Thursday, November 19, 2015

Herodotus, History of Our Art, and World Civilisation

If only Herodotus, the father of history were alive to hear that the Nigerian government sometime last year deleted as it were, the subject – History from the school curriculum, he would have cried like a baby for the shame and heartbreak this would have brought him. But how can any well meaning society or leadership decide to do that; it simply means you have equally refused to learn from history, and all to your own peril. This is certainly ill advised, except of course there is something they are trying to hide from you and I – how sorry. O Herodotus, will thou still rest in peace at the dawning of this mire and odium oozing from our time and milieu!?
Egypt - Mother of Civilisation

Let’s go a little further back in time: Who were the Pharaohs; who built the great pyramids of Egypt? Egypt is said to be the birth place of modern civilisation from which the entire human race took its cue for further development and advancement. We are talking about a social process whereby societies achieve an advanced stage of development and organisation. When a society proceeds into an advanced state of social development it begins to give rise to building of complex legal, political and religious organisations. Thus with civilisation, the peoples of the entire world were able to slowly progress from barbarism to civility; they imbibed the act of showing regard for others and every other positive attributes that come with it.

Nok terracotta head

If only the Africans know that this is our gift to the world – the human race, we would understand better. The art of Egypt is one that has continued to generate worldwide attention and acclaim; the treasures of Tutankhamen (1358 BC) for instance is one that its richness, values, interest and mystery can never be exhausted, and they continue to astound the world. The art and cultures of ancient territories which make up the present day Nigeria such as Igbo-Ukwu, Benin, Nok, Ife, and a few others, are such that if we know our history well we will fight tooth and nail to preserve them, and keep this country more united than ever.

Our history is indeed our pride – so it ought to be. Imagine a culture – art and civilisation predating and surpassing the techniques and heights of some of Europe’s accomplishments in those times. I am talking about an art and cultural practice that appeared in Northern Nigeria around 1000 BC and vanished under unknown circumstances around 300 AD in the region of West Africa. 

Uli - Body design of the Igbo

The people of Nok had learned the technique of iron smelting and fashioning metal long before the Europeans, at least by 550 BC or even earlier. In fact Christopher Ehret, a distinguished Research Professor at the University of California – Los Angeles, has suggested that iron smelting was independently discovered in the region prior to 1000 BC. The knowledge of this is what we can straddle upon with pride and reason and build on for future greatness. The path of history is the way of understanding.

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