France returns smuggled Nok artefacts to Nigeria

Nok Sculpture from the Louvre museum
Nok Sculpture from the Louvre museum

France has returned today to Nigeria five ancient terracotta sculptures which had been smuggled out of the country in 2010.  Experts say Nok art is the earliest attempt at portraiture yet discovered in Nigeria.  Over the past 100 years, Nok art has been discoverd in a large area near the Jos plateau in northern Nigeria.  The Nok culture shows that African societies were quite versatile in iron works, and terracotta.  I had posted an article earlier on the Nok culture.  I am just glad to see that sometimes the French, with the pressure from the country from which it was stolen, can return stolen artefacts.  There are so many of our artefacts, manuscripts which have been stolen and are still kept in museums in France.  Applauds to the Nigerian government which kept demanding the return of their artefacts.  These should all be returned. I fear that very soon, we will also find Timbuktu’s manuscripts at the Louvre.

Enjoy the article from BBC, and my article on the Nok civilization.

Timbuktu under Attacks: Arise to save African Treasures

Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu
Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu

It is with horror that I watched and read about Timbuktu‘s desecration these past weeks, and I could not /would not stay silent as African treasures are being ransacked and destroyed.  Why would somebody destroy such a rich historical city?  Why would someone want to erase history?  Then I read the articles on BBC,  and they say that the destruction was conducted by muslim fundamentalists.  Seriously who do these media think we are?  Stupid?  Muslim fundamentalists?  Isn’t Timbuktu’s history linked to Islam?  Why on earth would somebody who loves and respects Islam destroy a place dear to his life?  It’s like saying that a catholic fanatic would want to destroy the Vatican or Jerusalem… really?  then they say these Muslim fundamentalists are from Northern Mali and are Touareg groups working to divide Mali.  See, again, BBC must really think that we are stupid or newborns.  How could a Malian, a Northerner, a Touareg, destroy his own home?  unless this group is not from Northern Mali…  unless this group is from somewhere else.  Remember Libya? there were foreigners attacking, and NATO, which destroyed the beautiful Libyan historic places: Sabratha and Leptis Magna … Remember that remains of Babylon were almost destroyed during the attacks of 2003?  Where are these stolen treasures today?  Please watch this video on Timbuktu and learn why any son of Africa should fight for its preservation.  There is over 10 centuries of history in Timbuktu, and it is our duty to save this place.  There are over 700,000 manuscripts saved in public libraries and private collections.  Check out this photojournal on BBC.  Enjoy and share!

Djenné: the mud brick (adobe) city

Djenné
Map of Mali with Djenné

Djenné is a city of Mali whose history is closely linked to that of Timbuktu. It is well-renowned for its mud brick architecture, and today most of the city is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In no place in the world do you have a civilization entirely built on mud! Maybe that is why Malians are so renowned for their work on mudcloth a.k.a. bogolan! The Djennenké say that nowhere in the world would you find people who can build in mud like Djenné’s masons: their work with mud is pure magic, as illustrated by the beautiful Great Mosque of Djenné. The masons’ family lines stretch back half a millenium! They mix the clay from the surrounding plains with the water from the Bani river, and bring to life an architecture purely from Djenné rising with splendor.

Great Mosque of Djenné
Great Mosque of Djenné

Djenné has fallen victim of time, erosion, and particularly rain which deteriorates the mud structure. Recently, as part of protecting this UNESCO world heritage, restoration started. For this process, Djenné masons divide up the work according to whose ancestors originally built the houses, the families that inhabit them, and themselves: dirt from old brick is reused only within the dwelling which it came from, since it is believed to carry a blessing which cannot be transferred; this is a practice whose roots date back to 250B.C.. Before the arrival of the French in 1900s, Djenné’s masons built using the technique of Djennefere or the art of building with cylindrical bricks, as opposed to rectangular bricks introduced by the French. Recently, a Malian-American team of archaeologists found in the base of wall fragments, from about A.D. 1400, of a type of bowl Djennenké still place in foundations for protection; another fragments with Arabic inscriptions dating back to A.D.

