The Archaeological Association of Nigeria (Aan) presents a statement on the recent German Nok exhibition in Frankfurt. They accuse the German curators of academic colonization of archaeology for failing to agree to the exhibition first being hosted on Nigerian soil and for several other breaches concerning the heritage of Nigeria
Following years of controversial archaeological investigations in parts of the Nok valley by German scholars led by Professor Peter Breunig, an exhibition titled ‘Nok. Origin of African Sculpture’ had opened on 30th October, 2013 in Frankfurt, Germany. The exhibition is by Leibieghaus Sculpturesammlung in collaboration with the Goethe University and the support of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments(NCMM).The Germans claim that at the end of the exhibition on 28th February, 2014, it will move to Nigeria where the more than 100 Nok sculptures and pieces will be displayed for the Nigerian audience. In Germany, the exhibition is planned as a dialogue with contemporary Egyptian and Graeco Roman sculpture.
The AAN wishes to distance itself from this exhibition for the following reasons:
i. The Nok terracotta sculptures are arguably amongst Nigeria’s most strategic heritage resources. They are the earliest of their kind in sub Saharan Africa. Exhibiting them in Germany before Nigeria even when it is clear the Nigerian audience has a more direct connection with them is a disservice to the country. It also smacks of neocolonialism and rudeness.
ii. International best practice also requires that the exhibition should have been first on Nigerian soil before moving out on loan to other parts of the world. Nigerians should have been given the opportunity to enjoy, connect with and be educated by the exhibition before the Germans. We know of no country in the world that would allow others to study their heritage to a point of exhibiting the results of their study elsewhere before the exhibition debuts in the country of origin.
iii. German scholars seem to be exploiting the duplicity and lack of understanding in the leadership of the NCMM to appropriate rights to the control and study of the country’s archaeological resources. Only in 2007, the Germans exported tons of materials excavated from the site of Durbi Takusheyi in Katsina for restoration and conservation at the Romisch-Germanisches Zentral Museum in Mainz. These materials went on exhibition in Germany in 2011 with the promise that the materials will return to Nigeria in 2012. To the best of our knowledge, the Takusheyi materials are yet to be returned into the country. With the current exhibition, it means two important classes of Nigerian archaeological materials are outside the country. This is clearly unacceptable.
iv. The letter and spirit of the MOU between the Germans and the NCMM on the project has also been breached. Though the Germans claim in the online advertisements on the exhibition that they are partnering with two Nigerian universities on the project which started in 2005, the AAN notes that it was only in 2012 that the MOU was reviewed to allow the participation of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and the University of Jos in the project. To the best of our knowledge, scholars from these two universities are yet to be properly involved in the project. This may explain why no scholar from these two Nigerian universities has co authored even a single paper with the Germans on the project.
v. There is also the vexed question as to how the more than 100 Nok sculptures and pieces on exhibition got to Frankfurt. In 2010, when the AAN raised alarm on the wholesale exportation of Nok materials to Germany by Professor Breunig and his team, the Germans vehemently denied this, claiming only samples for analysis were been exported. The NCMM that had also been supporting this wholesale exportation also denied this, accusing the Association of raising a false alarm. Unfortunately, neither the Germans nor the NCMM could tell us where the Nok materials were stored since the beginning of the project in 2005. If these materials were exported irregularly to Germany and lack proper documentation, we would want to draw the attention of the NCMM and the Germans to the many international conventions in archaeology, heritage management and museums that prohibit the exhibition of looted materials.
vi. The AAN is concerned that Nigeria may not have proper records of these materials some of which were exported as sealed deposits in POP to Germany. In at least one case the Association knows of, sealed deposits from Garaje (on the outskirts of Kafanchan) were taken to Germany on the condition that they would be opened in the presence of Nigerian archaeologists to ascertain their cultural contents. These were however opened at the Romisch-Germanisches Zentral Museum in Mainz without Nigerian archaeologists’ presence.
The NCMM instead of protecting our heritage and archaeological resources is unfortunately supporting German academic colonization of archaeology in the country. The NCMM is making it difficult for Nigerians to take hold of the country’s past and reclaim the right to study and interpret it. What is the benefit of the project to Nigeria when ALL those who have gotten their postgraduate degrees from the project since inception are Germans?
The NCMM owes Nigerians an explanation on the Durbi Takusheyi finds and a commitment that the finds will be returned to Nigeria where they belong without further delay . Nigerians also need to know when the Nok materials will return to the country and what efforts the NCMM is making to ensure that what is returned to the country is not fake. The AAN also requests a public disclosure of all the archaeological reports that the German team has written on their fieldwork in Nigeria.
The AAN wants to draw the attention of the NCMM and the Germans to the resolution of the 6th World Archaeological Congress in Jordan early in the year to abide by the project MOU and international best practices in managing the project. The Association is particularly concerned with the non involvement of archaeologists and graduate students from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and the University of Jos in the fieldwork and analysis stages of the project.
The AAN is concerned that Nigeria must retain a level of control on research, dissemination and exhibition of the country’s vast archaeological resources. While we are not against international collaboration, we must be accorded the right to interpret our past and be the first to enjoy it and benefit from the education that comes from exhibiting it. Where collaborations are skewed against the country, the AAN calls for an urgent appraisal of such collaborations, to give Nigerians the opportunity to take charge of their heritage and archaeological resources.
*Zacharys Anger Gundu, (Dr) is President of the Archaeological Association of Nigeria
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