In Cross River, Ancient Stone Monoliths Under Threat Of Extinction
The remnants of the estimated 450 ancient carved Cross River Monolith stones otherwise known as ‘Akwashi’ (a deity in the ground and the stones are representatives of this deity in the ground) are in critical danger of total destruction.
These monoliths are threatened by fire damage caused by local communities or thieves.
r. Ivor Miller and Dr. Abu Edet, Department of History and International Studies, University of Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria in their recent report, warned that “if this process continues, we risk losing a unique part of our World Heritage before we can understand it. The National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria, which is responsible for their preservation, has not been able to cope with this crisis. Therefore we appeal to the international community for assistance for better documentation, preservation and conservation of the sites”.
The experts said, “although adequate carbon dating has not been conducted, current estimates of their age range from 1,500-500 years before present.
Because the monoliths may be sitting on burial sites that have not been archeologically excavated, they must not been removed; instead they should be preserved in situ until the overall goal of conducting archeology is possible.
Some communities, like Nkarasi (Ikom L.G.A.), have removed monoliths from their original sites and placed them near the highway as tourist attractions, thus destroying their archeological context. In addition, several monoliths have been reported in western collections; these also appear to have been illegally removed from their sites.
“January 23, 2015: we (Miller and Edet) traveled from Calabar to Okuni in Ikom L.G.A. to meet with local historians.
They showed us the monoliths that stand next to their Ékpè (Mgbè) ‘leopard society’ halls. There is an obvious relationship between the Akwanshi monoliths and the Mgbè stones of Okuni that had never before been documented. Next day in Alok, Ikom L.G.A., led by Dr. Edet, we documented with photographs the condition of the monoliths in the Alok Open Air Museum, as well as in the Emangabe Open Air Museum in the next village and the Edamkono monolith sites all in Ikom-Ogoja highway and only Alok has a signboard.
“Our overall impression of the monolith sites was dismayed and shocking. Even in the sites protected by walls and museum staff, there was significant damage by fire and the elements. In the Alok museum, a large mango tree with several monoliths beside it had been repeatedly burnt. A huge silk cotton tree had fallen; luckily it did not hit any monoliths, but because it was hard to cut and remove, it had been intentionally burnt, which did damage the monoliths”.
In the Emangabe Open Air Museum, “we witnessed active yam farms around all the perimeters of its walls, where farmers were using slash and burn methods. Inside the Open Air Museum, the gardeners maintaining the place had been burning the grass instead of cutting it; this has led to continuous deterioration of the monoliths.
“At the Edamkono monolith site, we witnessed the absolute destruction of the monoliths. All the monoliths were once standing upright, but now most had fallen. One was lying along the road, partially buried in the ground and cars were driving over it. Others were completely cracked from fire damage.
In Alok, the team met the former curator of the Alok Open Air Museum, Chief Orlando Akong, who led them to document the monoliths at the Ebanembim and the Nlul Monolith Sites, where a local had rescued several monoliths from a farmland where they were being destroyed by fires set by both hunters and farmers. Reports are that more monoliths remain there.
Edet said the destruction of the monoliths in their permanent location in the grass land and the forest area has impacted negatively on the monoliths.
He said, “lots of destruction is going on in terms of tree failing, exploitation of the forest. People are engaged in stealing them and removing from present location to where there are not supposed to be and as a result their archeological content is lost and the orientation of the monolith cannot be understood again. It requires systematic excavation, documentation and historic investigation about these sites”.
He argued that so far, “we have not been able to do anything and the museum cannot do due to lack of funds and skilled workers to do this job. People are not trained. The establishment of these sites requires government special attention, international attention, commitment, scientific investigation, historical investigation into theses monuments that are eroding and gradually being destroyed.
“We have also noticed in the forest that the modern churches these days are involved in discouraging th people particular the youths from believing in their history as a result people no longer pay great respect to the monoliths as it used to be. Rather some people are engaged in stealing them. The impact of the Pentecostal churches now is creating confusion among the people. People are no longer respecting their cultural property; people are no longer realizing importance of their history. Rather it is church and apart from church is the issue of money”.
Miller on his part submitted that, “we need rescue and we are interested in conducting this work but we need international, national rescue. We need scientists to come, we need Universities to come and help to enable us rescue this site.
“Now we are photographing the sites and studying but we don’t have the money to get into full scale work to rescue the sites. This is an emergency situation and we are doing our best to rescue the situation. We are calling on friends of culture, environment and humanity to come and help us. They are totally under rough weather.
Giving a vivid description of the monoliths, Edet said, “the skilled artists who sculpted the monoliths over time based their designs on traditional principles passed from generation to generation. They made effective use of local materials of basalt and limestone rock monoliths. Practical wisdom and aesthetic sense are evident in the pleasing way the monoliths are designed, to reflect the status and personality of their representatives or the ones the monoliths represented. The artists put their heart as well as their minds into their works. To every designed carved belongs meaning and to every reliefs or depress cut an expression of intelligence. The craved features and inscriptions are gratifying and seem to echo ancient intelligence, songs and communications”.
The experts have argued that, “the Cross River region was historically a zone of thick forests and deep rivers that was ‘honey-combed’ with amazingly diverse sculptural forms, body-masks and judicial institutions that awed locals and visitors alike.
With colonialism and missionaries, these practices lost authority and appeal to many locals. Contemporary Cross River communities are witnessing the apex of an identity crisis wherein local languages, institutions, initiation societies, and ecologies are fast approaching extinction.