Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ikom Stone Monoliths

Today I am so excited to be taking you on a very interesting journey. Our journey will take us into the forests of the south-east of Nigeria; we shall also go into the origins of some of the traditional art practices or movements from these parts of Nigeria. Thus some of these are forebears of the modern art style that have become so relevant today. Now we go on a trip to the forests of Ikom to see one of the lesser known ancient cultures of Nigeria - the Ikom Stone Monoliths.

Ikom Stone Monolith

For close to 100 years, Alok, a sleepy community in Ikom Local Government Area (LGA) of Cross River State has been attracting scholars, tourists and the simply curious because of the local station of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) located there.

Alok's Open-Air Museums (AOAM) continue to lure many visitors even though its exhibits are all about the dead, or just about so. Alok's open-air museums hold Akwanshi, a local word, which translates as "dead people." Although Akwanshi stands for dead people, it also refers to a family stone circle in some context. These circles developed from the tradition of the people of Akajuk, Nnam, Nde, Nta, Nsle and so on. Whenever someone died in such areas, the survivors of the dead person would go and drop a stone in memory of the departed. For unknown reasons, the tombstones were dropped in such a geometric pattern that after a while a circle evolved, according to Chief Sylvanus Ekoh Akong, Head of Station of AOAM.

These ancient stone sculptures, also called monoliths, are sometimes referred to as Ikom Monoliths or Nkarasi Monoliths. However, such monoliths, usually arranged in circles could be found across Nnam land. Alok, Emangabe and many other settlements make up the Nnam nation, whose people speak various dialects of Nnam. The people of Alok speak Nnam, a dialect of Ejagham. Alok is a village in Nnam clan, which comprises 27 villages. Interestingly, there are 27 circles of Akwanshi or Akwansi in Nnam land. Nnam-an Nkunu is the generic name of the Nnam people, Chief Akong explained.

Furthermore, Akwanshi, a newsletter of the Calabar Museum Society reveals "Over 450 of these cylindrical monoliths are located in 34 sites in Nigeria's south-eastern parts." According to the March/April 1999 edition of that journal, these antiquities weigh between 50kg and 800kg and measure between 30cm and 2 meters in height." The museum newsletter confirms that the stones "are regarded as representations of ancestors by members of the central Cross River communities, where Akwanshi are found." The monoliths belong to two categories: One comprises basalt, while in the second group are those made from volcanic rocks.

A group of Ikom Stone Monoliths

Apart from the smaller tomb stones, most of whose circles fall within Alok, according to Akong, there are bulky and elaborately embellished pieces existing. In 1945, the British anthropologist Allison recorded 26 of these. However, Akong said there are now about 32, including the two that were stolen.

Morgan Chima Nwanguma 

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