It may have been six years in the making, but the creator of a new Ottawa museum highlighting Somali culture says it was time well-spent.
Kaltoun Moussa is the driving force behind the Khayrhaye Somali Cultural Museum, thought to be the first of its kind in Canada.
Moussa said she was inspired to open the museum to share Somali culture with the community and help people learn more about the country and its history.
“Our culture is very beautiful and valuable. And I want to teach our youth and to show the other cultures,” she said.
Many Somali-Canadians who weren’t raised in Somalia have questions about their own heritage, Moussa added.
“They don’t know anything about it,” she said, noting the museum is a place where people who want to know more can see it for themselves.
Traditional home on display
Currently located out of the Rideau Community Hub on St. Laurent Boulevard, the museum features several artifacts from Somalia including baskets, furniture and musical instruments.
Moussa has been collecting them since she came up with the idea for the museum, storing them around her house and in her basement.
“These were my roommates for six years,” said Hersi Osman, one of Moussa’s sons.
The star of the exhibit is the aqal Somali, a full-sized traditional house used by Somali nomads and made out of trees, animal skin and twine.
The house was first built overseas, then disassembled and shipped to Ottawa. Osman helped rebuild it inside the centre, following a step-by-step video over about a week.
He said people who’ve visited the museum so far are blown away when they see it.
“The first thing they say is, ‘How did you fit this in here?’ So they thought that we just walked the whole thing through the door, but it was piece by piece,” he said.
Osman said the museum offers a chance to showcase cultural aspects of east Africa to the nation’s capital.
Supporting his mother’s work on the museum has even helped him better connect with his culture, he said.
“It’s going to be a learning process for me, especially since I’ve only been back home once. It’s important not to lose your language, your culture and where you’re from,” Osman said.
The museum is open Monday, Thursday and Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. It only just had its grand opening on Aug. 31, but Moussa said the community’s response has already been overwhelmingly positive.
“I can’t believe it. I was very happy,” Moussa said.
“You can come, you can learn, you can see this. I’m inviting you, come on down,” she added in Somali.