, a trip to this continent will reveal historic attractions, exhilarating activities, and scenic abundance.

Read our blog articles to discover some more of these exceptional adventures and explore our travel guide for information to help you plan your trip. If you’d like to visit Namibia, get started by booking your flights and accommodation in Windhoek.

Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.


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