Great Mosque of Djenné
Entrance

1118. This is important, since before Djenné, there was Jenné-Jeno (before 200 B.C.), the “city without a citadel” which had no royal palace or ruler with an army, but was made up of different tribes or clans with different specialties which formed a sort of democracy where they came together to trade and decide community affairs. After 1100, Jenné-Jeno shrank, and by the 14th century, it felt and a new city, Djenné, grew from the trans-saharan trade in salt and gold. Djenné was later on invaded by Arab traders who introduced islam to the city. Later, Djenné was part of the great Mali Empire, the Songhai empire, the Ségou Kingdom, the Macina Empire, and the Toucouleur Empire. In essence, in Djenné, the old and the new merged, the mud from the earth grew, and the learning was passed on from generations to generations, making Djenné, the city built on mud rising from the splendors and knowledge of the past!

Map of Djenné
Map of Djenné

Both Djenné and Jenné-Jeno are UNESCO World heritage sites. You can learn about them on the UNESCO WHC website, as well as on Wikipedia, Architecture in Mali, and Djenne Patrimoine. Enjoy:

The forgotten kingdom of Nubia

Pyramids of Nubia
Pyramids of Nubia

The general public is familiar with Egypt and the pharaohs, but is not so aware that there was a highly important, sophisticated, and independent ancient civilization in Nubia, which is south of Egypt in present-day Sudan.  For over a century, Nubian pharaohs dominated Egypt, and their kingdom extended from Lake Chad and well into the middle east.  The conquest of Egypt started with Pharaoh Piye of Nubia, and continued with Taharqa who launched the most audacious building campaign of any pharaoh since the New Kingdom (around 1500 B.C.).  Under Taharqa, the capitals were Napata and Thebes, and Jebel Barkal the holy mountain.

Black Pharaohs of Nubia
Black Pharaohs of Nubia

Nubia is a kingdom with 3 times as many pyramids as Egypt.  Their language still needs to be decoded, and archaeologists are searching for a Rosetta stone similar to that discovered by Champollion which allowed the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphs.  The Nubians were well known for their military genius, and Egyptian pharaohs will sometime hire Nubian mercenaries to fight their battles.  Theirs was a civilization of strong queens such as Amanishaket, and Amanitore.  One of these queens Candace Amanirenas defeated the roman army of Augustus Caesar.

Pyramids of Meroe
Pyramids of Meroe

To learn more, check out some of these great websites: http://www.thenubian.net/index.php, http://www.ancientsudan.org/index.html. National Geographic also had a series of articles on Nubia: Black Pharaohs, Rare Nubian King statues uncovered in Sudan. The site of Gebel Barkal was added to the UNESCO list of world treasures in 2003… check it out on the UNESCO World heritage website, and the Society of Nubian Cultures.

Please discover Nubia, and revel in African genius!

Don’t forget to watch Part 2-5 .

Nok Civilization: The Era of Terracotta

Nok Sculpture from the Louvre museum
Nok Sculpture from the Louvre museum
Map of Nok area
Map of Nok area

Ever since I saw an image of a Nok figurine on the cover of my history textbook in 6eme (grade 5), I have been fascinated by this civilization. These neighbors of ours, had a civilization which flourished in the Jos plateau in the northern part of modern-day Nigeria between 800 BC and 600AD. The Nok civilization is considered the oldest African terracotta civilization. They were very advanced, and many people have mentioned similarities to the Egyptians. Their work shows great mastery of the firing process as emphasized in their sumptuous sculptures and artistry.

Nok soldier, dating 800 BC
Nok soldier, dating 800 BC

Nok art work is unique and detailed. Most sculptures found so far represent kings, queens, dignitaries, wizards, animals, etc. One thing that stands out the most when looking at the Nok sculpture of a woman is the hairstyle. It makes me feel so proud to see that 800 years BC, Nok women wore elaborate braids, cornrows, etc… the same way we African, no Black women wear our hair today. Imagine going back 2800 years ago and meeting beautiful Nok women with hazelnut eyes looking at you with the same hair-do as yourself!

