They Have Stolen It to Sale to the Foreigners

When a person sabotages his/her history, he/ she would be void of meaning. For history defines not just a person but a people. It is true that Africans lacked book-documentations of the most remote yore. Yet oral history was the channel through which the ancient Africans communicated their ancestral heritages: ethos, religion, food, farming, trade etc to the next generation. Today, Africans had been exposed to formal education. The question is how would, if I many ask, they use their leaning to preserve the rich cultures of the indigenous African people. Bellow is a sad story of marginalization of African history currently happening in Igboland and perhaps in other part of Africa too.

The story of a demising past
The expression on his face was grimace. His mood was depressed as he looked helpless and absolutely frustrated. His wife had told us he had not eating for days. And then we sat down and talked with him. The man in question was a chief priest of one of the African Traditional Religion in the Nsukka region of Eastern Nigeria. On that particular day, I happened to be in his house with a student friend of mine. Our mission was to facilitate an oral interview with this old man regarding certain ancient beliefs systems, customs and tradition of the people in the community. My friend was an anthropology student of the University of Nigeria Nsukka.  I was just a curious philosopher wanting to ‘know’ things. It was in Abulegu, Likke-Iheaka in Nsukka, Enugu state Nigeria.

For the next ten minuets, this old priest had not spoken words to us except the usual ritual greeting of ‘nnoo’, which in Igbo language means ‘welcome’. We sat quietly watching as he grinds his teeth. The glooms of disenchantment in his face were as clear as the day. The silence lingered and then my friend, being a spontaneous sanguine, decided to break the protracted muteness of the moment. He delved into the obvious question. ‘Nna-anyi’ (our elder) ‘…is everything alright?’ The man then cast a steady look at us, as if to size up our maturity against his aged wisdom and experience. He then heaved a long sigh that revealed more of his inner dismay.  I must confess I had never seen an old man appearing as downcast in my life as he was that day.

In a very mournful tone, he told my friend and I that the ageless wooden sculpture in his shrine had been stolen. He said it had existed for hundreds of years and had always been carefully handed down from one generation to the next. The statue in question was revered as goddess. It was called Isi-Amani by the community. As he spoke, he struggled to uphold his tears. And as you can imagine, there is nothing more tear-jerking then seeing a man as old as ones grandfather completely kaput. The man stopped speaking and began wiping the few drops of tear with the tip of his old rag-like cloth. After he regained himself a little bit, he said to us once more: ‘Greedy people have stolen it to sale to the foreigners’.  Then he stopped talking to us completely and retrieved into the interior of his community-built- living mud room. We waited for him to reemerge but he did not. We then left after bidding his wife farewell. We would reschedule our meeting another day. As we were leaving, there were other community elders trooping into the premises perhaps to hear the shocking news from the horse’s mouth.

Analysis and Dialogue
When you properly analyze what is happening in Igboland today, it provokes nothing but sadness. If care is not taking, the dearth of ancestral inheritances and certain aspect of our proud culture would be too sudden than one would anticipate. We were to soon discover that many ancient sculptors in most parts of the Igboland had been stolen. Let’s keep the argument of primitive idol worship  and animism aside for now. The fact remains that some of this antiquated object are so precious even by international standards, undoubtedly, these historical artifacts worth millions of dollars in the market. The looming question is: who are these brigands whose greedy search for the antiques had lured into the stealing and the selling out a people’s histories and pride? It is morally unjustifiable and condemnable. If you go to Rome, Egype and other ancient world’s, traces of thier history still remain for international taurism. Some of which tell about thier religious beliefs in the past.That does not imply they still worsihp them.

Culture is defined as the totality of the way of life of a people. It embraces all things including religious practices. With the influx of circular ideologies in the modern day Africa, lots of people are gradually losing touch with their ancestral cultural root. Lots of the Africans simply had begun to perceive African culture as primitive, pre-logical and unworthy of exposure to the new world. This is a historical lie calculated to rub Africa of her precious cultural possessions.

In many parts of the world today, especially in London, stolen African antiquated artifact could be found displayed in museums and had generated millions for the people to whom it does not legitimately belong and nothing to the legitimate owners. Come to think about it, these African looters when they travel out would pay money to watch these archaic precious African artifacts. How like buffoons they behave. We all should know that works of art especially ancient ones are so preciously valued and every effort should be made for their preservation.

In February 1897, history record that the British imperialists invaded Benin kingdom and then stole lots of their antiquated historic artifacts. One would see various stolen African masks and other numerous sculptors in the British museums today. Is it not heart rendering? Today, colonial subjugation and imperial forceful exploitation had gone, yet lost of Africans collaborate with certain foreigners to steal the precious possessions of their community in exchange for money. If these items in question were left to the rightful owners, they could attract tourism in Africa and thereby generate millions to the indigenous people. Why can’t some of our African folks be intelligent enough? How many of these greedy invaders could go out to steal priced artifact from other countries. They would be jailed for life. They see African as too porous and vulnerable for all sort of exploitation. Why can’t they fight for proper preservations of those priced possessions for posterity sake?

Again as Pentecostalism sweeps across Africa, certain religious fanatics had begun to condemn African values and cultural heritages. Naively, somebody with the sense of westernized religious mis-orientation and misinformation would start burning some of these ancient artifacts having tagged then idols. Yet the same person goes to Europe and America and other parts of the world to pay the last money from his/her pocket to visit museums just to cast few minutes’ glances on some of these historic sculptors. (Perhaps some of which were stolen from his village) Even if our ancestors had worshiped them as gods (let’s assume they were all bunch of ignorant folks) we can still preserve them in Africa to tell our progeny of their histories. We cannot in the name of modernity or fanatic religious fundamentalism disenfranchise ourselves from our history.

I am afraid that if urgent campaign is not lunched against the exploitation of the Africans, history would retain little or no memories our rich cultural past. There is a cardinal call for intellectuals, professionals and every morally well informed African, to fight for the preservation of African wealth in their categories. Instead of burning (in the name of new religion or stealing and selling some of these items to the white people) museums should be built whereas they are displayed for the future generation so see where we have been.

When the old man above told us ‘they have stolen it to sale to the foreigners’, we understood that there is an ongoing stealing of the African past, present and the future by ignorant and unpatriotic African folks. This should stop.

T. Sowole, THE GUARDIAN: British Museum: A Twist to Stolen Artifacts (Article) Tuesday, February, 2008.

This article was based on a brief personal encounter with the writer and  Attama Ezeja, the priest of Isi-Amani in Abulegu Likke-Iheaka in Nsukka, Enugu State Nigeria at the time when the revered antiquated wooden sculptor Goddess was stolen. Till date, the statue had not been found. And there are so many orders as well stolen such as ancient sculptor of ‘Lolo-Uhere’ in Ugo-Iheaka, Nsukka, in Enugu State Nigeria. Again the Ube-hooro sculptor was also stolen at the same time in Ama-Ero, Nsukka, Enugu state, Nigeria during the same period.
CSN: 55002-2008-00-22
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