Nok culture is an ancient art tradition that flourished in Nigeria during 1000 BC to 500 AD. In this report, CHIKA OKEKE highlights the journeys of Nok culture and artefacts to global acclaim and its significance to world scholarship and African civilisation.
With the discovery of terracotta figurines in Nok village, it was christened Nok culture.
Sited in Jaba local government area of Southern Kaduna state, Nok was the first place where terracotta sculpture was discovered in 1929 during mining operation.
The statues were in fragments because the discoveries were usually discovered in deposited mud and terrain washed by erosion.
As a result of natural erosion and deposition, the terracottas were scattered at various depths throughout the Sahel grasslands, causing difficulty in the dating and classifying the mysterious artefacts.
Added to this is the fact that Nok artefacts share certain characteristic such as triangular eyes and perforated pupils, noses, mouths, and ears to portray men and women folk.
It is said that about 60% of Nok terra-cotta figures were males as identified on their body decorations, beards and moustache.
Due to its significance, the objects were mainly used for rituals and as commemorative sculptures for local chiefs, dignitaries, kings, queens and priests.
It also served as charms to prevent crop failure, illness and infertility.
Recall that two archaeological sites in Samun Dukiya and Taruga were found containing Nok art that had remained unmoved.
Through a Radiocarbon and thermo-luminescence tests, the objects were dated between 2000 and 2500 years ago, making them some of the oldest in West Africa.
However, when Lt-Colonel John Dent-Young, an Englishman led mining operations in Nok, one of the miners also found small terracotta of a monkey head in 1929.
Other finds included terracotta of human head and a foot even as the artefacts were later placed in a museum in Jos.
However in 1932, a group of 11 statues in perfect condition were discovered near the city of Sokoto. Although they share similarities to the classical Nok style but the connection between them is not clear yet.
Also, another miner discovered a head figurine in 1944 and took it home. He used the head as scarecrow to scare away animals from his yam farm.
After the discovery of the figurine head, it drew the attention of the director of mine who bought it.
He took it to Jos and showed it to Bernard Fagg a British Archaeologist , who was a research Professor of Archaeology at University of Ibadan and a former director of the then Federal Department of Antiquities now National Commission for Museums and Monument (NCMM).
He bought the artefact and told the miners to brief him about their discoveries and he was able to collect more than 150 pieces.
By 1977, the number of terra cotta objects discovered in the course of the mining excavation rose to 153 units even as new discoveries were also found in the Middle Niger Valley and the Lower Benue Valley.
It was in 2005 after the initial work of Bernard Fagg whose works made Nok popular in 1940’s that NCMM and department of African Archaeology and Archaebotany, Goethe university Frankfurt Germany developed a joint research project on the Nok archaeology to build on what Fagg started.
The research was funded by German Research foundation, Goethe Universitat Frankfurt am Main Germany and NCMM.
With the feat, archaeologists from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and University of Jos later joined the research team.
The researches led to the discovery of important Nok terracotta objects in the Nok area.
In 2006, NCMM and Goethe Universitat Frankfurt signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to guide the operation of the project in line with international standard.
To this end, the Nok research project studied various aspects of Nok culture such as pottery, settlement pattern, clay, iron smelting technology, chemical composition of the terracotta as well as archaebotanical investigation on subsistence farming and vegetation.
About 350 sites have been documented since the inception of the project while about 90 sites have been excavated.
The iron smelting sites are located in Joh Mar, Intini, Pulu, Sabon Janruwa, Baidesuru, Daji Gwana, Janjala, Kolin Kuchimi, Ruga Fulani, Rafin Danjaba and Pandauke.
The settlement sites excavated are Ifana, Takalafiya, Janruwa, Ungwar Kura and Pangwari.
Fortunately, excavation at various sites in Nok area yielded many artefacts while some were taken to Goethe university in 2013 for scientific analysis, conservation and restoration.
The objects were later exhibited at the Liebieghaus Skulpturesammlung, Frankfurt am Main, Germany from 30th October 2013 to 23rd March 2014.