Nok sculpture of a woman
Nok sculpture of a woman

Nok sculptures vary in size and can reach up to 1,20m. How were the Nok able to make such life-size terracotta statues without having them explode or shatter into pieces during the firing process?  Well… they used branches from trees and trunks as the central core of the sculptures.The website Memoire d’Afrique has a detailed account on the Nok Civilization ingenuity. Check it out: http://www.memoiredafrique.com/en/nok/geographie.php and wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nok_culture

Lalibela, Ethiopian churches carved in the stone

The Church of St George
The Church of St George
Lalibela, Church of Saint George
Lalibela, Church of Saint George

When I was younger, there was a cartoon on television in which they always mentioned the churches of Lalibela, and somehow I used to think that it was not actually real,… you know like these made-up places in cartoons!  Isn’t it interesting that the name Lalibela always made me think of honey bees (abeille in french)… Imagine my surprise when I found out that it is said that at birth a swarm of bees descended on the baby king’s head, and his Mother named him Lalibela, meaning “the bees have recognized him as king!

Lalibela, Bete Medhane Alem church
Lalibela, Bet Gebriel Rafael church

Carved straight from red volcanic stone, and actually from a single stone, Lalibela is the place of pilgrimage of thousands of christians every year, and is one of Ethiopia’s holiest places. It was intended to be the New Jerusalem, in response to the capture of Jerusalem by Muslims. The architecture of Lalibela was revealed to King Gebrel Mesqel Lalibela one night in his dreams (he is said to have seen Jerusalem in his dreams) by God; he was instructed to build churches never seen before. Lalibela is actually made up of 11 medieval churches rock-hewn. Many of its names come from Jerusalem, like the Yordannos (Jordan) river, the church of Mary, etc.  The most well-known is the Church of Saint George (or Bet Giyorgis in Amharic) which was probably the last one built around the 13th century and has the shape of a cross and has been referred by some as the 8th wonder of the world. It is about 30 m deep, and is simply stunningly beautiful! Talk about a church built on stone!

Lalibela, Bet Medhane Alem
Lalibela, Bet Medhane Alem

Lalibela is now regarded as one of the greatest Ethiopian architectural wonders and is ranked the eighth most incredible historical site in the world by UNESCO. It entered the UNESCO world heritage in 1978. Ethiopians themselves love to tour their own country and treasures, and about 1/3 of the tourists at popular Ethiopian sites are Ethiopians.

Check it out on the UNESCO website (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/18/), Ethiopia Travel (http://www.ethiopiatravel.com/Lalibela_eng.htm), and http://www.selamta.net/lalibela.htm

Also check out youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAYaEbdriwc

Great Zimbabwe, a civilization of stone

A Conical tower
A Conical tower

Have you ever felt tired of people telling you that there was no great Black civilization? that there was nothing in “sub-saharan” Africa? Well,… I have heard of a great African kingdom in the southernmost part of Africa: Great Zimbabwe which stands for “great house of stone” in the Shona language! Houses upon houses made of stone, and today some of them still stand tall in Zimbabwe. When a German geologist ‘stumbled’ (you know what I mean… like christopher Columbus discovered America at a time when it was already full of people) upon it, he was convinced that it could not be the work of Africans! Well, then… let me present to you Great Zimbabwe, a kingdom located between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers! It is a civilization which flourished from the 11-15th centuries. Just like the Maya, Aztec, incas, we also have our own!

UNESCO made it a world site heritage in 1986. (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/364/)

Check out http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/zimb/hd_zimb.htm

Great Zimbabwe ruins
Great Zimbabwe ruins

There are great documentaries about Great Zimbabwe, but I decided to choose a short doc made by school children (please don’t be distracted by the masks shown in these video which are not from southern Africa but from West and Central Africa), since all the others mostly focused on the European researchers rather than Great Zimbabwe itself. If you are curious, feel free to go check all the other documentaries on youtube or dailymotion (such as Zimbabwe’s Ancient Ruins Part 1-3, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Kdhyj2kc6c).