Alok Ikom Stone Monoliths of Nigeria



Akwasnshi/Atal as the monolith is called among the Ejagham people of the Cross River State is distributed among over” thirty communities. In each community, the stones are found in circles, sometimes perfect circles, facing each other standing erect, except where they have been tampered with by weather or man.
Ikom Monoliths
In some cases, the stones are found in the center of the village or in the central meeting place of the village elders, as in the case of Alok and Agba communities. In Etinan and Nabrokpa communities, the stones are located in an area of uncultivated forest outside the villages. The majority of the stones are carved in hard, medium-textured basaltic rock, a few are carved in sandstone and shelly limestone. The common features of the monoliths are that they are hewn into the form of a phallus ranging from about three feet in height to about five and half feet and are decorated with carvings of geometric and stylized human features, notably two eyes, an open mouth, a head crowned with rings, a stylized pointed beard, an elaborately marked navel, two decorative hands with five fingers, a nose, various shape of facial marks.
Ikom Monoliths

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The stone monoliths of Alok Ikom bear a form of writing and a complex system of codified information. Although they seem to share the same general features, each stone, like the human finger print, is unique from every other stone in its design and execution.
The geometric images on the monoliths suggest that their makers possessed more than a basic knowledge of mathematics, not only because they are geometric, but also because of the obvious implication that there were computations and numbers on the layout of the stones.
Ikom Monoliths

Comparison with other similar properties

The Ikom monoliths with their geometric inscriptions could be compared to the rock Arts of Tanzania. The meanings of the codified symbol are known to only the artists. These are also associated with their origin, which is like most rock art works in Africa. Ikom monoliths could be West Africa’s answer to United Kingdom’s Stonehenge.
They are similar in arrangement and ordering to the Stone circuits in the Gambia, but unique in their complexity of design and interpretation.

 Fragment from a Figure, Head, 16th–19th century
Nigeria (?); Nnam
Basalt; H. 25 in. (63.5 cm)
From the Collection of Nina and Gordon Bunshaft, Bequest of Nina Bunshaft, 1994 (1995.64.18)
Over 300 monoliths carved from basalt in this style were created in the Cross River region of Nigeria between 200 to 1900 A.D. These lithic monuments, which vary in size ranging from around two to over six feet in height, are usually found in circular groupings facing inward. The depiction of human features in stone is unusual in sub-Saharan Africa; additionally, the scale, number, and arrangement of the Cross River monoliths distinguish them from other groupings of anthropomorphic sculpture.
This particular example, with its elegant low-relief detailing around the eyes and the ornate cicatrization along the cheeks, led to its attribution to a class of objects created by members of the Nnam, one of eight clans that comprise the Bakor ethnic group of the Cross River region. Frequent motifs that appear on Nnam-style monoliths include a single spiral, double spiral, concentric circle, diamond, and triangle. This work is fragmentary and is the top half of what was originally a taller monolith. There is a clear differentiation between the sculpture’s front and back, with the rear being devoid of inscription. The marks themselves refer to cicatrization patterns, which comment upon the wearer’s level of initiation, ethnic, clan, and family identity. These markings may also relate to symbols that would have been painted on the body during festivals and ceremonies. All of the stones depict bearded figures, which suggest venerability and wisdom.
Though these objects have played an important role in the ritual life of successive generations of members of local communities, their original purposes can only be conjectured. They may represent the spirit of deceased ancestors. It is also possible that they were created as memorials to important political and historical figures. Local people maintain that the stones were created by otherworldly powers and emerged out of the ground like trees. The difficulty that carving and transporting these stones would have represented to their makers—as compared to wood, which would have been more easily available and workable—is a further indication of their importance.

Once, Nigeria had 450 unique priceless stones; today, only 119 found
Published on 5 August 2010

