Showing posts from February, 2010

Archaeologists in Ghana Reveal Ancient Society

Yes. I announced I would temporarily retire from the blog. And I will. I will not further comment on this than this one line. Well two. Maybe three.

It was posted on H-Net West Africa. And it certainly is interesting and exciting. Discoveries like this one will hopefully make it ever harder for anybody (and I continue to all some of them my friends, how could I not, I’ve known them since primary school) who remains blissfully ignorant of African history before the arrival of Europeans. ‘Let’s be honest,’ they keep on saying, ‘what have Africans achieved before colonization?’ ‘What’s been there to compare with Europe’s intellectual and technological achievements?’ (Now, let’s forget for a moment the indebtedness of western European cultures to other ‘old world’ cultures such as the Muslim world or India.) Now, there is one more piece of archaeological proof to challenge such views.

Now, you know my interest in arguments about Islam in West Africa and its impact on local cultures and artistic traditions. Insoll himself has published an academic volume on the Archaeology of Islam in Africa. So, I would be very interested in learning more about this one liner: ‘The societies that constructed the figures simply disappeared when Islam arrived.’ Did these societies really simply disappear and, if yes, how did that happen? Or did they change and in the course of this merely abandone the production of figurines. Where there any continuities between these pre-Islamic societies and the cultures that emerged after the arrival of Islam. Etc.

Anyway, here’s the article as it was circulated on H-Net West Africa and originally published on

Archaeologists have unearthed dozens of clay figures in Ghana, shedding light on a sophisticated society which existed before the arrival of Islam.

Experts from the University of Ghana found 80 sculptures believed to be between 800 and 1,400 years old. They believe the figures, depicting animal and human forms, are part of a burial ground or shrine. Archaeologists say the societies that constructed the figures simply disappeared when Islam arrived.

What is interesting is that the people now living in this area seem to have no connection with the makers of the figurines,

said the university's Benjamin Kankpeyeng.

That would suggest that that they have more in common with peoples living in other parts of West Africa - but we need to do more work before we can be certain.

Arab slave theory

The statues were found amid hundreds of mounds in a densely packed 30km-square area. Mr Kankpeyeng intends to analyse the position and arrangement of the statues with Tim Insoll from the UK's Manchester University. Mr Insoll told the BBC very little was known about civilisations in the area between 600 and 1200 AD because no written history was kept and the societies ceased to exist when Islam arrived. He said experts still did not know why the civilisations came to an end - whether the people converted en masse to Islam, or were captured by Arab slave traders. The statues, he said, could tell historians what kind of people inhabited West Africa in that time.

Figures have been found in this area before, but what we can do with the latest find is map their arrangement to find out what their purpose was - whether for sacrifice or some other ritual.

he said. The northern Ghana site, near the village of Yikpabongo, was first excavated in 1985, and the dig was restarted in 2007. The latest batch of figures was discovered in January.

Research Seminars in the Art and Archaeology of Africa and the Americas

Department of Art and Archaeology

SOAS-University of London

2-23 March 2010

Tuesdays, 5-7 pm

Room B104

Convenor: Dr. Tania Tribe (

2 March - John Mellors and Anne Parsons (AHRC researchers/Anglo-Ethiopian Society): The Painters of Adet, Northern Ethiopia

9 March - Joost Hagen (Leiden University): Kings, Bishops, Doorkeepers and Saints: An introduction to Qasr Ibrim and Christian Nubia

16 March - Prof Mark Horton (University of Bristol): The Archaeology of Islam in Eastern Africa

23 March - Dr Kevin MacDonald: (Institute of Archaeology, UCL) Investigating Sorotomo: the Oral History and Archaeology of a Malian Capital

All Welcome

Dear world outside there ...

I am not a gifted writer. I prefer images to words. So, in my non-poetic ways, let me apologise for lately neglecting you and those inhabiting you. Let me apologise for all the Christmas and New Year cards I didn’t send, for all the birthdays I missed, and all the friends’ I’ve recently turned down. But I am trapped here between my fieldwork journals, academic volumes and the screen of my computer. Except when I am on my way here, or on my way home, or sleep. So, my sincere apologies but this PhD has taken over my life.

No, I’m not complaining. I wanted this. I chose this. Although, sometimes I need to remind myself how much I wanted it. I make an effort to remember those tears of joy when I received news I had been accepted for an AHRC scholarship covering my fees. The excitement when I learned that the AHRC would also financially assist me during fieldwork. But sometimes, I admit, it just feels like life is passing me by while I’m here starring at the screen, trying to put into academic English my thoughts on ‘Contemporary Arts in Nigeria.’ Sometimes I doubt whether there will even be an end to the writing, rewriting, and editing. Then I wonder why I could not have made do with just any nine to five job. Nine to five and reasonably well paid. Instead of ten (I admit occasionally eleven) to midnight (sometimes one) and paying for it. And yes, I could have stayed with just any of the dull jobs I did before I joined the PhD programme. I might even have made the gallery assignment work – or, maybe, not this one. But I really wanted to do this PhD. I chose this. And I am happy with it. Most of the time. But sometimes I just feel I took on too much. Like I am pursuing a dream not actually meant for me but somebody else. And then I get tired, impatient, moody. And then I shut down and build walls around myself. I abandon the world outside the windows of the computer room. I forget Christmas, New Year, Easter and birthdays. I let down friends and stop following the news.

And now, right now, there is another of these moments. When it feels like I bit of more than I can chew. When it feels like this was meant for somebody with more stamina than I got. When it feels like the walls are craving in on me. But I wanted this. I chose this PhD. And I will hang on in there. I will just, once more, close the door on the world outside of the windows of the PC lab.

So, my apologies in advance. And pls. bear with me so we can catch up later. When I return to the social site of research (i.e. blogging), the social site of life (i.e. friends), life itself and this huge exciting world out there, outside of the walls of my university … So pls. do not abandon me.

See you later … I hope ...

Kano Contemporary Arts Masterpieces

News from the Goethe Institute in Kano!

Dear friends of the Goethe-Institut Nigeria,

More than 1,100 visitors came to the Kano Liaison Office alone in the first two weeks to see the exhibition "Kano Contemporary Arts Masterpieces". Tomorrow will be the last chance to see the artworks: Sunday evening, 7th February 2010, the exhibition will close its doors.

Quite a number of extensive reports were published in the Nigerian press about the exhibition. Read

* Adie Vanessa Offiong "Kano to see Northern Nigerian Masterpieces" in Weekly Trust, 15.01.2010

* Sadiq Abdullateef "Goethe-Institut Nigeria presents Kano Contemporary Arts Exhibition" in Triumph Newspapers, 16.01.2010

* Ruqayyah Yusuf Aliyu "From the Kano Arts Exhibition" in Sunday Trust, 29.01.2010