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The Amazing Civilisation of Nok

Archeological evidence in the last 60 years has proved authoritatively the existence of Negroid settlements in what is now known as Nigeria before the spread of Agriculture worldwide about 3,500 years ago and one day we will have enough knowledge to better re-construct the history of these ancient settlements and cities. Nevertheless, for now, we shall contribute to filling in the spaces in African History with the evidence before us.

In Iwo Ileru, Western Nigeria (see map), the earliest known Negroid fossil have been found dating back 10,000 years. Stone tools that date back 12,000 years ago confirm the antiquity of human habitation in the region1. Archeologists have also found that grains such as millet, yams, and the African rice have been cultivated in West Africa from at least 1,000BC. Iron smelting furnaces have been found in Taruga (see map) that date back to older than 600BC2 and excavations during the building of the Kainji Dam revealed 2,200 year old Iron working sites dating back to 200BC. Furnaces have equally been discovered around Dala Hills in Kano as well as at Isundunrin, Ilesha, Oke Mesi, and Oyo-Ile, all in the southwestern region of modern Nigeria. Shaft furnace ruins were only recently discovered in the Yankari Games Reserve in Bauchi State3 .

High Civilization The earliest civilization that archeology has found so far in Nigeria is the famous Nok Civilisation, so named for the village near which the first known of the magnificent terracottas, now known as Nok terracottas, were discovered in 1928. Tentative dates suggest this civilisation thrived between 1,000BC to 200AD. Bernard Fagg remarks though that the civilisation might be much older than we know. Of the sophistication and antiquity of the Nok Civilisation itself, Bernard Fagg remarked thus: The degree of sophistication present in these hand-built pottery sculptures and the technical perfection-it is perhaps worthy of special note that much of the Nok material was so well made that even after two millennia in alluvial beds, and later direct exposure to the tropical climate, many of the original surfaces have survived-make it clear that it was the product of a mature tradition, with the probability of a long antecedent history, of which no trace has been found.4

The Nok culture apparently covered the whole area of the Upper Niger and Lower Benue valley, up to Sokoto in todays North West Nigeria and down to Katsina Ala in the middle belt region of Nigeria (see map above). These terracottas, with their triangular eyes, perforated pupils, noses, ears and mouths, elaborately detailed hairstyles, jewellery, their range of expression are famous worldwide for their artistic excellence and high technical standards of production.

Ancient Africans

In the core area of the Nok Civilisation, where the most sculpture and artefacts have been found, the evidence is literarily everywhere; on the rock slopes, in ancient refuse dumps, in underground caves and shelters, in mining pits. New finds appears each day and in an illegal mine near the village of Kubacha, amazingly beautiful and barely damaged statues were discovered, in the tombs of the underground shelters.

However, Africa is generous with its treasures and parsimonious with its secrets. Recent excavations by a group of Archeologists from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments including Dr Musa Hambolu, in collaboration with Peter Breunig and Nicole Rupp, of Ungwar Kura (see map above) found more than 130 milestones which suggest that there was once a settlement there5 .

Of the civilization that produced all these amazing works of art and uncovered the mysteries of Iron long before most other parts of the world, very little is known or written. Iron ore exists in rocks. Those ancient peoples of the Niger-Benue valley in what is now modern day Nigeria discovered that if they melt certain rocks, they could produce a metal that was malleable and could be molded into very useful weapons, hoes, plows and with its excellent conduction of heat, it could be used to make pots, pans and other cooking utensils.

It has now been proven authoritatively, with archeological evidence and the continuing discoveries of furnaces that predate most other civilization of the world, that these ancient Africans discovered this technology by themselves and it was not imported from anywhere else (See article on the Rediscovering Africa). Furthermore, the very different and multiple processes and methods of production attest to the ingenuity and industry of these ancient Africans.

A lot of work has been done on the art and now the technology of the ancient Africans, but of the Africans themselves, there is almost a universal silence.

Disappeared civilization The conventional wisdom has always been that Nok Civilisation existed in a vacuum. Well it did not. The so-called vacuum has only come into existence because as all the theories of foreign influence and imported technology fell apart, the international intellectual community has refused to fill that vacuum with the obvious; That it was BLACK AFRICANS, probably the ancestors of the same people that now inhabit these areas that actually produced the civilisation, which they themselves have agreed, was awesome.

During the colonial period and even up to the present day, anything that did not prove that Black

people were inferior was ascribed to foreigners. As W.E.B. Dubois says writing about the eminent Keane, Keanes Africa6 is a helpful compendium; despite the fact that whenever Keane discovers intelligence in an African he immediately discovers that its possessor is no Negro7

The most common purported importers were supposed to have been Europeans. On the discovery of technologies like Iron smelting furnaces that actually predate the Iron Age in Europe and showed categorically that the Europeans could not possibly have brought this technology, the Carthaginians and the Phoenicians were held responsible. When that also failed in light of continuing discoveries, some strange people called the Hamites who were supposed to have emigrated from the Middle East or the Egyptians must then be responsible.

When newer and newer discoveries have disproved all these teacher civilizations, the world is still unwilling to credit BLACK AFRICANS the disappeared civilization theory. The civili zation just disappeared and nobody knows who created it.

