By Ilesanmi Augustine
Nigeria is replete with many forms of antiquities. The efforts of the national commission for museum and monuments to identify, mark out, collect and preserve some of the antiquities have so far been fairly rewarded. It is also known that treasure hunters have combed these lands in the recent past with the intention of collecting some antiquities that could be smuggled out of the country for the lucrative international trade in antiquities.
Undoubtedly, many antiquities of this country have found their way out to some other nations especially in EUROPE and NORTH AMERICA. In addition to those already known, however, there are many items of antiquities yet to be discovered, appreciate and preserved within the country.
A notable source of some of these antiquities which has not receive adequate attention and consideration so far are the palaces. It must be mention from the beginning that the palace institution is neither universally nor evenly distributed in Nigeria.
Significantly, in order to access fairly well the degree to which palaces, in their heydays, were a complexity of antiquities, it is necessary to consider the significance of palaces in the life of the people within the context of the urban centers in which they were found. Each palace was indisputably a landmark within the kingdom in which it was erected, being the largest building complex of the land. It was erected to be used primarily by the Oba and also to serve the entire community in a variety of ways.
The palace is for all practical purposes the embodiment of the arts and crafts of the people. It is the repository of the treasures of both the town and its outlying district. It is the museum of the kingdom and also the fountain of the culture of its kingdom. If the palace is so cardinal to the arts, crafts and treasures of its kingdom , it stands to reason that it is part and parcel of these objects.
It is therefore, necessary to recognize the palaces as a significant item on our growing list of monuments and take positive steps to preserve them. The palace is the memory and cultural bank of the community which displays the history of the place, its importance persons, its culture and its tradition. The palace is in the best position to interpreted the history and cultural development of a community. This is because the palace has those elements of the community which highlights its orgin, achievements, failures, wars e.t.c. It is in the best position to transmit the cultural values and norms from one generation to another. This is because the means of transmission are in the custody of the palace.
Economically, the palace can play a vital role in the community. In the first place, palace is a very important tourist centre. Tourism is a money-spinner. A good palace will attract many tourists who will spend their money not only on the palace but also spend money on other aspects of the community for example, they will buy souvenirs, they will eat and use other services offered by the community.
Religiously, the Palace contained multiple courtyards each of which was used for specific purposes. The largest court-yard which invariably was nearest to the main entrance was the assembly ground of the people during festivals and ceremonies and the place for staging entertainments and competition of any importance within the kingdom. The innermost courtyards were used exclusively by the Oba, his wives and functionaries. Other courtyards were used for the meetings of Chiefs and workshops of artists and craftsmen, and the consulting apartments of medicine men, sooth-sayers, historians, philosophers and other professionals. Each of these professionals contributed his own quota towards the materials which were needed for the maintenance and support of the Palace in particular and for the welfare of the inhabitants of the kingdom in general. It was a recognition of a professional’s contributions to life and humanity, as a talented person within the kingdom, to be invited to stay within the Palace and from there to set about his creative work. These characteristics of the Palace provided the atmosphere for the production of fine works of art. Most of the products of that time have become highly prized antiquities.
Another factor which explains why the Palaces evolved as objects of antiquities was that certain institutions were fully integrated with them. Such were the shrines of various divinities which were found in fairly large numbers within the Palace. In most of the Palaces, certain divinities such as Osun, Ogun, Orisanla and Sango were commonly found. In one word, the Palace contained many shrines and temples and it was the holy place of the land.
It must also be stressed that since all the economic, social and religious traditions of the nation were determined, exercised and preserved within and through the palace structure and organization, it become the embodiment of the culture of the times. Since the Palace performed spiritual and material duties which contributed immensely to the welfare of its inhabitants, it also generated most of what may be described today as the non-concrete or abstract antiquities of the land.
It is not feasible to describe the Palaces without adequate reference to the main occupants, the Oba. The Oba stands for the Palace and the palace for the Oba. In this perspective, the Oba himself was the symbol of the culture of his period of rule. His role in producing what become the antiquities of the kingdom in later years cannot be overstated. He was regarded as the sole representative of the gods on earth as well as the link with the ancestors. At the same time, he epitomized man on earth.
Naturally, he was the most prosperous in habitant of the kingdom and was therefore able to attract to himself the best of practically everything in his kingdom. The importance of the Oba is so highly reckoned that compounds always struggle to ensure that at least one of their daughters is betrothed to him. Fortunately, the Oba could accommodate all the beautiful women who chose or were chosen to be his wives.
With all the personalities converging on the Palace, some contributing their productions and others their ideas, the Palaces attracted and retained some of the treasures of their kingdom. Therefore, visit any Palace today where the testaments of the past are located.