Nigerian Threat to American Mud Hut Builders Averted

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My wife and I are big fans of the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Va. We've visited a number of times to see how the architecture and farming techniques of 17th and 18th century immigrants blended to create Appalachian pioneer culture. The smokey authentic Irish stone hut with attached muddy pig sty has to be smelled to be believed. We've been looking forward to the addition of an African mud hut compound to the museum's collection of reconstructed English, German, Irish and 19th century American farmsteads.

West African Exhibit

The museum invited three Nigerian artisans skilled at building thatched mud huts to come to Staunton for the summer to build the new exhibit. However, the consular folks at our embassy in Nigeria had other ideas. As the Washington Post explains:

To recognize the ancestry of African Americans, the museum staff went to western Africa to search out what the average family might have lived in before slave traders showed up. They came up with a simple mud hut with a thatch roof.

Working in Nigeria, they got a consultant to vet several workmen who were conversant with the old ways and implements. This resulted in three apparently impoverished rural men, all apparently over the age of 45, who were from the Igbo region of the country, Bryan said. They had never left the country before.

The museum sent letters of invitation, asking them to come over this summer and build a compound of three huts and a boundary wall and then return home. They helped them get Nigerian passports.

Not even the pull of a United States senator could get around the vigilance of our consular staff:

The office of Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) supported their visa applications by making the U.S. consulate in Nigeria aware of the importance of the museum's project, Warner's spokeswoman, Bronwyn Lance Chester, said yesterday. (No one made the men's names available because of privacy concerns.)

Applications were filed about three weeks ago, Bryan said. There was confusion. And then the word came down: Rejection!

The Associated Press yesterday quoted U.S. consulate official Debra Heien as saying one of the men couldn't describe the building project and another filled out his paperwork incorrectly. She said two of them were unable to make a living.

"They ruled 'denied' because the interviewers did not think these men showed sufficient socioeconomic ties to Nigeria in order to assure their return," Bryan said.

Now the museum is scrambling to get their consultant and an architect familiar with the old ways to construct the exhibit. The materials—the tools, the thatch for the roof—are already en route. The buildings will be in place by the end of the year, Bryan said. They'll even have real goats wandering the compound, of the same breed that would have wandered such courtyards 200 years ago.

And so our little story ends this way: Real mud, real thatch, real goats, no real rural workmen.

So the State Department can now proudly declare that it has protected American mud hut builders from the threat of foreign competition. 

Whole Post article about this latest State Department silliness here.  

Unscolicited plug: You really should visit the museum if you ever get to Stuanton. Unless you enjoy central Virginia's summer weather as much as I do, fall and winter are preferred.