Beware the SICA Virus: Obsessed Quest to Promote Igboukwu Archeology by IDU USA
by our Staff Reporter
SICA is the acronym for Shaw Institute for Cultural Art. The institute, which is situated in premises of the Igboukwu Museum, is established to memorialize a Cambridge University archeologist, Professor Charles Thurstan Shaw, who led the team that excavated the 8th-9th Century AD archeological sites in Igboukwu, Anambra state, Nigeria between 1959 and 1964. The excavated sites included a burial chamber of an ancient Igbo nobleman and a nearby buried treasure trove that contained bronze ritual vessels, ornaments and other objects manufactured through metal casting, thousands of glass beads, cloth fabrics and pottery. The archeological finds affirmed that indigenous dwellers in this part of West Africa had autonomously developed a highly sophisticated skill in metallurgy, creative design and extensive trade links with locations that spanned from the southern margins of the Sahara Desert to in the north to the Nile River Valley to the east.
The impact of these archeological discoveries is immense. Before Prof. Shaw’s work, the standard teaching in the West was that African continent, particularly the sub-Saharan region, was home to savages who lived primitive lives, devoid of civilized content, until arrival of the Europeans starting from the 14th Century AD. Stories reaching the Western societies about the African continent were epitomized by works of adventurers of Joseph Conrad’s ilk who got famous out of depicting Africa as an exotic land inhabited by cannibals, savages and uncultured populations. Joseph Conrad, a Polish-born Englishman, wrote a short novel narrating his impressions after a stint in the former Belgian colony of today’s Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) titled “The Heart of Darkness” in 1899. As one would expect, Conrad’s narrative of Africa’s hinterland contributed immensely in the West’s impression of Africa as the “Dark Continent”.
What Thurstan Shaw found buried for more than a thousand years in Igboukwu soil shocked the world. The bronze works excavated underscored the existence of a highly sophisticated culture which had mastered advanced metallurgy that enabled the indigenous peoples to locally produce leaded bronze alloy from local raw materials and utilized same to produce what connoisseurs in the field described to be “among the most inventive and technically accomplished bronzes ever made”. Prof. Shaw meticulously gathered and documented all artifacts retrieved from the digs, verbally and pictorially, and proceeded to deploy radiocarbon isotopic dating technique to show that the excavated burial chamber and other associated objects belong to 8th-9th Century AD. The Igbo master craftsmen responsible for making the rediscovered bronze objects lived, at least, 600 years before the first European seafarers arrived the Gulf of Guinea in the 14th Century.
Perhaps, Prof. Shaw’s greatest legacy is the writing of a two-volume monograph titled “Igboukwu: An Account of Archeological Discoveries in Eastern Nigeria” and other publications on his epic work in unearthing the astounding accomplishments of the ancestral Igbo. Thurstan Shaw’s work has since put the historical town of Igboukwu on the global map of major archeological sites in the world. A few years after the formal launch of his book and in acknowledgement of his very consequential work in exposing a hidden aspect of Igbo history, the Cambridge University archeologist was awarded an honorary chieftaincy title of “Onu n’Ekwulu Ora of Igboukwu” in 1973. Prof. Shaw transitioned into the ancestral realm on March 8, 2013 at the ripe old age of 98 years. A large West African delegation, in the company of Ndi Igboukwu led by the Idu II, traveled to Cambridge, UK to participate in a week-long conference convened by Cambridge University and Dr. Pamela Smith (Thurstan Shaw’s wife) to mark one-year anniversary of the archeologist’s death.
On 2nd day of the Cambridge University memorial conference, the IDU USA leadership, on behalf of Ndi Igboukwu, made a premier formal presentation of the Shaw Institute for Cultural Art (SICA) which is now sited within premises of the Igboukwu Museum. The SICA core agenda is to promote continuance of archeological research within Igboukwu and all parts of Alaigbo in the pattern established by Prof. Thurstan Shaw and to make Igboukwu and environs to become culture tourism destination because of their role in ancient history of the Igbo ethnic nationality. SICA is a nonprofit nongovernmental corporation registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission in Abuja. On January 2, 2015, SICA was formally launched and foundation was laid for the SICA House which, upon completion, shall serve as the administrative headquarters, modern digital library, exhibit halls and multipurpose cultural center. The ornamental building’s construction has reached advanced stage, thanks to the massive enthusiastic support that has come from within Igboukwu and surrounding communities and institutions.
SICA “Virus” and the Burden of Sicaitis
In medical parlance, a virus is an infective agent that typically consists of a nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat. It is too small to be seen by light microscopy, and is able to multiply only within the living cells of a host. Since the virus lacks what it takes to build all component parts needed to propagate its own kind, successful viruses have specialized in gaining access into living cells in order to hijack its “body” systems for its own use. Even though the virus lacks the capacity to build what it needs, the submicroscopic entity has all the information codes required for it to deploy in taking over its hosts’ internal factories. So, the relative power of a virus is measured by the information capacity in the nucleic acid core of the infective agent.
SICA is an idea that is still in its early stage of development. Many who have bought into the SICA based their decisions on the powerful ideas or information embodied in the institute. Those who strongly identify with SICA and its potential to meet the main purpose intended for it and more tend to internalize the concept holistically. Since the initiative is still constantly evolving, those who internalize SICA, sooner than later, provide the fuel and needed impetus to further elucidate and expand the concept. This is exactly what has happened to the IDU USA and its leadership with regards to SICA (the virus). SICA is indeed a very lucky virus to have been able to access the IDU USA as its primary host. Since IDU USA took ownership of SICA, the latter has not only thrived but it also has evolved in very remarkable ways. The small, trim and fragile flagellating SICA is currently fast growing into a robust young adolescent with immense capacity to meet and even exceed the expectations of all comers.
