Osogbo Revisited

Screen Shot 2017-12-09 at 3.35.04 PMIn a fortunate stroke of serendipity, Robin and Hugh Campbell, caretakers of the Osun Osogbo Sacred Groves and board member of The Susanne Wenger Adunni Orishia Trust, sent me a message inquiring if I was in Lagos. “Yes,” I answered and soon another message arrived asking if I would like to join them on a two-day trip to Osogbo (Osun State, northwest Nigeria). The drive was my first thought…the Lagos-Ibadan expressway is notorious for excruciating delays. After talking with a friend who drives the road frequently, I was assured that most of the road, indeed, lived up to the name: “expressway,” and baring any accidents, the traffic flows fairly smoothly. My friend believed the drive from Lagos to Osogbo would be within a normal 4 to 5-hour range. So with that assurance, I accepted their kind invitation.

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After a few days with an early start, we headed for Osogbo. This would be my third visit to the area. The first was in 1977. Then, I met Susanne Wenger. In Lagos, there had been word of a white woman making sculptures that represented Yoruba traditional religion in an “enchanted” garden. A friend, Pam Fields, and I decided to make explore these claims. In those days, driving to Osogbo was by way of a two-lane road. Armed robbery was non-existent. The worse fear was to have a problem with the car and no way to communicate with Lagos except from a hotel phone. Then, the trip could not be completed in one day. Our trip would take us through Abeokuta to stop at the indigo dye pits and juju market, spend the night Ibadan and attend the theatre at University of Ibadan (at the time, well-known for its drama department). Then to Osogbo, Ile-Efe and spend another night in Ibadan. Needless to say, in those days, there was much advanced preparation for a Nigerian road-trip.

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Once Pam and I found the Groves in Osogbo, we were pointed in a particular direction toward the forest where we came across Susanne Wenger. We chatted for a short while and she directed us to the Osun River to follow a path that included several of her sculptures. Making our way back to the road, we did not meet Wenger again. I remember that we were unimpressed and disappointed but thirty-seven years later on my next trip to Osogbo, that was not the case.

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In 2014, I set out following the Campbell’s car; we had mobile phones, bottled water, air-conditioned 4-wheel drive vehicles and a paved four-lane road with a possibility to arrive in Osogbo within four hours! I fully documented that trip on February 2014 See: Òşun Sacred Grove and Forest, February 2014 and  Osun Osogbo Grove , Obelisque Magazine, January, 2015.

So it was on an impulse that I commenced on the third visit to Osogbo, forty years after my first visit:

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mosque on way to Osogbo

Nike’s Guesthouse is a hub for visitors to Osogbo:

Asking for blessings….shrines of Osogbo

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Olukun at Kasali, work-carver’s compound

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Ogun Shrine, God of Iron

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shrine for wood-carvers and blacksmiths

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Susanne Wenger mentorship in the 1960’s encouraged local artist such as Rabiu Abesu and Kasali Akangbe-Ogun.

Wood carvings, art from ancestors, the prolific wood-carver Rabiu Abesu (b. 1940) expresses vividness of beauty and power through inner revelations that finds it way from thought to reality on wood.

 

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Mask and sculpture above by Rabiu. Kiki in silhouette

Kasali Akangbe-Ogun (b. 1945) comes from a line of professional wood-carver. Internationally known,  his  sculptures reflect the intrinsic culture and emphasize symbols and figures of Yoruba gods. Akangbe Ogun’s  uses omo wood (similar to mahogany). The wood is cured for seven years.Deborah Bell explains in Mask Makers and Their Crafts that Akangbe Ogun, “cuts the trunk vertically in half. He began his carving by paying homage to his ancestors and other divinities. The completed carving would eventually take an oil polish that darkens the color and makes it termite-proof.”

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some wood carvings at Kasali’s workshop

 

Kasali Akangbe-Ogun’s workshop:

 

Fields of art – the Groves. Susanne Wenger’s work survives due to a host of hands that over sixty years have committed one thing or another to protect and promote sculpture in honor of Yoruba traditional religion. Robin and Hugh Campbell have been warriors in keeping this UNESCO Heritage site viable. They do the heavy lifting of promotion, protection, rehabilitation, organization, and fundraising. See their recent fundraiser, Save Our Art, November 2016.

