‘A man, who doesn’t know where he is coming from cannot tell where he is going,’ goes a common Nigerian cliché, which in a sense, behoves us about taking into account things like our identities, our mistakes, our successes et al. But going by some of the many happenings around us as a people, taking account of things hasn’t been who we are. Power, corruption, and tribalism have been black spots that the mere knowledge of our country’s history could have lighted our paths through. But, not so.
If you are a regular reader of my Discover Nigeria pieces, you will find the bane of my pain to be how we as Nigerians are disconnected from our history – personal, communal and national—and how we need to move forward and fix our sense of the past.
George Santayana once said: “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” So where do you come from?
For me, I come from a long line of bronze casters and blacksmiths in Idu Igun, popularly known as Igun Street, Benin City. My own father was the last in line to actually use the traditional blacksmith kit somewhere around the 1950s. But unlike him, many of my uncles and cousins who weren’t as geared towards western education continued in the stead of Ine Nigun, our patriarch to whom all Benin bronze work is majorly ascribed to.
Prior to the British invasion of 1897 that culminated into what historians refer to as the Benin massacre, all bronze works of art belonged to the Oba and could only be reproduced or procured with his express permission. But today, it is not so as art enthusiasts may purchase bronze art pieces at will.
One value that certainly describes the descendants of Ine Nigun is hard work. For us, six centuries of working hard has etched a reputation as the bronze art headquarters of the world. It also won global recognition when Idu Igun was designated as a cultural heritage site by UNESCO in 1999.
So where do you come from?