Wednesday, October 12, 2005
So I went to the Sainbury’s Gallery at the British Museum today….I was confronted by an array of mixed emotions. On one hand, I was proud..Proud to be African, particularly Nigerian..As I listened to the curator narrate the colourful tales behind some of the art work (metal work, pottery, bronze sculptures, fabrics, modern art), I was drawn back to the days when Benin and Ife were Empires to reckon with..When the Kings were worshipped not because they were corrupt but because it was as assumed not only that they were chosen by the gods, but they were stronger than all other men and animals..The bronze work from Benin told tales of a time when we were the centre of trade,when men were men, and when values were engraved in stone..When I looked upon those pieces, I not only saw the beauty, but I appreciated the time, precision, hard work, patience, commitment that went into these amazing carvings (for want of a better word).
Then what about the history behind these pieces..I felt ashamed for not knowing more.As I listened to this stranger talk so passionately about “a people” whose blood run through my veins…I felt like I had not done enough..Our heritage is being diluted as we pass from generation to generation, and there’s not much being done about it..Ok, we study history at school, but all is soon forgotten..Even worse for those who are raised here..they don’t stand a chance..You look at the sophisticated and expertly moulded pottery. Every marking tells a tale of a time that was..These people were strong, they had knowledge, they were doctors, albeit traditional medicine..You had to appreciate the intricacy of the designs on the knives..Forget the samurai sword, we have even better…Apparently, these weirdly shaped knives were so valuable, they were used as currency in those days..The world is full of sob stories of Africa being deprived and backwards..but we need to take these stories with a pinch of salt.. We need to appreciate where we’ve come from to understand how far we can go..
I think I felt some pangs of anger..Angry that we had so much taken from us..then I felt stupid because I know that these pieces of “evidence” would not have existed if they were left in our care..
But after all said and done..I learnt a lot tonight, and I hope I just don’t leave it there..