Many civilization of the world through the ages expressed themselves in various art forms, Nigeria is no exception. Just as archeology and anthropology has helped us date these arts, we can apply same approach to discover the oldest tribe in Nigeria through artifacts.
Discover the Oldest Tribe in Nigeria Through Artifacts
Art is the history and evolution of man (Solso,2003). It has helped archeologists rewrite the history of mankind lost to disasters of various forms. Art was a sort of saviour to Africa, which was earlier trodden on by white explorers for its lack of a colossus historical record. The archeologist and ethnographers relied on African arts to rediscover Africa’s rich past. Before the Portuguese explorers blindly discovered Africa, Africa already had made art. Their intrusion into Africa, which resulted in the slave trade, someway influenced the African arts.
Nigeria is a heterogeneous country with over 500 ethnic groups in which Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo are dominating. There always erupts this argument about the oldest tribe in Nigeria. In this situation, everyone tends to favor his tribe as the oldest tribe in Nigeria with no proof due to the shallow history of ethnic groups in Nigeria or how such a subject is not taken so seriously, making it a matter of unimportance.
Recently people have become inquisitive about their ancestral origins, which no one can historically tell because of the unimportance of such questions before colonialism, hence the conceptualization of mythical stories about the origin of different tribes in Nigeria. Most of the ethnic groups in Nigeria trace their origin to the Middle East or Egypt. The purpose of this article is not to question the possibility of such migration but to answer the question about the oldest tribe in Nigeria through artifacts.
The Christians tend to link themselves to Jerusalem and Egypt, while Muslims posit that their forebears migrated from Mecca at a time into present-day Nigeria. However, the historical record or artifacts discovered in places like Igbo-Ukwu, Ile Ife, and Plateau revealed that most of these tribes have lived in Nigeria for eons.
Nigeria is called the giant of Africa for a reason. Apart from the fatherly role it played to other African countries in times of their need, its diverse culture makes it stand out from others: it’s the most populated black nation in the world and has the highest number of languages in Africa, which Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo are the dominant ones. Apart from these dominating three, it still has other tribes that are rich in art, like the Benin and NOK arts.
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The Nigerian arts
Every people in Nigeria had art before colonialism. The Nigerian art piece, by a mere look, was greatly influenced by the environment. Those living in the thick forest made art with wood, while those with access to iron and brass made more lasting art with them. The Nigerian pre-colonial arts had both religious and political undertones. The pre-colonial peoples of Nigeria summed up their world in their art. They used to adorn their sacred places and palaces. Many of the discovered artifacts were carved from wood, brass, terracotta, stone, etc.
The Nok art stunned everyone at the time of its discovery because no one expected such artistic discovery from a region that witnessed Islamic incursion, which saw the artifacts in Northern Nigeria destroyed. The Nok culture, according to scholars, thrived from around 2000 BC to 300AD, making it one of the earliest arts in West Africa, not just only in Nigeria. It’s speculated the Nok culture might have penetrated deep into the North before being halted by the rapid spread of Islam in Northern Nigeria, making the then-Muslim convert, who made the incredible arts destroy whatever was against their faith.
Ile Ife is greatly revered by the Yoruba people as the place of their origin. The Yoruba traditional system is monarchical, with the Oba as the supreme ruler of the Yoruba people. As a result, the arts were partially under the Oba; the arts were made to depict him. The Ife arts mostly focused on the head, which was made to look like that of the oba and often larger than the body.
Apart from its depiction of the Oba for reverence reasons, the purpose of the Ife arts is unknown. Some scholars claim the arts had spiritual and political significance. The Ife arts flourished between 1000AD- 14000AD, making it one of the oldest artifacts in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
The Benin Bronze, as it’s widely recognized, is a group of bronze arts, metal plates, and sculptures used mainly to adorn the palace of Oba of Benin and other sacred altars belonging to the Benin kingdom. The Benin art piece is to have been made during the reign of Oba Esigie (1500 AD), making it eligible to be on the list of the oldest artifacts in Nigeria. The British Punitive Expedition against the Benin Kingdom in 1897 saw the Oba’s palace razed, and the artifacts looted and now scattered in different museums in Europe. The Benin artifacts are widely recognized due to their craftsmanship and significance.
The Igbo-ukwu arts are the oldest man-made artifact in present-day Nigeria and West Africa. It dates back to 9 AD. Metalwork had existed in the Awka area before it spread to other parts of Nigeria, like Benin and Ife.
The artistic skill applied in making the art was incredible and baffled the whole world at the time of its discovery. Although the Benin Bronze is popular or widely recognized due to exposure to a great number of Europeans, the craftsmanship of the Oba’s guild applied to the Benin art piece was appealing.
It’s hard to find the oldest tribe in Nigeria without relying on the arts of the tribes. From the artifacts discovered so far, it’s glaring that Igbo-Ukwu art is the oldest bronze art in Nigeria, making the Igbo ethnic group of Nigeria the oldest settlers in Nigeria, followed by Yoruba, whose Ife arts date back to 1000AD.