Preserving/Protecting Precious Nigerian Cultural Antiquities In Urban And Rural Environments

October 11th, 2018

The first major deluge of despoliation of the nation’s antiquities was when the colonialists invaded the Nigerian hinterland and the prize of their conquest was stealing/carting away artworks such as the Benin Bronze works. The second deluge of stealing /destruction occurred at the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war when through surrogates many artworks in conquered Biafra were stolen, sold and taken away to Europe. Many shrines and palaces were desecrated such as in the failed attempts that were made to steal Ada-Uchu goddess from Umuchu and a famous god from Agulu shrines; the Achalla-Umuchu Ikoro gong and Ebele-Achina god were stolen and lost. The British colonialists tended to regard African antiquities as sheer iniquities; lowly-valued, uncivilized and idolatrous. These invaders introduced their cultures and values to displace and undervalue the antiquities of Africans; forced Africans to become strange to their own cultures, traditions, norms and mores. Africans, Nigerians have rich, precious and enduring cultures as can be seen from antiquities in Archaeological times to the present. These cultural ways of life by different indigenous communities of Africa were irreparably-damaged by ingress of strange cultures from Europe and the Arabian Peninsula during the so-called colonization. In their subtle way used to put down and scandalize Africans, some poorly-informed foreign writers/colonial jingoists even mischievously-described Africa as “a dark continent”. This assertion by foreign interests is an exhibition of ignorance and wrong characterization of Africans and their Culture. Google Search explains Culture as “the art and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. Culture is a word for people’s ‘way of life’…the way groups do things. Different groups of people may have different cultures…passed on to the next generation by learning, whereas genetics are passed on by heredity…The word ‘Culture’ is…used in three ways. Non-material culture refers to the non-physical ideas that individuals have about their culture, including values, belief systems, rules, norms, morals, language, organizations, and institutions, while material culture is the physical evidence of a culture in the objects and architecture they make or have made. Culture consists of the beliefs, behaviors, objects, and other characteristics common to the members of a particular group or society. Through culture, people and groups define themselves, conform to society’s shared values, and contribute to society. Antiquity is the ancient past, especially the period before the Middle Ages; ancient times; the period of history before the Middle Ages. … something belonging to or remaining from ancient times, as monuments, relics, or customs, the ancient past, classical times, the distant past; the civilizations of antiquity”. In other words, cultural antiquities depict ways and manner of life of a people or different peoples at different periods of Archaeological times/ages to the present times: ways and manner of life and living; languages spoken and their inscriptions; foods, medicals and drinks; mannerisms and idiosyncrasies; arts, music and drama; technical infrastructural facilities and technological artifacts; health and wealth resources; belief systems and the pathways to their Gods etc. When the Europeans and Arabs came, they met civilizations that guided lives of different ethnic nationalities in existence and most of them still exist today. They introduced foreign cultures through force of arms and subtle persuasions, they subdued the indigenes to accept their own cultures while abrogating and destroying most of the indigenous cultures and antiquities and carting away home some of the arts/artifacts.

The Europeans brazenly-came with use of force and total subjugation of the people, trade and commerce and Christian practices; the Arabs equally-came with force of arms, Moslem religion and trade/commerce to colonize and enslave the people. The Europeans and Arabs systematically-introduced their cultural ways of life to supplant most of those of indigenous populations and total enslavement. Unfortunately, some educated indigenous peoples from both urban and rural areas assisted foreigners to damage their cultures and plunder to sell away their antiquities. Thus, while most of the Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani and some other ethnic groups have continued to protect their cultural values, most of the Igbo have not been doing justice in securing their cultural values and ancient artifacts as they ought to do. While the Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani still speak their language fluently and practice many of their cultures proudly, the so-called modern Igbo man has allowed his Igbo language and many of his values to deteriorate/degenerate. The ancient artworks of Nigerians were either destroyed or stolen by the Europeans and carted away to their countries during colonial expeditions. A typical example include the famous Benin Bronze sculptor-art works from Nigeria which were taken away by British colonialists which they have refused to return to Nigeria. In later years after the so-called independence, many of the remaining antiquities were sold by ignorant and greedy individuals. They were bought by the same Europeans who secured them in their museums. Today you may find these famous Nigerian antiquities in museums where they are securely-locked up inside display-glass-containers. Britons, researchers, visitors and tourists including Nigerians travel to Britain and pay high fees to be allowed to view/study the highly-prized Nigerian artworks. Efforts made by governments and people to recover these priceless and precious antiquities back to Nigeria have been abortive, futile and a total failure.

fortunately, there are still some antique works in Nigerian museums such as that of IgboUkwu in Anambra State.
Our forefathers lived and died leaving artifacts in antiquities that ought to tell stories of their lives in comparison to modern lives. These antiques were expressed in thoughts, languages and dialects; way and manner of worships of Gods and the Supernatural; their institutions of marriage, life, death, forms and values; foods, drugs, water, ways/manner they were prepared and what purposes they served; setting up of technical infrastructure of buildings, roads, drainages, bridges etc.; artworks of paintings, metal works, sculpturing, music, songs, dance and drama; agricultural practices, food production, transportation and storage; combating of natural/environmental hazards/disasters such as floods, soil/gully erosion and landslides; calendar of events for various festivals and festivities; types and brands of socializing and governance etc. Europeans and Arabs carefully-preserved their own age-long lives in antiquities in writings, paintings, songs, drama, sculptors etc. as found in books and writings, museums, ancient buildings, monuments in communities, towns, churches, mosques, cathedrals etc. They can recreate/relive lives of their forefathers who died thousands of years ago in many theatres through drama-plays today. These greatly-assist any people to present the Historical and Archaeological perspective and reality of their past and the totality of their present which is the key to the past and potential mirror to the future. These Europeans carted away antiquities, introduced and forced indigenes to live according to their own cultures. As a result, things seem to have fallen apart and centre cannot hold anymore. The Europeans then turned around to exclaim that we were/are uncivilized and uncultured and hence would be unable to take good care of ourselves. They continue to govern us through then/neo colonialism up till today. It is time one fully-breaks away from indirect rule by foreigners and their indigenous reactionaries and grasp the wise aspects, strength and confidence of the forefathers to take care of the system and people. One should re-establish some indigenous values to live worthy lives. As at now, people are living a mixed life instead of introducing reasonably-adaptable changes into modernism to live the life of our own; not going on fully-swallowing living standards of European life hook, line and sinker. People should borrow from the lives of forefathers to which are adapted the pickings from modern living that should comfortably extend good life/living. Federal, State governments and wealthy Nigerians should do everything possible to recover Nigerian antiquities from museums in European countries as they sadly-depict that parts of our cultural and ancestral lives are missing, fraudulently-exported and unfairly-seized overseas in Britain, France etc.

By Boniface C E Egboka, UNIZIK, Awka, Anambra State; E-mail:

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