By Nur Cherubi and Salim Busuru
Once upon a time, in the mid 1100’s there was a certain mason commissioned to work on what would be known as, one of the most culturally significant buildings, The Notre Dame de Paris in France. Every day, the mason would walk to the site and curve stones, ensuring they fit perfectly in the structure they were making. This was honest work, work that took care of his family and gave him a sense of purpose in life. The mason woke up diligently everyday for decades and went to work on the site for his family and quite so for his nation. However, on the 15th of April 2019, a fire razed the building destroying its roof and beautiful spire, almost destroying a significant chunk of the glorious cathedral were it not for the fire fighters doing a wonderful job.
Notre Dame is magnified for its gothic architectural beauty and the effort it took to build the structure, from the first foundations placed in 1163 to the final masterpiece, which was consecrated as complete in 1345. The time stamp from its conception to the finished structure should tell us the cathedral is more than just a building. It took 182 years of construction to create the architectural wonder. The mason who worked on the building is part of history, he created something that his descendants would look upon with pride and appreciation of the effort it took to finish the masterpiece.
Many of the citizens in France have held this building close to their heart, because it is their ancestors that toiled all those years for the dream to materialize and seeing the cathedral being damaged pulls on their conscious, because deep down, they know of the sacrifice and effort made by that mason who worked consistently for years.
It should then come as no surprise that just after the fire, those that were in France for the holy week came, both citizens and tourists, surrounded the building, and held a vigil with their candles lit throughout the night. The French President then held a short briefing at the site stating that he will start an international fundraising campaign to cater for the funds for rebuilding. This fundraising was then kick-started by three super rich families in France, pledging a total of about 600 million Euros.
Despite the French trying to make sure part of their history is not lost, by the wealthy families pledging 600 million Euros to the remake of their building, has rubbed some people the wrong way, stating that the pledges would have been directed towards helping the poor in Africa and in other third world countries.
If the mason were alive today, he would be the first to pledge. His work has resonated with his descendants in France and they have followed suit. Those who have pledged millions are sending out the message that you cannot put a price on culture. The actions of the French should be taken as a lesson by those Africans who believe the pledges by the superrich in France can serve a nobler cause in their home land ,such as taking care of the poor. The lesson to learn is that only we are custodians of our lands, our languages, our history and we should start acting accordingly with that in mind.
In a different time during the 4th century, another mason would wake up every day and go to work on what is now an endangered site in Africa. The Abu Mena. The site includes a great basilica and an adjacent church that was used to bury the great Saint Minas who died a matyr. Ten centuries later, our ancestors would then go to work on Kilwa Kisiwani, the most important trading area in East Africa, which included a palace, a mosque and an Omani fortress.
Our ancestors built these amazing sites, but unlike the French, their descendants have not taken care of them and they are in ruins. Africa is the most culturally diverse continent in the world with a number of sites and artefacts that tell our story and the stories of our forefathers
Looking back at the Notre Dame de Paris, it is a symbol of the French religious identity and has remained standing in the shape it is today, not only because of its structural integrity, but mainly because people cared enough to ensure it was not destroyed. As Avandu, We believe we should follow suit and do the same regarding our heritage
Breeden, A. (2019) Millions in Notre-dame Donations Pour in as France Focuses on Rebuilding. The New York Times.
Dickson, E. J. (April 2019) How should France Rebuild Notre Dame. Rolling Stone
UNESCO (2018) Africa World Heritage Site: Sites in Danger.