UK Institute, Cambridge University Return 1912 Portrait of Omu of Okpanam - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE



Tuesday, February 25, 2020

UK Institute, Cambridge University Return 1912 Portrait of Omu of Okpanam

•Omu Dunkwu and Omu Okonkwo

Kelvin Ogbebor, Yenagoa

About 108 years after, the Anthropological Institute, United Kingdom, and Cambridge University, returned the portrait of the female traditional ruler (Omu) of Okpanam, Delta State, late Omu Amamungwaonye, whose reign at the time brought so much harmony, progress and women empowerment in the community.

The portrait which in itself, is a compedium of and attestation to the long history of Omuship institution in Okpanam nay Anioma people in Delta North Senatorial District of Delta State, Nigeria, was the work of N.W Thomas, a British photographer, who used his 'camera' to capture the female traditional ruler over a century ago when he visited that part of precolonial Nigeria.

The portrait formed part of the art works exhibited on February 20 during the "Re: Entangled Traditions: Experiments with a Colonial Archive Exhibition" put together at  
the University of Nigeria(UNN) Nsukka, by the institution.

Interestingly, the reigning Omu Okpanam/Omu Anioma, HRM Obi Martha Dunkwu, was at UNN as a guest of honour to receive the portrait of her over a century predecessor, Late Omu Amamungwaonye, where she also declared the Exhibition open at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Library of the University. She spoke glowingly of the late Omu Amamungwaonye.

Omu Dunkwu also regaled her hosts with the highly cherished rich history and cultural basis of Omuship, which is only Indigenous to the people of Anioma in Delta State of Nigeria.
She commended the organisers of the Exhibition for putting together such a massive recreated works of N.W Thomas, a British photographer over a century ago.
The highly cerebral Omu Anioma lauded the University of Cambridge and the University of Nigeria Nsukka for their collaborative effort to reenact history and helping Africans to rediscover themselves.

She said: "The Omu institution in Anioma is over 700 years old as researched and reported by Professor Onwuejiogwu under the supervision of Professor E.A Nwanze, the then Vice Chancellor of the University of Benin. However, less than 100 years we have lost track of history and the institution was going into extinction until people like us were called. It took education, exposure and my media practice to bring back the good of the old through a vigorous devotion in the past two decades of my life to making sure we rediscover ourselves.

"What you have done today with the picture of Omu of Okpanam taken in 1912 by a British photographer, N.W. Thomas and kept in UK's museum for over a century now, is nothing less than helping Africans to rediscover that intricate part of them. 

"My experience in the study of African and World Religions has shown that the western countries including the Indians, Chinese and others keep their traditional religions as a critical part of their existence; but only Africa is the missing link.

"The call to be Omu in my community, though not by choice has become providential. Over the years I have come to realize why our forefathers kept this seat for a woman, even when there is a male traditional ruler. 

"Woman is indeed an epitome of truth, honesty and love; and these are vital ingredients that promote peace and unity in the community. With Nigeria as an example, peace and unity are not entirely possible in an only male dominated leadership system.

"An Omu acts as checks and balances, a caring mother to all, the water that quenches fire and bridge builder where truth is lacking. So what I am doing today as an Omu, is a physical manifestation of a spiritual conclusion.

"So I thank you for exhibiting the Omu of Okpanam who had reigned and transited for over a century now before my coming to the saddle. The Okpanam community is indeed grateful to N.W. Thomas, the Royal Anthropological Institute UK, the Cambridge University and of course the University of Nigeria Nsukka. 

"You made us know what we couldn't have known on our own. You made us have what we couldn't have had on our own. This Exhibition has solved a monumental problem in Okpanam and I must assure you that this has formed a solid foundation to continue to keep and nurture our culture for generations to come," Omu Dunkwu narrated.

The Omu Anioma also used the occasion to the History of Omu Institution in Anioma, authored by Professors Onwuejiogwu and Nwanze and of course a renowned Anioma historian, Elder Emeka Esogbue to Professor Paul Basu from the Department of Anthropology, SOAS University of London and Head of the Collaborative Project on the Colonial Archive Exhibition, to help further their research work on Omuship in Anioma.

In his response, Professor Basu thanked Omu Dunkwu immensely for answering all their questions in their quest to relate history with reality.

He said the project would be a continuous one in series, meant to create multiple purposes through the digitization of innovative arts, crafts, designs and paintings to educate generations not just about history but about the present.

He said because the EU is interested in these archives collected through anthropological projects, the team is therefore working with different people at different places to transform them into creative arts and then showcase in an Exhibition platform to see people's responses.

"This is one of the biggest experiments in the history of this project and we are pleased with the Omu of Okpanam and the Okpanam community for recognising and appreciating this historical photograph of the then Omu of Okpanam when we took it there. I am indeed glad to meet with the current Omu of Okpanam who is a typical reflection of the history we are trying to portray," Basu said.

Also speaking was Dr. Chijioke Onuora, Co-Head of the Project and Head of Department, Fine and Applied Arts, UNN. He said the Exhibition was geared towards reinventing histories, traditions and cultures which had started changing or going into extinction as a result of not keeping records.

He said the Exhibition would help in restoring the memories of the old with the Exhibition materials collected after 100 years of being kept in the UK.

Meanwhile, one of the Project members who was transferred from the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, UNN to study these archives in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, Dr. George Agbo, posited that the Exhibition simply seeks to present life the way it was after 100 years.

It was indeed a huge event that would keep the city of Enugu ruminating over the glamour of Exhibition for sometime to come. First on her arrival with her entourage in Enugu State, Omu Dunkwu paid a courtesy visit to the Igwe of Nsukka, HRH Igwe Patrick Okolo, the Chukwunwa Eze 11 of Nkpunano Nsukka.

The Igwe with his cabinet members received Omu Anioma with high praises and lavishly hosted her and her entourage before accompanying her to the University campus for the all important Exhibition. She was presented with traditional gifts such as a live female goat, kolanuts, yams, palm wine, native chalk, aligator pepper, assorted drinks, etc.

Igwe Okolo before the Royal departure from his palace, had pronounced Omu Anioma the "Nne-Oha," meaning Mother to all.

The Royal Father had affirmed that Omu was deserving of such honour for what she represents in Anioma, the Igboland and the whole of Nigeria, promising to make the preparations for Omu Dunkwu to come back to Nsukka for the conferment of the title of NNE-OHA.

The legendary Omu Anioma who had already accepted the honour, was accompanied on the visit to Nsukka by the Omu of Obior, HRM Omu Onyebuchibe Okonkwo, the Vice Chairman of NUJ Delta State Council, Comrade Patrick Ochei, her PA, Madam Genevieve Onyeaju, her Traditional Assistant, Madam Rita Nwanze and Comrade Okobi Hilary.

Pictures & additional report source : Anioma Trust.

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