Truth will out eventually; whether we like it or not we must accept and celebrate the fact that the people that created this magnificent civilization were BLACK AFRICANS and probably the ancestors of the very people that live there today.

The archeologist James Emeje writing in 2005 found in interviewing the old men in and around the areas of the Nok civilization, that they do remember the processes for smelting Iron, these same processes that the furnaces found have revealed dates of as far back as 400BC. He states categorically that: It is therefore important that their knowledge as participant observer be utilized before it is too lateThe evidence has also shown that iron smelting continued from the time of Nok up to about 70 years ago.8

In other words, we were civilized and could produce things for ourselves until civilization came to us in the form of colonization. It probably took all of that time for the might and influence of the British Empire to reach these remote villages and once it reached it, we became uneducated.

The Community of the United The people that live in the area that produced the civilization now known as the Nok civilization (so named after the village near which the first Nok terracotta was found in 1928) have persisted not to disappear.

They call themselves the Har Kwain, which roughly translates into the Community of the United, although the Hausa immigrants call them the Jaba people9. They have shrunk in size, but not disappeared. They call their language Hyam and they are spread amongst twenty one districts in four local governments, Jaba, Jemaa, Kacha and Kagoro, in what is now Southern Kaduna state of modern Nigeria. The land of the Har Kwain comprises an area that spreads for more than 80,000sq km10 spreading all over southern Kaduna and into Nassarawa and Plateau State and they all share a common heritage. Nok village itself is in the Jaba local government area with its seat at Kwoi, which also functions as some sort of spiritual capital for the whole Har Kwain/ Jaba people. Kwoi itself is about 40 km from Kafanchan and 200km from the city of Kaduna.

The Kpop Ham in Kwoi with other traditional chiefs of the surrounding villages of Nok, Kwoi, Zshiek (Kurmin Musa) Dung (Jaban Kogo) Chori, Fai, Ketere, Sambang Gida, and Sambang Daji form the ruling class. Dr. HRH Danladi Gyet is the current Kpop Ham.

There is an urgent, pressing need for further research and documentation of the oral history of the people of Nok before the living libraries, our old men and women are all gone. Little bits come through but much may have been lost already.

Nok and the Yorubas The Nok country is dotted with many natural caves and underground shelters. In one of the caves, Chief Ibrahim Nok11, the chief of Nok tells of a medicinal tree, known as the Life Tree, whose sides are so smooth that even a monkey cannot climb it.

In the old days and right up to very recently, pilgrims apparently used to come from all over Nigeria and especially from Yorubaland in modern South Western Nigeria, to pray and cut the bark of the tree for medicinal purposes12. This is an interesting bit of information, which may throw more light on the supposed link between the Nok terracotta and its Ife cousins and put to rest the many controversies surrounding the two art centres as well as the supposed disappeared civilization. How did the Yorubas know of the tree and what might have been the connection?

The Yorubas that were going to Nok were obviously not the Western educated ones that have read about Nok art in their books. Moreover, even if they had read about the art, fewer of these western educated ones realized there WAS a village called Nok and even fewer still must have known about the many caves not to talk of any such tree. Therefore, it must be ancient knowledge transmitted through centuries. Who knows what magnificent history we might discover, who knows what has been lost in our mad rush to forget our past so desperately and denigrate all that we are? Who knows what relationships we will discover?

The things that bind us are much, much, much more than the things that set us apart. Karl Maier in his book, This house has fallen, especially notes another similarity of the people of Nok to the Yoruba people- the absence of religious tension in both cultures. Like the Yoruba, they welcome and embrace all religions and in the same family, you can have Muslim parents with Christian children and vice versa.

Saving Africa These days, the villages are emptying out, with large-scale desertion as the young flee to the advantages of civilization in the big cities, in search of increasingly non-existent opportunities. Those left behind struggle to make a living farming ginger, soybeans, yams and cocoyams amongst other crops with little hope of getting real value for these crops.

With no infrastructure, no roads and dilapidated schools, little wonder the young cannot wait to leave. We do not appreciate what we have but other people do. A British linguist and anthropologist, Roger Blench has been to Nok country to document their language and a word list is available online on his website.

Our rich citizens and businesses will rather pay foreign artistes to come and perform than pay archeologists to find out more about ourselves. Egypt today exists and thrives on its past that has been excavated; from the pyramids to the awesome Luxor and Abu Simbel temples; all are historical monuments which draws millions of tourists and their precious dollars to Egypt year after year.

8.5 million Tourists yearly visit the Louvre in France. They go to see the past Art pieces from all over the world dating back thousands of years. Quite a number of Nok pieces are in the Louvre. France makes billions of dollars every year from tourists coming to see history. The 306-year-old Blenheim Palace in England, seat of the Dukes of Marlborough brings in 12million a year for its owners. Italy lives on its history and culture. 45 million tourists visit every year to see among other historical monuments, the remains of the glory that was Rome, the remains of an empire that collapsed over 1,600 years ago.

Apart from the unquantifiable benefits of self-pride and self-discovery, if we are more interested in our history, the economic benefits are mind blowing. A thirst to know our history, investment for archeology to unearth it, the equipment and training to analyse, date and process our findings and beautiful places to showcase these findings will yield the country hundreds of millions of tourist dollars; money we need desperately for development.