Thursday, May 12, 2011

Pots of magic

Kwara charms: Hot pots inside National Museum Ilorin
If you are one of those, who think pots are only used for cooking, then you have to think again. There are pots; and, there are pots. Who would believe that some pots actually serve as coffin? Did you know that some pots must be made so small they can be conveniently carried unseen on one's head, concealed under a cap or some headgear?

Yes, some things you just can't take at face value; even with pots, there's more to some than meets the
eye. What’s with some pots? Well, you never know; so, we set out to find out what’s cooking; and, the journey took us hundreds of kilometres away from Lagos.

Welcome to Ilorin, capital of Kwara State. Located in Nigeria’s North-central geo-political zone, Kwara
shares boundary with Niger State to the north. Kwara is also immediate neighbour of Kogi to the East, and
Osun to the South. Interestingly, both Kwara and Niger States have a town called Jebba: the Niger River,
which forms a natural boundary between the two states; runs through Jebba, leaving Jebba North in Niger and Jebba South in austral Kwara.

The indigenes of Kwara boast numerous traditional occupations, which include farming, palm-oil processing and pottery. The last of these finds celebration in Dada Pottery, which is the traditional trade of the aborigines of Ilorin’s Okelele Quarters.

Aside the locals’ famed expertise in pottery making, Kwara’s other popular tourist attractions include the
Takai Dance Troupe of the Baruten people; the Owu Waterfall, which stands more than 120m above sea
level; and, the Esie soap stone sculptures, which; without a doubt is the most famous of the lot.

Another major tourist attraction in Kwara State is the spot in Kuo, where; it is believed, Sheikh Alimi set
camp in 1831. According to folklore; had Kuo offered some source of water, Sheikh Alimi and his
co-travellers would have settled there instead of marching on to Ilorin.

Welcome, once again, to Kwara. We’ve come this way many times in the past and we are likely to keep
returning to Kwara because of our interest in Esie, home of the world famous soap stone statuettes.
Moreover, Esie is also home of the very first museum in Nigeria. Although some museologists hold the view
that Jos Museum, founded in 1952, is Nigeria’s first National Museum; Esie Museum, which opened in 1945, remains the country’s first repository, even though it started as a community museum with its holdings
comprising solely the steatite statuettes.

To get to Esie, we’ve virtually had to stop over in the Kwara State capital, Ilorin; every time. The reason is that staying in Ilorin offers the added advantage of being able to look in at National Museum Ilorin, either before heading to Esie or returning therefrom. Believe it or not, National Museum Ilorin must be one of the most visited in the land: seven days a week dozens of cars can be found parked around the gate of Ilorin Museum.

Aside the scores of visitors that rode over in private vehicles, there are dozens of others that came by taxi
or okada; trouble is, most of these callers do not bother to go into the museum gallery: they end up near
the gate, around the local Museum Kitchen, where they devour cow-hide (ponmo) heavily garnished with pepper.

Although several other snacks and beverages are sold at this museum kitchen, ponmo is without a doubt the
classic crowd-puller here. As had been the sight, the previous times we came this way; we were not surprised to find the surroundings of this repository jammed with ponmo connoisseurs. However, we hadn’t travelled all the way here to watch people devour cow-hide; and, had quickly settled down to the business of touring the gallery of National Museum, Ilorin; once again.

Ilorin Museum
National Museum Ilorin is located at Number 14 Abdul Kadiri Street in the GRA of Kwara State capital. Opened in 1988, this outpost of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) boasts a
Gallery, Museum Kitchen and Crafts shops. Apart from its Permanent Exhibitions, National Museum Ilorin
occasionally organizes Temporary and Travelling shows.

The bays of Ilorin Museum consists of three mini-galleries, which display objects relevant to, and representative of, the socio-political life of Kwara State and its people. The museum’s collection covers,
Kwara Central, Kwara North and Kwara South; the three Senatorial Districts of the state.

Photographs showcasing people of different areas of Kwara celebrating various traditional festivals are
displayed in Gallery One. These fiestas include Boat Regatta, Durbar and Shao Awonga Mass Wedding ceremonies. Gallery Two features photographic portraits of successive political leaders of Kwara State, since inception in 1967; while Gallery Three showcases potteries of various shapes and sizes and the purposes for which specific clay receptacles were created.

During an earlier trip here, in 2007; Mr. Peter Olulope, an Education Officer at Ilorin Museum, who was our guide then; said the Pots and Pottery collections, show “the various forms to which pots were used in the olden days. Since museum is custodian of heritage, and we’re charged with exhibiting the trade of the immediate community, we decided to put up what you can see”.

During our latest visit, the Chief Museum Guide at Ilorin Museum, Mrs. Comfort Olaniyi, took us round the
exhibitions; especially the Pottery Section; where we encountered Ikoko Sango, Ikoko isaasun, Isaasun
Ademofila, Ladiro (also called Lokiti), among others. Ikoko Sango is a clay pot, usually bearing fire, and
is carried on the head by a disciple of the Yoruba Thor, to herald the emergence of this particular deity; while Ladiro or Lokiti is a dyeing facility.

