Earlier this year, Judy Jonna, one of the Board of Directors at the Chaldean Cultural Center, gave me a private tour of the Center’s state-of-the-arts Museum which covers 5,000 years of Chaldean history. The inside shows what the town center of ancient Babylon was like with a replica of the stele on which Hammurabi’s Code of Laws was etched. We walked into a sacred space and heard Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. I was transported to Teklaif, my parents’ and grandparents’ village, witnessing the life of the early 20th century to see what life was like for people living in the Nineveh Plain. Then we walked to the American Gallery, to view the New York skyline as early pioneers would have seen it from Ellis Island. I also observed the grocery store as it would’ve been in the 1930s for a Chaldean entrepreneur.
This museum was developed by Saylor + Sirola, a New York exhibition design team that specializes in museum work, in conjunction with Sanan Media and Life Formations, Inc. The museum is composed of five different galleries. To tell the distinctive and powerful story of the Chaldeans, the galleries hold artifacts both ancient and modern, multimedia presentations, sophisticated hands-on activities. The mission of the Center is to celebrate and explore the extraordinary history, arts, traditions, and contributions of the Chaldean people from ancient times to the present.
The name Chaldean stems from one of the ancient groups that inhabited the land now known as Iraq. In ancient times this area was called Mesopotamia, known as “the cradle of civilization.” Mesopotamians invented the wheel, writing on cuneiform and the irrigation system for agricultural purposes. They observed and described the complex patterns in the motions of the heavens (astronomy), established a calendar which included 12 lunar months, used logic and observation to diagnose and treat illnesses, and many other inventions that are the influences of our modern-day society.
“The Chaldean Cultural Center is a testament to our heritage,” said Mary Romaya, founding Board of Directors of the Chaldean Cultural Center. “It honors the early pioneers who had the strength and adventure to come to a new world. The Center will let our children, grandchildren, and future generations know their legacy and instill pride in being Chaldean. It will also serve as a means to tell our unique history to the larger, non-Chaldean community. We are an ancient people going back over 5000 years yet we are still a thriving, growing community.”
The vast majority of the Chaldeans in the U.S. originated from the villages in the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq. Agriculture was the primary means of making a living with each village having its specialty crops based on soil and climate. Each family had a plot of land outside the village property to grow crops. Extended family members lived together as one household.
During the past century, many Chaldeans left the villages for better economic opportunities and moved to the cities of Baghdad, Mosul or Basra, or immigrated to the United States. In these larger metropolitan areas within Iraq, the Chaldeans furthered their education and many became successful businessmen and professionals even before coming to the United States. Today there is a Chaldean Diaspora with communities in areas such as the Middle East, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and North America.
The Chaldean community in Iraq has gone through a lot in the last few decades, experiencing several wars, Diaspora, and being forced out of their native land. So it’s truly a blessing to have the opportunity to honor their history, culture, religion, and language here in the United States.
Watch this beautiful video about the Chaldean Cultural Center Museum and visit this link for more information https://www.chaldeanculturalcenter.org/