Author(s): Daily Sun
Type:  News

Hundreds may have been lost and the ones not yet missing remain almost completely neglected
Despite the festivities that attended the return of two Ikom Monoliths recovered in France and formally handed over to authorities of the National Commission of Museums and Monuments (NCMM) on 26 January, 2010 at Reiz Hotel, Abuja by the French Embassy; one can authoritatively reveal that this particular aspect of Nigeria’s classical antiquity has been looted beyond imagination.
By 1945, writings by a British anthropologist, Mr. Philip Allison, showed that Nigeria had at least 26 Ikom Monoliths, but during a chat with Mr. Yusuf Abdallah Usman in late 2008, when he was NCMM’s Director of Monuments, Heritage and Sites, the man had enthusiastically declared that finally, “an inventory of Ikom Monliths had been conducted. So, we now know the number of Ikom Monoliths we have”.
When asked how many of these antique objects his then just concluded documentation threw up, Mr. Usman, who is currently NCMM Director General, had said; “about 119”. However, the March/April 1999 edition of “Akwanshi,” a newsletter of the Calabar Museum Society had revealed: “Over 450 of these cylindrical monoliths are located in 34 sites in Nigeria’s south eastern parts.”
Curiously, there seems to be no reasonable explanation as to how the quantity of these priceless pieces of antiquity, which weigh between 50kg and 800kg and measure between 30cm and 2 meters in height; could have depleted so drastically, from 450 to “about 119”.
Nigeria Bakor-Ejagham Stone.jpg
Nigeria: Bakor-Ejagham Stone
Therefore, the fanfare that attended the event for the return of two monoliths last January in Abuja, was evocative of the Biblical lore of the lost sheep. Truly, the pomp and circumstance over the return of two monoliths; whereas hundreds may have been lost and the ones not yet missing remain almost completely neglected; was reminiscent of the “Parable of the lost sheep”, where much festivity greeted the recovery of one animal amid countless others in the fields.
The ancient stone sculptures called “Ikom Monoliths” or “Nkarasi Monoliths”, derived these names from the village or town nearest to the settlement, where the earliest object was unearthed. Lately, Bakor seems to be replacing Ikom as prefix to these monoliths’ name because all the settlements, where the stones have been found fall under Bakor community, which covers a vast, land area between Ikom and Ogoja towns. Ogoja is in northern part of Cross River, while Ikom stands in this state’s central parts.
The monoliths are also known as “Akwanshi”, a local language 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 funerary practices of Akajuk, Nnam, Nde, Nta, Nsle et cetera ethnics. Whenever someone died in those areas, the survivors would go and drop a stone in memory of the departed. The stones “are regarded as representations of ancestors by members of the central Cross River communities, where Akwanshi are found”, confirms the Calabar Museum Society newsletter. For reasons, which remain unclear, the tombstones; which belong to two categories, basalt and volcanic rocks; were dropped in such a way that after a while, a circular pattern evolved.
Bakor Monoliths can be viewed at many sites, such as Alok, Emangabe and Nkirigum et cetera, which collectively make up the Alok Open Air Museum (AOAM). Aside Alok, Emangabe and Nkirigum; Nlul, Ntutugho, Agba, Edamkono, Ekulugum, Manden, Old Toe 2, Oonto, Ntoe Atal, Ntol Shie and Nyarkpor also boast an Akwanshi circle each. Chief Sylvanus Akong, head of station at Alok Open Air Museum, said there are some 27 such sites altogether, each with varying number of stones.
Nigeria: Calabar monolith
Alok latest
On 22 July, 2010; I had returned to Alok Open Air Museum, and this was one of dozens of visits since I made my first trip here in 1992. Although this open air repository is named for Alok, the museum’s original site is Emangabe (also called Victoria), which stands roughly 2km from the present hub. After its establishment at Emangabe in 1983, two other sites, Alok and Nkirigum, were subsequently added to this museum field.
Apart from Emangabe, which lies 2km away from Alok; some 7km distance separates Alok and Nkirigum. In other words, the three old sites stand kilometres apart. During a recent encounter with Chief Akong, NCMM Technical Officer in charge of this open air museum complex; we gathered that Alok holds 34 monoliths, whereas 18 of these antique stones are displayed at Emangabe. We further learnt that about 22 monoliths are on ground at Nkirigum.
Although we visited Emangabe and Alok Circles during our latest sojourn, it was not possible to confirm what obtained at Nkirigum because Ntim Enyin (Enyin stream), which borders that settlement is over-flowing with water during the rainy season, and makes access impossible except by boat or canoe. Since there’s no commercial boat plying this route, locals simply swim across; which was more than we came prepared to do.
A time frame on Nigeria’s classical artefacts should help put in perspective the importance of Bakor Monoliths to our national heritage. In chronological sequence, Nok artefacts found around southern Kaduna and so on, said to be between 2,000 and 2,500 years old; are next to the 8,000-year-old Dufuna Canoe, discovered in Yobe State, North Eastern geopolitical zone. Bakor Monoliths rank third because some are as old as 1,900 years, followed by the roughly 1,500-year-old Calabar terra cottas, found in Cross River State in Nigeria’s South-South geopolitical zone.
Nigeria monolith Cross River region, 18th–19th.jpg
Nigeria:monolith Cross River region, 18th–19th
After the Calabar terra cottas, the next set of classical antiquities, all 1,000 years or younger, include objects excavated in Igbo Ukwu, Ile-Ife, Owo as well as those discovered in or around Nupe lands (called Tada), the world famous Benin artefacts and Esie soap stone statuettes; in the states of Anambra (South East geopolitical zone), Osun (South West), Ondo (South West), Niger State (North Central), Edo (South South) and Kwara (North Central) respectively.
