Capt. Williamson Sangma Museum: A recollection of Meghalaya’s identity

Episode XXV

Promoting and preserving one’s cultural identity is imperative as it is a constant reminder of who we are as a community or a tribe, and a repository such as a museum is one such centre that provides a chance to go on a trip down memory lane.

In this episode of Shillong’s Iconic Structures, we are featuring the State Museum also known as the Captain Williamson Sangma Museum, a storehouse of artefacts and knowledge about the diverse culture and way of life of the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo tribes.

Established in 1975 under the Department of Education, the ethnographic museum that places importance on culture over chronology in its exhibits was initially housed at the old Legislative Assembly building in Khyndai Lad with a small gallery showcasing a few collections.

It was only until 1988 when the Arts and Culture department was created that the museum was shifted to the present site at the premises of State Central Library, near the Main Secretariat building and opposite All Saints Church.

The state museum was later renamed “Captain Williamson Sangma Museum” after the first Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Captain Williamson Sangma, who was also one of the notable leaders of the Hill State Movement for the attainment of statehood for Meghalaya.

According to a short description mentioned in the website of the Museums of India, the state museum was given a facelift and more exhibits were added to its repository with the help of both the Indian Museum and Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata. It was formally inaugurated in 2004 with more than 2500 exhibits.

Though the architecture of this museum is not as sophisticated as many renowned museums across the country, its plain-shaped design with pitch-roofing at the centre exudes a sense of curiosity.

This two-floored, red and white coloured museum, with traditional mats as wallpapers and countless relics and traditional items kept inside spotless glass cabinets, speaks volumes about the rich heritage and culture of the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo tribes of Meghalaya.

 It has two main galleries — the Khasi and Jaintia gallery and the Garo gallery, developed by Indian Museum, Kolkata under the aegis of the Department of Culture, Government of India. Each of these displays several objects integral to the lives of Meghalaya’s tribes.

Some of the ethnographic collections that are documented include various kinds of objects like handicrafts, objects of rituals, domestic articles, weapons, pieces of jewellery, costumes and so on.

From life-size models to miniatures, the exhibits on display in the museum – be it the people, their way of life or their tools for farming, gathering and fishing, utensils and jewellery are a magnet of attraction as the neatly and tediously sculpted models, with life-like expressions, reflect the true nature and life and culture of the indigenous people.

A museum also houses two mini-galleries that include paintings – some contributed by local painters and others by the Indian Museum and Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata and a gallery showcasing the traditional musical instruments of the three tribes of Meghalaya.

The museum continues to collect valuable exhibits, rare articles and antiques to serve as a research institution for intellectuals and students to gather information about the rich cultural heritage of the state.

(Watch the full version of the story only on our YouTube Channel @TheShillongTimes)

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