During the ‘Punitive Expedition’ and great fire of 1897, Benin City was looted and destroyed. Few houses survived and several thousand cherished bronzes were carried away by the British.
Sadly, years after the looting, valuable antiquities were still being sold to dealers all over the world.
The few that still remain can give you an idea of the splendor that was old Benin.
The fame of Benin rests largely on its traditional culture and one of the most popular aspects of this culture is Benin carvings and brass work.
Today, there has been a decline in the numbers of traditional artists in this discipline but of those that remain, some of them still keep to tradition and an association of brass workers and wood carvers still exists, though members are few.
It is believed that the decline in traditional carvers started in the early part of last century, the constant stream and demand by foreign visitors influenced the diversion from unique pieces to more commercial works to satisfy the tourist market.
Many talented artists found their way out of the tradition all together and embraced and formally learned western techniques like Colette Omogbai and Bruce Onobrakpeya.
An exception to this influence was O. Idah. Read More
About 25 miles north of the Benue River lies Keana. Keana is well known for its valuable salt pits.
Keana Salt Works 1950s
This provided (mainly) the women of Keana an industry.
The Chief Of Salt Works (with the Staff of Authority in her hand) with her assistant
Women at work
It is also one of the two major towns in which the Arago are concentrated, the other being Doma, situated some ten miles west of Lafia.
It is said that the Arago settled with the Jukun at Kwararafa from where they migrated to Damagudu, then to Oturkpo and finally Idah. There, disputes over succession to the throne of Idah forced them to return via Makurdi under their Chief, the Andoma, from whom the settlement they eventually founded (about 1232 A.D.) derived its name, of Doma.
The Andoma had a younger brother named Keana whom he appointed Barde, war chief, of Doma and whom he sent to investigate the story told by hunters of salt pits some four days march from the capital.
Keana found the salt pits. The salt he discovered, was so good and the chances of making himself rich, so great that he decided not to go back despite his brothers orders to come home . He built himself a town by the salt pits and called it Keana.
Angered by his brothers insubordination, the Andoma marched against Keana.
One version of the story says that when the time came to give battle his soldiers refused to fight against their kith and kin. The Andoma then cursed them all, calling them aragogo, a soubriquet by which the tribe is now known
Another version of the same story says the Andoma did not attempt to fight. All he did was try to destroy the source of his brothers pride. Aragogo, this version says, is a corruption of ilagogo (our speech shall be different) which the Andoma proclaimed after his men had trampled the salt workings into the mud. The Andoma’s next action was to try and shut up the spring. An iron cap was made with which he covered the salt spring. But having omitted, in his hurry, to offer the necessary sacrifices, the salt water burst the cap. The Andoma accepted this as an omen of the wrath of his gods and returned to Doma.
In order to ward off the dissension which he feared he had caused among the tribe, Keana sent the Andoma the first two sacks of salt from the pits.
In return the Andoma sent him a royal gown and installed him chief of Keana.
Theses picture are from 1964. They depict the production of salt as was done by Keana women over the generations.
The land adjoining each salt spring was divided into plots, some twenty feet by five feet. And we’re shared amongst Keana born women in the town.
Each women would collect salt water from the spring and sprinkle it on her piece of land. When the water dried up, it blistered the surface of the land into a whitish appearance. This blistered surface was then scraped off and placed in clay receptacles, then more spring water would be poured into that. The water gradually filtered through holes in the bottom of the receptacles into earthenware bowls.
The water collected in the bowls was then boiled and after it evaporated only crystals of salt remained. Finally the scrapings were replaced on the surface of the land and the whole process was repeated for more salt.
This seasonal industry was only productive during the dry months of the year. The rainy season would cause the pits to flood and the women would return back to town.
In the past, after the rains, the men would clear the pits using calabashes and pots but as of the time these pictures were taken and onwards hand pumps were used.
Till this day the tradition of sending two bags to the Andoma is continued. This is really not as an act of homage, for the Keana does not acknowledge Domas supremacy, but in accordance with traditional custom, which seeks to re enact the settlement of a dispute between two brothers.
A world wide competition was held for a poem for Nigeria’s National anthem. The winner of the competition was Miss J. L Williams ( A British official of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Welfare) who won £100. She donated her prize money to the Nigerian Red Cross
There was also a competition for the music to the anthems words. Entries were received from as far field as British Guiana, Malta, Canada and Australia. The winning entry was from Miss Frances Benda of London. Her Prize was £1000.