We were further informed that traditional soap-making begins with indigo herbs being soaked inside Ladiro.
Also displayed inside the pottery gallery are receptacles used for drawing and storing water fetched from River Osun. Worshippers of the Yoruba Osun goddess believe water fetched from the river named for this deity has therapeutic powers. So, as part of curing barrenness, the water would be sprinkled on the afflicted woman or anyone seeking healing could be asked to bathe with it.

However, since people are allowed to collect water from this river only once in a year, normally in August; relatively large pots were made to fetch enough water to last each household until the next season. Thus, Osun pots are comparatively large, made so; to hold as much of the magical water as possible.

For many visitors, however, Isaasun Ademofila is likely to be the most fascinating. Isaasun Ademofila usually comes in rather small sizes, enough to conceal under one’s headgear (fila). Isaasun Ademofila is usually used in the cooking, conveyance and/or dispensing of charms; and there are seven types of this kind of clay pot, we were told.

There is also a pot for interment of a person with hunchback (Abuke/Asuke). The Yoruba consider a hunchback child deadly because of the dangers that baby posed to its mother before delivery. Owing to its
anomalous shape, such babies usually put their mother through life-threatening experiences: many of them entered this world legs first, and in those days, when Caesarian section was not known in our part of the world; many mothers actually died in the process of putting to bed a baby with hunchback.

Because of the dread in which Yoruba society hold Abuke, it was taboo to consign the remains of such ones anywhere, apart from the evil forest. Even there, their corpses were not interred, lest they spread their evil nature through the soil. As a result, the body of a dead Abuke was usually put inside a special Isaasun Ademofila designed for that purpose.

Another Isaasun Ademofila was used as cover over the one bearing the deceased, and to ensure that the corpse stayed inside the pots; a strip of cloth, usually many feet long, was used to bind the coffin together. Since the cloth was of very long length, parts of its ends would then be tied and made into a sling with which the Abuke’s coffin would be suspended from the branch of a tree inside the evil forest.

As Mrs. Olaniyi further told us, a dead body buried in this way would normally not decompose like the one
committed to mother earth. If the dead person’s system had high saline concentration, such corpses took much longer period to dry up; but, where the salt content in the corpse was low, it dried up faster. However,
“faster” could take many, many years. In any case, as such remains were turning to bones inside the clay
pots; the fabric of the cloth that held the pots together as well as suspended it from the tree was concurrently wearing thin.

At some point, a storm or rainfall could send the pots crashing and spilling its contents to the ground. Juju worshippers believe such bones were now precious components for potent charms.

Another wonder pot here is Konjo, which is usually used for storage of magical rings. Because of their perceived spiritual power, rings should not be put in a leather pouch or just any receptacle; we were advised. For the same reason, a ring (oruka) must not be allowed to touch the floor. Therefore, once a ring has entered Konjo, the earthen-ware itself must never again be placed on the ground but hanged on the door-post by a rope tied to its neck.

Back to Isasun-ademofila: the content of Isasun-ademofila must never be eaten because it is food for the gods, we were told. Interestingly, Yoruba convey Olubi (afterbirth) in Isasun-ademofila. Our guide had more to teach us: “If you know where someone’s olubi is, you can determine the person’s destiny”. Really?

We also encountered Aro-je, a special pot used for the preparation of soup, which must be completely consumed without any leftover. Everything cooked in Aro-je must be eaten immediately. Ilorin Museum’s pottery gallery also throws up a comparatively larger pot called Oru, usually deployed to the preparation of herbal concoctions and remedies. Oru features a clay burner with openings for air (oxygen).

Evidently, there is a lot to see and learn at National Museum Ilorin; and, the habitues that visit this compound only for ponmo can’t imagine what they have been missing. Interestingly too, at N50 or N20 per adult or minor respectively, admission to Ilorin Museum could hardly be more affordable.

VisitationsDespite the wealth of information available and the fascinating sights to behold here, the gallery of National Museum Ilorin recorded 6,522 visitors in 2006; a sharp drop from the 9,000 that had come to appear as the annual average in previous years. For example, during our visits to National Museum Ilorin on 8 and 10 February, 2008; we had gathered that this repository received 9,539 and 9,093 viewers in 2005 and 2004 respectively.

Observers put the decline in number of visitors to Ilorin Museum down to that station’s inability to organise any programme for the better parts of 2006 and 2007. Ilorin Museum was almost crippled due to lack of support from NCMM headquarters in Abuja.

Although the Curator, Mr. Paul Usman, was wary of telling it as it is; his rue: “We could not organise any activity, whatsoever, throughout that year (2007) because of lack of funds”, clued us in; nonetheless.


NB: For more of these and other museum articles read Museums in Nigeria...and other lands.

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