Museum of Unity, Enugu: History, Heritage, Harmony

I’ve always been interested in history, world history but particularly African and Nigerian history. My father is definitely to blame for this love but it is one interest I am glad he piqued. Our history discussions spanned geographies, coasts and seas; we talked about everyday living within cultures, influencers and developments. It was and is still very interesting to mentally experience the evolution of a people.

 

As an adult, I am even more interested in Nigerian history especially as I know how that knowledge has shaped my view of my beloved country. I believe it is a disservice that we no longer teach Nigerian history and are missing a critical aspect of ensuring we remain a united Nigeria in thought and deed.

 

I have always lived in Lagos and for secondary education, attended Federal Government College, Enugu. I cannot fully express how that experience has shaped me as a person. I attended this school in an era when unity schools were the most prestigious schools to attend and student population came from across the entire country. I had the opportunity to interact with peers from different cultural, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds. In that melting pot, we became one, our unification emanating from emerging behind mom and/or dad to become independent teenagers, needing to survive in waters solely navigated by basic survival instincts. Today, those friendships span a quarter of a century and longer.

 

And so it was with glee that I returned to my roots as Life Skills facilitator on Nigerian Bottling Company’s (NBC) Youth Empowered programme. Enugu, being my city, I thought it wise to spend a few days stomping the city I no longer recognised but which had its imprints all over my heart. Plus, I would get some time away from the mania that is Lagos. As part of my “re-culturisation”, I convinced two of my friends to accompany me to the Museum of Unity in Enugu.  The 4-part display consists of:

 

  1. A unity exhibit
  2. An igbo culture exhibit
  3. A coal city exhibit
  4. A Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe exhibit

 

 

Eureka Moments

 

  1. Established after the Nigerian Civil War (1967 – 1970), the Museum of Unity identifies the commonalities in Royalty, Deity and Ceremony not limited to human and agricultural fertility, life and death, celebrations, fairness and equity across the approximate 350 ethnic groups that make up Nigeria. In other words, the displays are not only relevant to igbo culture, beliefs and traditions but to every tribe that makes up modern day Nigeria.

 

  1. The interactions between and amongst the tribes became evident as I toured the exhibits. The values and systems that maintained order in the day-today lives of indigenous peoples were apparent in dress, governance, trade, war and ceremonies.

 

  1. As we toured the Unity exhibit, I noticed that the full dress of the Obi of Onitsha (King of Onitsha, South-Eastern, Nigeria) was made from Damask, a fabric predominantly thought to originate from South West Nigeria. My interpretation of this was that there was extensive trade and transfers between the different groups. Also interesting is that fact that one display clearly alludes to the origin of the Onitsha masquerade as Igala, a tribe in today’s Benue state. Part of its dress aso-oke, also belongs to South West Nigeria.

 

 

  1. Art has always been a part of human existence and often represents beliefs in the tangible. It also was a form of passing on oral tradition with references. I discovered that the oldest bronze sculpture in Nigeria is actually from Oron, Akwa-Ibom state in South-South Nigeria and not from Nok in Plateau State, North Central Nigeria.

 

  1. The exhibit without meaning to, became evidence of transition from wholly indigenous societies, albeit with local interactions, to one with western influences through first trade and then colonialism.

 

  1. Money evolved from brass (so we’ve been smelting iron forever and of course knew some technology), to cowries, to fabric, to beads and then to glass. Don’t ask, I don’t understand the rationale either. We did have our traditional medium of exchange that sufficed until we were told we needed a more formal currency.

 

  1. The ancient linkages were clear. Nigerians have always co-existed and thrived.

 

Conclusion

The Museum of Unity in Enugu was a revelation to me in many parts. It achieved what it was designed to do; I learnt about other tribes, I saw similarities, I discovered we had been exchanging ideas and adopting best practices amongst ourselves for a long time. I felt a deep appreciation of the belief systems that drove ancient peoples; most of all, I felt truly Nigerian.

I recommend you visit this museum if you are ever in the Enugu area.  It will enhance your appreciation of the nation and our tribal heritage; that Kings and Queens were revered and we had functional governments with participation by both sexes; that our societies worked effectively and our beliefs were enough to provide a moral compass that ensured fairness, equity and justice. I saw that our commonalities are a lot more than our differences. I saw Nigeria.

 

Addendum

Thank you ‘Gbubemi Atimomo for pointing out that Nok art was made from terracotta. Old Benin Empire, also in the South-South region of Nigeria is typically the reference for bronze works.

Author: Ekundayo Odele

CEO at UnoCasa. People oriented. Trainer, Facilitator. Open to learning and willing to try anything at least once.

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