To highlight the painstaking archaeological research and partnership, NCMM in collaboration with Goethe Universitat Frankfurt, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and University of Jos opened an exhibition titled, “Nok Within The Context Of Nigerian Art Traditions”.
The artefacts were exhibited alongside other collections reflecting the rich culture and history of Nigeria.
In his address, the director- general, National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman recalled that a number of historical discoveries have been made over the centuries that placed Nigeria on a high pedestal of technological and cultural advancement.
According to him, “Nok culture is one of the oldest cultures south of the Sahara which has contributed to the origin, development and spread of West African iron age”.
He listed the striking characteristics of Nok sculptures as elaborately detailed hairstyles and jewelries that adorn many of the figures, the inventiveness and beauty of their design and among others.
He noted that the exhibition showcased huge and diverse talents of Nigerian artists and craftsmen as well as classical master pieces of Nigerian art traditions.
This he said would stimulate creativity, innovation and inventiveness with proper appreciation of the past efforts in manufacturing and technology.
Usman was optimistic that the exhibition would enhance public appreciation of the importance of Nigerian culture to black and world civilisation .
“We also hope that it will lead to deeper appreciation of the Nok culture, create better awareness, contribute to scholarship and increase partnerships with other organisations for further research into our rich cultural heritage for posterity”.
The DG emphasised that a joint ethno-archaeological research between the universities and commission helped to create an interactive opportunity with indigenes on the significance of Nok culture to their history and the need to stop illegal digging in search of terracotta.
“The projects also helped to provide cultural and historical information on Nok culture to Nigerians and international communities at seminars, conferences and exhibitions thereby proving the contribution of Nigeria to world civilisation”.
He maintained that the project provided jobs for the indigenes during the field work adding that a block of classroom was constructed for Janjala community through the project.
Usman who led the research teams commended the efforts of an archaeologist from the university of Frankfurt am Main Germany, Prof Peter Breunig; Emir of Zazzau, High Highness, Alhaji Shehu Idris and other stakeholders for their immeasurable contributions not only to the success of the exhibition but towards the joint research project on Nok.
He lauded the gesture of Kaduna state Governor, Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai for landscaping the entire museum premises, rehabilitating the craft village including the traditional beauty salon, constructing children play ground and lighting up the entire compound.
Also, the minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed stated that the preservation and promotion of the artefacts and other cultural materials is the responsibility of every Nigerian especially NCMM.
“As a responsible government, we will give it the required attention to ensure rapid development of the cultural heritage of our people”.
He promised that the ministry would continue to create the needed awareness that would make the citizens value and patronise the museums for enlightenment and leisure thereby scaling up cultural development of our nation.
The minister noted that as president Muhammadu Buhari continues to explore other sources of diversifying the economy that the cultural sector including NCMM would constitute a major plank of the exploration.
“We believe quite strongly that cultural sector if effectively harnessed will add to the revenue drive of this administration”.
Mohammed who was represented by deputy director, Festivals and Carnivals in the ministry, Mrs Maimunat Ibula added, “We will give every needed attention and support to revolutionise the cultural and tourism sector of our economy”.
On his part, the Gov of Kaduna state, Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai promised to faciliate the proposed enlistment of Nok discovery site as a national heritage saying that his administration would undertake the construction of the road leading to Nok town to facilitate easy movement.
“The Kaduna state government will encourage all schools , organizations and the people to patronise the museum for it’s immense benefits”.
El-Rufai who was represented by his deputy, Arc. Bala Bantex said that his government landscaped the museum in order to improve the ambience of the environment and provide conducive atmosphere for the enhancement of visitors experience.
“Traditional hair plaiting and beauty saloon will also be rehabilitated to continue it’s service of making Kaduna women and their visitors beautiful”.
However, the head of cultural affairs German Embassy, Mrs Johanna Staudamaio-Weuzel said the embassy was happy to be part of the opening of the special exhibition.
Staudamaio-Weuzel stressed the importance of preserving the artefacts for the next generation which she described as the reflection of Nigerian culture.
“It important to promote the exhibition and to get more people to come visit here and work closely with ministry of culture and tourism and schools in order to show the kids how great culture is here so as to make them interested in this country, she concluded.”.
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