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Nsude Pyramids: Black Africa’s Lost Heritage?

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By SHEDDY OZOENE

On the Udi highlands of Enugu state, the Nsude pyramids once stood as a testimony to Black Africa’s level of cultural enlightenment. Built with hardened red mud and clay, the structures lasted centuries until the 1930s when degradation followed years of negligence, so much that today only their faint outlines can be traced. A report on the monuments published in Wikipedia describes them as “one of the unique structures of Igbo culture”.

Ozoani and the Pyramid
Ozoani and the Pyramid

Appeals have been made in the past by the community leaders as well as historians for the restoration of the circular pyramids which bear striking resemblance to the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, in Egypt. Unless the Nigerian government takes appropriate steps to reconstruct them, that historical monument will remain, perhaps, one of black Africa’s greatest losses to world civilization.

Now, scholars believe there were more to them, with the possibility they may rewrite the history of black Africa. Even more compelling is the attraction it holds for tourism in Nigeria. At a time the pyramids in Egypt have turned the economic mainstay of the North African country with approximately 14.7 million tourists flocking in a year, revenues peaked in excess of $12.5 billion as recently as in 2010.

It is still a mystery why the Nsude pyramids which once stood with circumferences of about eighty feet and a pinnacle reaching up to 40 feet, according to information obtained online, were constructed in the first place. Much of what were known of them were tales about how they were used in times past for surveillance against hostile neighbour during inter-community wars.

Historical accounts say the pyramids were first constructed in the topmost altitudes of the community’s boundary villages at Umuaka and Ugwuto: while only one large pyramid stood at Umuaka part of the community overlooking Ngwo and parts of Nkanu land, a set of 10 pyramids—standing five-a-side on two rows—was located at Ugwuto, overlooking Owa in Ezeagu Local Government Area.

While this surveillance theory is the most believable considering the community’s fame in inter-community wars in times past, other accounts, however, attribute the construction of the monuments to the memory of Uto-Nsude, the community’s war hero that has since become a deity. The third theory that the pyramids may have served as furnaces for iron smelting lacks credibility as not much by way of history has linked Nsude and the larger Udi area to iron smelting.

Europeans who carried out extensive geographical survey and explorations for solid mineral in various places around the Udi hills had first ‘discovered’ the pyramids. The first discovery was credited to one Luke Walter, a British who led one of the exploration missions in 1891. It is either Mr. Walters did not document his ‘discovery’ probably because he did not consider it of historical significance, or whatever he did has been lost in time.

It was not until 1935 that an anthropologist and colonial administrator in the area, Mr. G.I. Jones took what is, perhaps, the only surviving photographs of the historical monuments and after printing them, scribbled behind them what has today become vital information. His photographs were not made public until a few years back when they were published by his estate. Apart from oral historical accounts of the pyramids, the limited information provided are reproduced from notes written by Jones on the black and white photographs.

Recently, the Nsude community leader Mr. Emmanuel Ozoani had ordered an inspection of the site of the set of 10 pyramids in Ugwuto, with a view to renewing the call for their restoration. The pyramids which were said to have been maintained annually with red mud mixed with cow dung, were robbed of this preservation by the advent of modernity and sheer negligence. It is believed that since the 1930s, they were not preserved in any way and have over the years been totally degraded.

There is even a theory that the British colonialists may have conspired to degrade the structures whose ‘discovery’ sharply contradicted their position that Black Africa lived with no civilization until their arrival. The visit by community officials to the site, however, revealed that it was still possible to fully restore them.

The story is the same with the lone pyramid that once stood at Umuaka area of Nsude. According to another community leader, Mr. Gab Ozougwu, the pyramid once stood at the eastern entry point where the community had maintained the mysterious Iga gate. While he explained that it has been degraded and almost submerged by erosion that has since developed a gully at the site, Ozougwu who now heads the village union, says it has been a subject of enquiries by some Europeans in recent years.

He disclosed that one of his predecessors, well aware of the historical relevance of the pyramid, constructed a miniature version in front of the Umuaka community hall at Obu Anukwu in the 1970s. The replica made of concrete cement, with the same five circular cones, still stands to this day.

Between the Nigerian pyramids and those of Egypt, the similarity ends with the conical shape. It still remains a mystery for instance, when and how the Nsude Pyramids were built. Archaelogists believe the clay/mud pyramids may have been built at the same time the first or second wave of Egyptian pyramids were built by the Nubians, but no records are available on the actual period when they came into being.

The Egyptian pyramids were built by moving huge stones from a quarry and dragging and lifting them into place. Built during the reign of Fourth Dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu over a 20 year period ending in 2540 B.C., the 2.3 million cubic meters pyramids at Giza, with base measurement of 227.5 meters and vertical height of 137.2 meters, is believed to have involved about 60,000 labourers. The Nsude pyramids were made of tons of hardened red mud and clay.

While those great pyramids on the Giza Plateau of Egypt including the massive sculpture known as the Great Sphinx have historically become symbols of Egyptian culture and world civilization, Nigeria and the Black race have not benefitted culturally from the Nsude pyramids in any way.

If restored, they may yet rewrite Black Africa’s history. More importantly, in terms of potentials for tourism in Nigeria, it is a gold mine waiting to be tapped.

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