 

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Toyin and I at entrance of the Groves

See Nigeria Magazine article by Susanne Wenger and meaning of her sculpture:

Susanne Wenger at 100  (1915-2009) Nigeria Magazine ,Gods and Myths in Susanne Wenger’s Art: The Example of Batik Cloth by Stanley P. Bohrer and Susanne Wenger Alarape Nigeria Magazine, 1976, Issue 120

(all rights reserved, copyright 2017 .To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required)

 

Roman Glass in Britain (and Bida)

Bangels poster v2Tatiana Ivleva (see Global Glass website)contacted me out of the blue! She came across my journey in Bida, Nigeria. I had traveled to Bida in 2015 specifically to see the glass and brass handmade crafts and techniques, read about:  Bida: Bangles and Beads. Somehow Tatiana came across my post and contacted me through my website, nomad4now.com. Tatiana explained that her research involved the ancient craft of glass bangles particularly seamless Romano-British bangles.  She was most interested in Nigeria’s glass making tradition as it was similar to the Roman techniques. Titiana inquired if she might use a part of my video in her research and in this exhibition.  A video released for the exhibition: Fashion Frontiers Glass Bangles of Roman North will at some point be linked to this site. but until then enjoy the ancient and traditional craft of bead and bangle production in Bida:

Glass making can be traced to the Ancient Egyptians about 3,500 years ago. In the last century BC, glass blowing (see Egyptian glass makers here) was invented in Syria, which gave rise to a variety of glass objects during Roman times. The technique spread throughout the centuries to modern time. The Bida glass makers say their ancestors came from Egypt via Chad, the Bornu Empire and migrating from Kano to finally settle with the Nupe.

Camel caravans from Kano and Timbuktu carried goods —indigo, salt, ivory, gold to name a few—for thousands of years that interconnected the world by the great trade routes. These historic caravans, particularly in the Sahara, Eurasia, and the Arabian peninsula were as much about trading as about communication. One of techniques communicated along the way was glass making.

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bracelets made in Bida, Nigeria using ancient glass making technique

Roman Finds Group (provides a forum in Roman artifacts.) Read about the exhibition at: http://www.romanfindsgroup.org.uk/exhibitions

During my journey along the Silk Road, I searched for evidence of glass making. Other than a reference in literature that ‘Arabs’ carried glass in caravans, I did not see evidence of ancient glass. Pottery shards and ceramic bowls were seen in museums as well as at archeological sites.  Glass would be difficult to transport, however,  why did the technique not travel into Central Asia? Or if it did why are there no surviving remnants of glass, glass making, or glass blowers?

LAGOS STATE @ 50 May 27, 2017

My feet first touched Nigerian soil in 1972. Lagos State was a mere five years old. Eko Bridge (1975) had not yet been completed; the only bridge that connected the mainland (and Apapa where we lived) with Lagos Island was Carter Bridge.

Nigeria Magazine 1961, Carter Bridge

Of course, Lagos (Èkó in Yoruba) has a much longer history than 50 years, in fact, people have inhabited these islands for centuries. The actual founding of the area is lost; however, it is recorded that the first people to settle in the fifteenth century were known as Awori, a Yoruba subgroup.

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Nigeria Magazine 1961

Lagos meaning ‘lakes’ named by the Portugese explorers around 1472, naming the Lago de Curamo. Lagos was first a port city originated on a collection of islands that are separated by creeks. Open to the Atlantic Ocean, it was protected by long sand bars, now completely urbanized. The islands consist of Victoria, Ikoyi and Lagos Islands are the network islands which are separated from the Mainland.

Before the creation of Lagos State on 27 May 1967, Lagos, which was the country’s capital. Eventually towns—Epe, Badagry, Agege, Ikeja, Ikorodu— from nearby regions were incorporated into Lagos State.

Nigeria Magazine 1961

Nigeria Magazine 1961

To celebrate Lagos State at 50, I am posting a series of articles (from my private collection) written in 1952, 1961, and 1969 for the Nigeria Magazine. Nigeria Magazine of 1961 published a special centenary supplement to celebrated one hundred years (1861-1961) since the Yoruba Kingdom of Lagos was ceded to Britain by its ruler, Dosunmu. On the 1st of October 1960, Lagos became the capital of Nigeria. Today, Abuja is the capital of Nigeria but Lagos remains the a mega commercial centre of Nigeria and Africa.

Read about Lagos :

British Occupation of Lagos 1861-1961 (1961)

The Beginning of Modern Lagos (1961)

LAGOS—Nigeria’s Melting Pot (1961)

Ariel Views of Lagos 1952

Eko Bridge (1969)

Lagos in Portugal and Lagos in Nigeria (1952)

A Walk Through Lagos Island

To view captions, pass the cursor over the photograph.

arieal view lagos now

2016 Lagos Island top right and Mainland bottom half of photo. lower to upper bridges are : Eko Bridge ; Carter Bridge; Third Mainland Bridge

All rights reserved by Lesley Lababidi.

