Pakistan in Washington’s Smithsonian Museum

Posted on July 19, 2008
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, Pakistanis Abroad, Travel
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Owais Mughal

Outside Pakistan any reference to mother land naturally catches our attention (see Beijing’s Pakistani Connections and Pakistani Towels in Missouri). Last week I got chance to visit Washington DC’s Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). This museum was opened in 1910 and was among the first building built for Smithsonian to house national treasures. Among other treasures of knowledge and research preserved in the museum, there is a section dedicated to Pakistan. The whole theme of Pakistani pavilion is around a ‘bazaar’ being the center of social activities in a Pakistani village.

Shown above is a scene of Pakistani village depicted at Smithsonian Museum of Natual History in Washington D.C.

While the information given about Pakistan in the museum is correct and displayed articulately, my only comment is that it does not cover the whole story. It gives an impression as if Pakistan is all tribal or nomadic and it completely ignores the well-settled, pretty modern and educated urban centers. The display also seems to date back from 1960s or 1970s as evident from the truck photos below.

Pakistani Trucks Also Made it to the Smithsonian Museum:

As mentioned in one of our earlier posts, the indigenousTruck Art of Pakistan is also featured in the museum. I apologize for the average quality of photos but the originals were quite faded too. The truck photos seem to be from 1970s therefore they are not as colorful as present day truck photos. The trucks also show an interesting image of a boeing with PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) written on the tail. This got to be pre-1980 image because in 80s all trucks changed their aviation related art from commercial planes to F-16s and then in 90s to Titanic.

Scenes From a Pakistani bazaar:

As written above, a traditional village bazaar of Pakistan is featured and modeled in the museum. Following write-up on a plaque is how it is described in exact words. On another plaque it was written that people from all ‘quarters’ of a city meet at bazaar and mosque. The plaque reads:

People from all ‘quarters’ of a city meet at bazaar and mosque. Though they may live in separate, often walled and hostile, parts of the city, the various groups are economically independent. To satisfy the need for a safe meeting area, both customs and religious law guarantee the neutrality of the market. In addition to conducting business in the bazaar, people visit with friends or relatives, hear news or proclamations from the market crier, and conduct legal affairs with scribe, official witnesses and judges. Tea shops in the bazaar have long been the common meeting ground for men.

I doubt if the above plaque’s writing is completely true anymore. There is no village crier for sure. There are no more walled cities with hostile population. Only Lahore, Multan and Hyderabad have people living in walled cities now which also constitute less than 1% of the city population. That is why I think some of the information needs to be updated at the museum. Photo to the right above shows Smithsonian NMNH’s entrance.

Yet another plaque describes a Pakistani village bazaar as the center of economic activity in following words.

In the market the necessities of life, as well as the most expensive luxury goods are available. Though much of the material sold in bazaar is also made there, the owners of individual stalls ofter have special ties, based on kinship, to producers in oultying independent villages. These loyalties have often been in conflict with the aims of the central government, which throughout history has treated the bazaar as an important source of revenue through taxation.

Following photos show a bazaar scene as displayed in the museum. The photo to the left show various household items seen in a village bazaar for sale. The photo to the right is the wooden seat used on a camel.

A Balochi Village:

There is this life size black and white photo in the museum which shows a temporary village of nomads in Balochistan.


1. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

17 responses to “Pakistan in Washington’s Smithsonian Museum”

  1. PMA says:

    Shazia R Hussain: Don’t fret. Forty years ago my friends at a large American university used to ask me questions like if we had ice cream in Pakistan!!! When President Johnson visited Karachi, from a crowd of thousands he picked out a camel-cart driver to engage in conversation. He was invited to the USA as an official guest and paraded as an ‘exotic’ curiosity. Things won’t change unless we all do.

  2. Aamir Ali says:

    Shazia R Hussain:

    If you are talking American or Western news media, then those folks treat foreign affairs as simply a way to fill column inches, and they do it by putting conflict, violence, scandal and controversy in it. That is why the American tutor of yours told you to shoot pictures of bearded men, ninjabis and aftermath of bomb blasts because thats what the media wants. He may have been trying to be honest with you.

  3. Altaf says:

    Unfortunately, we are the ones who are allowing this to happen… being taken for granted that is…

    Don’t be surprised too much if in a year or so you find momentuous pictures of violence in our country on the walls e.g. suicide bombing in Eid gathering, attack on Lal Masjid or even beheadings….

    Give’em a break guys…. Afterall, Smithsonian is a “natural history” museum …

  4. Owais Mughal says:

    In June last year we had a post on 96 smuggled artifacts from Pakistan which were to be returned by the Govt of Italy. See here.

  5. Rafay Kashmiri says:

    @ what else can you observe in a colonial museum ??

    has anybody seen the RED INDIANS and their cultural
    vestiges preserved in Smithsonian ?? well !! you would
    see by yourselves “that” special ‘ classified treatment’.

    Hundred of tons of cultural vestiges, statues, articles
    belonging to Ghandhara civilization, particularly, from
    moen jo Dehro, Harapa, Texsilah have been smuggled out
    from Pakistani territory. Two years ago on French TV 2 uring
    ” custom’s siezure on a baggage containing statues of all
    sizes, the journalist asked the custom officer the origin
    of their origin and he informed that those were from
    Ghandara epoch and were smuggled out of Pakistan “.

    My spontaneous contact with Pak FM & Ambassador,
    well ! theives and crooks exist every where, we can not
    chase them all.
    I contacted the French Ministry of culture, left message on
    phone, next working day received reply, all articles siezed
    at the customs, after certain time will be auctionned, publically, unless challenged by any person, I informed them
    about the case, well !! your diplomate should intervene.
    you can imagine ‘ The End !!

    ATP claims thru her blogs our cultural heritage, but never
    points out their being smuggled out in quantities beyond
    imagination. What does the Pakistani law says about that ?
    Rafay Kashmiri

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