Prof. Thurstan Shaw’s phenomenal contribution in elucidating West African history, particularly that of the Igbo, is clear for all to see. Immortalizing the name of this exceptional man, at least in the annals of Igbo history, should be considered a minimum that we can do together in order to show our deep appreciation for what his work means to this and future generations of our people.
By establishing SICA, we shall be taking the required step forward toward the attempt to accomplish what our remote ancestors had perfected in creative art more than a thousand years ago. An institute dedicated to creative cultural art can help in refining local skills while also incorporating contemporary advances in technology into domestic manufacturing processes which are presently lacking. Through SICA, we can begin to reproduce the amazing art style implicit in Igboukwu archeological masterpieces and then make our cultural artifacts available to whoever desire them on a global scale.
Igboukwu and contiguous territory are being primed to serve as a major culture-tourism destination in Southern Nigeria and bringing SICA into the mix, at this juncture, shall indeed catalyze the whole process. Perhaps, facilitating a new vista for gainful employment within the local population shall be the most transformative impact of SICA when it becomes fully operational as envisaged.
A broad cross section of Igboukwu community have already been primed emotionally to financially support SICA and its projects, especially in establishing well-equipped community-based craft centers which are expected, in turn, to feed into the institute’s network. The SICA headquarters is located inside the Igboukwu Museum premises and is designed to include a library where reference books in art, literature, science, mathematics, religion, culture, IT and technical education shall be made available for the public in both hard and soft copies. The building has an auditorium to seat a sizeable audience and a spacious platform which can be used for the staging of cultural performances indoors.
In brief, SICA House is planned and designed to be the epicenter for intense cultural and educational activities for the local population as well as for out-of-town tourists who are expected to visit the Igboukwu Museum complex in much greater numbers than before. The showroom space shall contain indigenously manufactured items for exhibit and for sale. Available free space within the complex shall be leased out to interested parties for private business activities that are consistent with SICA’s overall operational agenda.
Organizational Structure and Management
IDU USA’s goal is to eventually let SICA stand on its own once all the components needed to empower its operations are established and running. The institute is registered with the government as an independent entity and shall be run as a nongovernmental nonprofit outfit. A Board of Directors shall be the main custodian of SICA and shall have advisory and oversight functions in all its operations. Membership of the SICA Board of Directors shall be drawn from the local, national and international pool of qualified and committed talents who possess what it would take to help the institute to attain great heights. There shall be a chief executive, who should preferably be knowledgeable and experienced in the field, to head the day-to-day management and business operations of SICA. Recruitment of staff and trainees shall give preferential considerations to local qualified candidates for obvious reasons.
The founding Board of Directors shall be responsible for sourcing and mobilizing the initial resources for getting SICA operations off the ground. Wide consultations have commenced in order to seek out individuals and entities that would wish to partake in putting SICA agenda together. Already, there is ample amount of interest expressed among leading opinion makers in Igboukwu to participate in an undertaking like SICA now that the green light has been given. The town’s government, the Igboukwu Development Union (IDU) as well as the traditional ruling cabinet have clear roles in providing the land and part of the seed capital for SICA.
The Federal Ministry of Tourism and Culture as well as its state counterparts in Alaigbo shall be approached to subsidize SICA’s operations, particularly in its startup stage, as a matter of routine. International bodies and institutions like UNESCO, the Smithsonian Institution in US and their counterparts based in Africa, Europe and Asia shall be approached to assist through grants or donations of manpower, knowhow and materiel. Prof. Shaw’s widow has expressed interest to assist in mobilizing external support for SICA among British institutions as well as philanthropic individuals and groups.
The SICA training program shall generate artwork, created by staff and trainees, which shall be sold, on regular basis, to assist in revenue generation. When the need arises, SICA outposts can be established elsewhere outside Igboukwu as agreed to by management. Such expansion can further buttress the internal financial stability of the institute. Wholesale distributors and retailers of cultural art, within Nigeria or abroad, shall be sought out to become SICA clients, particularly when the manufacturing capacity of trained artisans begins to enter the marketplace.
Benefits of SICA
Surely, the most rewarding benefit of successful SICA is provision of gainful employment and enhancement of income base for otherwise underemployed and unemployed workforce of the area, especially youths in the population. Spinoff in enabling the establishment of many small-scale cottage industries in the contiguous areas shall definitely be a very welcome proposition to many and a much deserved shot in the arm for the domestic economy.
SICA can contribute immensely in improving the quality of art products emanating from the local population thereby making it likely that an increased quantity of locally manufactured goods can find favorable market outlets within Nigeria and overseas. There is hardly a better way for the dissemination of one’s culture than making one’s cultural artifacts to be esthetically pleasing to whoever behold and touch them. A close replica of the Igboukwu Roped Pot shall surely get an enthusiastic new buyer any day anywhere worldwide, for example.
Broadening the Participation Base for SICA
For sake of expediency and to minimize the inertia at takeoff, it has been determined that the preferred approach would be to kick-start SICA first in Igboukwu with the clear understanding that, in the near future, other communities, interest groups and institutions shall be welcomed to participate as they deem appropriate. The socioeconomic wellbeing of the entire area is destined to rise when anticipated increased income-earning potential amongst fulltime or part-time local artisans is actualized. Latent indigenous art forms which are specially associated with specific locales, such as weaving, metalwork, carving, pottery making and dyeing/painting, can be differentially emphasized by the SICA management with the goal of optimizing quality of end products and overall productivity.