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Paradise Lost: EDOFEST 2009 on the rescue…

By McPhilips Nwachukwu
The historic British Expedition of 1897, which led to the looting of more than 900 cultural artifacts from the palace of Oba Ovoranwem by the British invading forces was one military expedition that launched Benin, the capital of Edo State in world historical map.

The ancient city of Benin also remains one of the earliest developed Monarchs with established advanced governance system, developed trade and advanced cultural traditions by the British colonizing mission on arrival in Sub Saharan Africa.

That unfortunate incident however, has inspired debates in many fields of knowledge; especially in the fields of dramatic literature and history , all of which have tried to do post mortem trials of that British invasion.

From Nigerian writers, late Ola Rotimi in his play, Ovoranwem Nogbasi and Ahmed Yerima in his own play, The Trial of Ovoranwem attempted to do post mortem trial on the ugly incidence that re-directed a peoples history.

Also from the Western world, recent studies reveal that the hate novel, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad was inspired by anthropological reports gathered by British invading forces during that genocidal invasion.

Among the huge members of the cultural clime in Nigeria and other black Diaspora countries, there have also emerged debates on the possibility of returning the looted artifacts from Africa and especially Benin , most of which are now housed in some private and public museums in Europe and America.

With the exception of perhaps the 18th through the 19th century Jihadist movement that swept across the Northern/Western parts of Nigeria that significantly reconfigured Nigerian history, no other historical incident has had the kind of impact that the 1897 British expedition had not only in Nigeria but on other colonized part of the world.

Sadly, 102 years after that ugly incidence, successive governments that have directed the affairs of the State have not done much to re- direct the rich , historical, cultural and tourists potentials of the once plundered State until recently when a collective effort as being pioneered by the Edo State through its Arts, Culture and Tourism Ministry.

Though some individuals and organizations have on their own been going about such ventures alone in an effort at selling the State’s cultural wealth to the world. For instance, two years, Louis Eno’s Benin based Eldrado Ventures partnered with some organizations to hosting what he calls Edo Bronze Festival. The three year old festival as a private sector intervention in the culture cum tourism upliftment of the State should also be seen as a significant water shade in this expected mega show that all eyes look eagerly up to, in November.

Interestingly, the gladdening news that the proposed festival being planned by the State’s Ministry of Arts ,Culture and Tourism has after all received the endorsement of the Governor Oshiomole led government and that of the Benin royal Monarch, Oba Erediauwa is no small achievement towards a successful hosting of what is already seeming like a first class cultural cum tourism fiesta by a State , which in its own historical terms should be a number one histro-cultural destination point of the nation.

As part of other programs embarked upon by the State’s Arts , Culture and Tourism Ministry towards a successful cultural fiesta for the State was a recent visit by the Ministry’s Commissioner, Bar. Vincent Akhere to the Republic of South Africa , where he went to sell the idea of the festival not only to the enterprising sons and daughters of Edo , but to the Diaspora community.

Also next month, the Honorable Commissioner may honor the invitation of Edo State indigenes in Italy, who have invited him to honor their Edo Cultural Day. If he honors the invitation, the visit will afford him an opportunity to pay courtesy call to the Nigerian Ambassador to Italy, who himself is an Edo indigene, who no doubt can make it possible for the visiting Commissioner to meet with other members of the international community, who may express interest in buying into the festival programs, which if well executed will open up another revenue treasure for the State and as well catapult Edo to the point of being another important host of an international festival in the nation’s and world’s cultural calendars.

Given the historical status of the State, there are much expected to be done by the State if it should at the end of the fiesta reclaim its historical first. It is important now that all the important cultural sites in the States are re-activated and qualified professionals hired to attend to expectant large influx of tourists that will want to update their historical knowledge of the State.

The State Orientation agency should map out enlightenment programs and also employ the services of the media, Local Governments , Schools and community development Unions in educating indigenes of State on the importance of the Fiesta and why everybody should buy into the thinking of the Ministry in opening up the cultural and tourism potentials of the State. The people should be made to see the advantages inherit in a successful hosting as a quick income returns even from ancillary services.

Perhaps, a visit to neighboring country of Senegal, where the DarkArt Biennial has been held successfully for many years will help to educate officers of the Ministry on how to go about the festival and what they intends to do in other to optimize the economic advantage deriving from the show.

Being a city known for Bronze casting, there should be a collaborative effort among the State Museum, National Gallery of Art and Guild of Bronze Casters towards an international exhibition of Bronze works. This could in cognizance of two factors: One that the University of Benin also parades many art students that major in bronze casting as much as the traditional bronze casters.

All these groups will be given opportunity to express themselves and art and culture historians privileges to discover transitions both in the craft and technology of bronze art over the years. Beside having a central exhibition venue, there should also be off site bronze and craft exhibitions in different parts of the State; and especially in the State capital.

The organizers should not also be unmindful of the importance of tour guides, knowledgeable tour guides , who will avail visitors with information. And most importantly, security if not for any thing, for the safety of visitors as tourism does not thrive on a place under siege.


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