By Appolos Ibeabuch Oziogu
The Igbo-Ukwu objects which carbon-date to 9th AD is said to constitute one of the richest bronze treasures in Nigeria and best in the world though, they have not received relative publicity like those of Benin bronzes, Ife terra-cottas and Nok terra-cottas
IGBO–Ukwu is an ancient city of Igboland, located at a place, 30 kilometers South-East of Onitsha in the present Anambra State of Nigeria, lying between latitude 50 and 70 North of the equator and longitude 60 and 70 east on the Greenwich Meridien.
Igbo – Ukwu is described variously as the ancient bronze city; the ancestral land of the entire Igbo – race, and the cradle of black civilization. It is said to have the largest ancient local market in West Africa Sub – Saharan Africa. The modern day Igbo-Ukwu can be found in the Aguata Local Government area of Anambra State.
The Igbo believe in the existence of one Supreme Being (God) who they call Chukwu and they also believe that God is the Creator of the universe who they call, Chineke (meaning: The Spiritual Power who creates) or Onye Okike (He who is the Only Creator).
According to oral tradition, it is said that the Igbo race is the lost tribe of Israel who migrated through the River Niger to settle at their present location. Another version of their traditional belief is that they originated from Benin. However, majority of Igbo people believe they don’t have any ancestral link with other people, rather they occupied their present place of settlement right from the creation of the world.
Hence, according to one of the versions of Igbo mythology, Nri is the cradle of Igbo race just as Ile – Ife of Yoruba race. The Nri group of Igbos in Anambra State of Nigeria believe that Obasi (Supreme Being) gave the Eri (Spirit) the body of man and he (Eri) came down to settle in Anambra River basin. Then Obasi (Supreme Being) gave Eri two wives namely Nono and Oboli. Nono had five children and Oboli had only one.
The Children of Nono are Agulu, who founded Aguleri; Nri Ifikwuanim, who found Agukwu; Nri Onugu, who founded Igbarian; Ogbodudu, who founded Amanuke and a daughter Igwedo , whose children founded Awkusu, Nando, Nteje, Ogbunike and Umuleri.
The only child of Oboli called Oneju is regarded as one of the founders of Igala – Land. According to the mythology, the human form which Obasi (Supreme Being) gave Eri began the history of man on earth. Eri (spirit), his two wives and their children were the first inhabitants of the world. Igbo people also believed they were never ruled by one authority or King, hence the saying “Igbo enwegh eze” (Igbos have no king).
The earliest known bronze art works in Sub-Saharan Africa are Igbo-Ukwu objects. They were produced through the use of the “lost wax” or “hollow cast” method of casting, which involved the modeling of the object in wax and then replacing that with molten bronze. Scientific analysis shows that the Igbo-Ukwu bronzes are heavily leaded and they differ in their metal composition and technological process from those of Ife and Benin.
The Igbo-Ukwu objects which carbon-date to 9th AD is said to constitute one of the richest bronze treasures in Nigeria and best in the world though they have not received relative publicity like those of Benin bronzes, Ife terra-cottas and Nok terra-cottas.
The Igbo-Ukwu bronze treasures were accidentally discovered by a worker who was hired to dig a cistern by Mr. Isaiah Anozie during dry season in 1939. The treasures were eventually brought to the National Museum Lagos in 1957 by the Colonial Assistant District Officer in charge of the area who got to know about the incident.
Subsequent archaeological excavations of the area led by Professor Thurstan Shaw and a team of National Museum experts were made after receiving a permission from Mr. Richard Anozie, the brother of Isaiah Anozie. Consequently between 1959 and 1964 discoveries were made at following sites;
(i) Igbo Isaiah (Stock house of regalia)
(ii) Igbo Richard (Buried chamber)
(iii) Igbo Jonah (Disposal pit )
Among the recovered object are:
(i) A ritual Pottery Vessel
(iii) Pendant with rams head
(iv) Human face with scarification
(v) Bronze bowl
(vi) A pear – shaped bowl
Igbo – Ukwu objects are unique. They differ from those of Ife and Benin arts in both design and composition of the alloy. Their surface decoration reflects on the mastery of the craftsmen and the artistic technological ingenuity.
Igbo-Ukwu object are older than those of Benin. Igbo-Ukwu objects include bronze pendant ornaments in the form of elephants, leopard, ram heads. Insects like flies, beetles and grasshoppers sit upon the heads, arranged sparingly in symmetrical order. There are also bronze pendants in the form a bird, lying on a pair of eggs.
The dorminant visible features of Igbo – Ukwu bronze objects are:
(I) Fine decoration of the surface of the objects: geometric designs of parallel lines, triangles, circles and raised dots, then overlaid with fine threads, pellets and spirals.
(II) The common representation of insects (like flies, beetles, grasshoppers) which threaten agricultural products. Their presence on the sculptures has been linked to the ritual functions of the Eze Nri