Afikpo Masks

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otugukpokpo or woodpecker is an animal mask worn in okwu masquerades and funeral rites; also worn by musicians okunkpa. Mask carver: Okocha Ota jr.

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mbeke mask representing the white race, oyibo or mbeke meaning white man in Igbo language. According to history the mask is named after a British medical officer, Dr. Baikie, who worked among the eastern Igbo during the mid-1800s. The mask represents a wide range of European characters, i.e. colonial officers, missionaries, merchants. Mask carver: Okocha Ota jr.

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Igiri meaning lunacy worn only during iko-okochi  (a dry season festival) as part of a dance choreography to represent the erratic movements of a madman. Mask carver: Okocha Ota jr.

Afikpo, Nigeria (see map) was a centre of ancient Igbo tradition. These ceremonial masks were used in the 1970’s for elaborate masquerades associated with men’s  secret societies and the initiation of boys into them as well as annual festival cycles; all of which was an important part of Afikpo life. All the masks are the creation of Afikpo master carver Okocha Ota Jr.

Some masks represent animals—a goat or a woodpecker. Others are human-like male or female spirits,  a white person or a madman.  The style is narrow, oval or elongated, delicate: bands of raffia tied to the back of the mask hold it in front of the face.img_1219nigerian-masks-001nigerian-masks-2-001fullsizerender-13Biography of a mask carver: Okocha Ota Jr.

Born on 11th November 1949 in Afikpo, Nigeria, Ota Okocha Ota Jr. took a serious interest in art and crafts. He studied the Afikpo cults and masquerade traditions and travelled through the eastern part of Nigeria to Calabar, Awka, Nsukka, Ahoada, Ibibio, Edda, Nkporo, and Arochukwu photographing festivals which earned  him the nickname, “onyia-oha” meaning the greatest.  In January 1966, Okocha Ota Jr. organized a course for apprentices and started to produce various objects drawn from different parts of Eastern region. After the Civil War in 1971, he successfully organized group exhibition in Enugu, Ibadan, Lagos, and Zaria.

How I became an artist

by Okocha Ota jr.

As history may have it, Afikpo is a land rich in arts and culture and it leaves no doubt why I should emerge from this glorious highland. I was born on a bright summer day, 11th November 1949, in a little quarter, known as ‘Godachall Villa’ – a breed of prosperous cultural family at Mgbom village situated at the heartland of Afikpo town, south-east of the Igboland in the East Central State of Nigeria.

I have less to offer on my educational status. I attended and obtained the Ministry of Eduction first school leaving certificate in 1961 in Afikpo. A little further between 1962 and 1965 I trained in a government handicraft vocational school – a detachment of the government owned secondary/ technical school at Afikpo, where I came out with flying colours.

At the age of seven, my father, a renowned physician and a craftsman in Afikpo, called my attention on one evening as one of the beloved sons. Being interested in me, he requested my explanation on why I should characterize in exhibiting before him toys of wooden carvings, clay moulding, and painted pictures of Afikpo masquerades produced by me. I had little of excuse to offer and remember telling him that ” those who live in glass windows should not throw stones.” This reminded him that I was completely of his blood. He wished if I should retort attaining scholastic hero rather than artistry which had been dominated by the family in Afikpo town. I objected and replied, “Daddy, you can’t force nature.” He broke the conversation, shrewd, nodded and remarked before a section of the family: “Keep it up my son, for you are garlanded with laurels of artistic genius which do not grow on trees.” He then recalled the memories of our ancestors and grandfathers viz: Egu, Uzo Iǵbe Oka, Okoroukwu Ukwenyi, Aja Iberekwukwu, Uche Otta and Ekuma Okocha etc., etc. With this remark and impression, I was emotionally geared to embrace crafts, arts, and culture as my hobby. -1974

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For further readings about Afikpo traditional art and customs:

-Afikpo Masquerades: Audience and Performers Author(s): Simon Ottenberg Source: African Arts, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Summer, 1973), pp. 32-35+94-95 Published by: UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3334798

“We Are Becoming Art Minded”: Afikpo Arts 1988 Author(s): Simon Ottenberg Source: African Arts, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Aug., 1989), pp. 58-67+88 Published by: UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3336662

-S. Ottenberg, The Masked Rituals of Afikpo: The Context of an African Art, UW Press, Seattle, 1975.