Despite the age of each Bakor Monolith, their ill-secured open air gallery and their kilometres-apart scattered locations, aside the fact that looters had laid siege to these sites in the past; Alok Open Air Museum boasts only seven workers. Chief Akong alias Orlando is assisted by three gardeners and the same number of security men; a workforce ostensibly inadequate to manage these sites and secure the antique objects.
Like lame ducks
The fact that thieves had made away with some Ikom Monoliths in previous decades, is ample proof that more hands ought to be posted to Alok Open Air Museum. In 1992, during one of our visits to Alok we had encountered 30 monoliths at this hub; and, even in those days, one had gathered that there used to be 32, but two were lost to thieves that invaded this sanctuary some years earlier.
Mr. Akong again: “Thieves once came here at night and carted away some priceless antiquities. We managed to recover some, but not all”. He was referring to another scenario. According to Mr. Akong, swift reaction on the part of Mrs. Mary Coker, the then Curator of National Museum Calabar, which oversees Alok Open Air Museum, made recovery of two of the stolen pieces possible.
Speaking further, this technical officer, who added that the police were very helpful during that crisis; however, rued: “But, two monoliths were recovered”. We had gathered from reliable sources that three monoliths were removed by the looters. In other words, one has still not been located more than 15 years after that theft.
Sadly, instead of deploying additional workers to Alok, the 2006/2007 massive retrenchment in the Federal Civil Service practically swept six of the seven staffers away! After we raised the alarm concerning the nude state of Alok open air museum and how the priceless monoliths were now at the mercy of looters; then Cross River State Governor, Donald Duke, stepped in and directed the sacked workers to return to station, continue with their duties but to subsequently collect their salaries from Cross River treasury. That, in a nutshell, is how Ikom Monoliths literally enjoyed some respite.
However, Mr. Duke’s intervention, which his successor, Governor Liyel Imoke, has sustained; is mere panacea not the cure because the issue of additional hands; has not been addressed by the NCMM. Currently, what obtains is a return to the status quo ante, which leaves a lot to be desired. And, to think that we made this suggestion since 2007!
The recovery of another monolith near Ntutugho Village earlier this year further reinforces our advocacy for additional hands to be deployed to Alok Open Air Museum urgently; but whether NCMM authorities would see reason, only time can tell. When they eventually wake up from their hibernation, one can only hope that their response would not prove too little, too late.
It remains uncertain, where the recently recovered monolith was removed from but the object was found abandoned on the ground near Ntutugho. So, how safe are these stones? Hear Akong’s rue: “Since we don’t have adequate security, there’s always the threat of theft”. This museum technical officer also sounded particularly worried about the risk to which monoliths at Oonto Circle were needlessly exposed.
Oonto, which stands near Nkirigum, holds over 15 monoliths. But, these are monoliths like no other; “This is where you have the tallest of the monoliths, each one beautifully carved with some of them standing as tall as 2m (over 6 feet)”, Akong mused.
Myriad problems
Theft is not the only problem plaguing Bakor Monoliths; several of these stones are now covered by fungi. This infestation is most glaring at Alok Circle, where the whitish, dust-like, microbes thrive both on stones as well as the stems and foliage of surrounding plants.
Aside theft and fungal infestation, Bakor Monoliths sometimes fall victim to man-made disasters. For example, certain locals do not really understand the importance of these stones; consequently, such people frequently set fire to these priceless pieces of antiquity in the course of preparing the grounds for farming. According to Akong, Nlul 1 Circle requires urgent attention in this regard. Moreover, owing to the inadequate number of gardeners and lack of a lawn-mower; the few workers on ground are condemned to back-breaking chores almost without end seven days a week, yet Nkirigum and several other sites are often overgrown with weed; we learnt.
Apart from absorbing sacked federal museum workers into Cross River Civil Service, the then Mr. Duke-led state government had also built a perimeter fence around Alok Circle site. In the same vein, Emangabe also features something like a wall, except that the proposed perimeter fence is still far from completed. By contrast, Nkirigum is still completely naked, with neither wall nor fence.
Gone, million dollars’ worth of stones
Unconfirmed reports indicate a thief could earn as much as $50,000 (N7.5 million) for one monolith, even though there are laws, both at national and international levels, against such trade. Assuming 120 monoliths can still be accounted for, deduct this figure from 450 and the difference is 330 stones gone. Multiply 330 by $50,000, and you get $16.5 million. At an exchange rate of N150 to $1, Nigeria has lost N2.5 billion! It is, however, worth noting that the nation loses much more than money, each time a piece of antiquity is lost. Whenever such tragedy strikes, we lose a bit of our soul, so to speak.
Sadly, thieves will always try to lift classical objects; not only because of the perceived large sums involved but because of lax laws, which prescribe rather lenient penalties for such heinous crime as selling one’s soul and that of the entire nation in one fell swoop. To worsen matters, the apathy of Nigeria’s federal authorities toward antiquity objects, be they Bakor, Benin, Esie, Ife, Igbo Ukwu, Nok et cetera serves to egg looters on.
Nigerian authorities may not care about Bakor Monoliths, but neither the inextricable relevance of these antiquities to world heritage nor the perilous conditions to which they are subjected is lost on the global community.,_Nigeria_had_450_unique_priceless_stones;_today,_only_119_found

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