-“Humorous Masks and Serious Politics among Afikpo Ibo,” S. Ottenberg, African Art and Leadership, ed. by D. Fraser and H. M. Cole, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1972, p. 99.

**All rights reserved by Lesley Lababidi. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.

 

 

 

Finding Tolerance in Northern Nigeria

You don’t get points for accepting someone who wants to be just like you. You get points for accepting someone who doesn’t want to be like you — that’s where the difficulty lies. -Malcolm Gladwell

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Piti Tribe of Kaduna State, Christian affiliation

A short weekend trip* to Kaduna State in Northern Nigeria revealed a piece of the puzzle overlooked in news about Nigeria. That piece is not easily uncovered because of stereotyping and the complexity of a society but here it is, on bold display—tolerance of the other—in Lere Town 30 kilometers east of Jos City.Lere-1.8

 

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The trumpeters blow in unison to announce the entrance of the Emir. The kakaki trumpets are used only for announcing the presence of an Emir

Lere Emirates was established in 1870, by the fifth Sarkin Lere Muhammad Dankaka. To understand the origin of the founders of Lere one would have to go back deep into history to the Takrur region of present day Mauritania and Senegambia, where a kingdom once thrived under the Fulbe or Fulani. –Wikipedia.org

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Emir, Brig. General Garba A. Mohammed rtd.

On May 1, 2016, eleven members of the Nigerian Field Society are introduced to Lere Emirate through the hospitality and wise words of the tolerant Emir, Brig. General Garba A. Mohammed rtd.   The Emir honoured us with his presence and spoke of acceptance of ‘the other.’ He explained that in Lere Emirates there are several tribes that are not Fulani or Hausa but of other ethnic backgrounds. For today’s occasion members of the Piti Tribe  demonstrate drumming, dancing, and horsemanship specific to the Piti tribe.

Piti tribe population is approximately 8000 and according to Joshua Project, 80% follow a type of Christianity.  Piti is a minor Kanji language of Nigeria.

The mainly Muslim crowds look on and thoroughly enjoy the exhibition. Cheers and shouts rise, loudly, as the warriors with spears race along the crowded road.

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*Organized by Nigerian Field Society. Lead by Edouard Blondeau, Veronica Noxell, and Terri Brennan. The three-day trip took us to Kaduna, our hub radiating out of the 5th Chukker Polo Club. From there we travelled to Zaria to meet the Emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Shehu Idris; the Maggagin Garin of Zazzau, Mal. Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli; and to Lere Emirates to meet Emir, Brig. General Garba A. Mohammed rtd.

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Members of Nigerian Field Society with Mal.Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli, Magagin Garin Zazzau

**Pictures and photographs in this blog are solely my photography unless otherwise noted. Photographs, articles, and poetry are the intellectual property of Lesley Lababidi and protected under international copyright law.

All rights reserved by Lesley Lababidi. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.

 

Obelisque Magazine 2016

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Articles featured in Obelisque Magazine 2016

Indigo and the Turban

read article here

(Text and photography by Lesley Lababidi)

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Kaber Sobhy, The Street of the Food. 

Read article here.

(Text by Lesley Lababidi; Photography by George Fakhry)

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Raouf Zaidan, Egyptian Opera

 Read article here.

(Text by Lesley Lababidi; Photographs by George Fakhry)

raouf article 12 .Dec 6, 2015pdf-001

Mahmoud Mandour, Artist and Potter

Read article here

(Text by Lesley Lababidi; Photography by George Fakhry)

Mohamed Mandour 6 .pdf final November 8th-001

From Lebanon With Love

read article here

(Text and photography by Lesley Lababidi)

From lebanon Dec 2,2015 final pdf-001

Street Art – Ibrahim Pasha

(Text and photography by Lesley Lababidi)

street art final .Nov 29,2015pdf-001

Book Review by Lesley Lababidi: Discovering Downtown Cairo

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*Copyright 2016 by Lesley Lababidi. All rights reserved under international copyright laws. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.

**Articles are seen in Obelisque Magazine 2016, all rights reserved. Photographs and text cannot be reproduced without the written permission of Obelisque Magazine and Lesley Lababidi and George Fakhry.

***To purchase the magazine, in Cairo, the best place is at Tanis at the First Mall, Giza. They usually always have a copy. The new, annual 2016 just came out so they should have the 2015 and 2016. Also in Zamalek there is a Tanis on 32 Mohamed Anis and Diwan Bookstore on 26th of July, Zamalek (sometimes sold out but they try to keep it in stock). Outside of Egypt, contact: obelisque_magazine@yahoo.com or info@obelisquepublications.com. Telephone: +201094449762.