Anatsui’s silveric hair furbished with a royal cap
Saturday, 24th August 2019 was a memorable and a colourful day at the palace of Igwe George Asadu, the traditional ruler of Ihe-Nsukka autonomous community. It was a day, set aside by the crown head, his royal cabinet and his subjects to honour the Ghanaian born Nigerian artist whose irrefutable strides as a global icon has highlighted Nsukka, Enugu State and the entire nation on the global map.
This event was an exceptional historical one, not only because it was a day marked out for El Anatsui in Ihe-Nsukka but also because of the uniqueness of the traditional laurel conferred on Anatsui by the entire Ihe community.
As reiterated in my citation on Anatsui at the event, Anatsui has in the past four decades, received the highest laurels and honours that only very few artists and scholars of his ilk in the world can boast of. In a span of two years, he bagged three international Honorary Doctorate degrees from the University of Harvard, USA, University of Capetown, South Africa and his own alma mater, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Arts, Kumasi. Again, in 2014, he was made an honorary royal scholar and equally elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2015, Anatsui clinched the prestigious Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement at the 56th international Art Exhibition of the Biennale de Venezia, and just this year, he was decorated with the glamorous Praemium Imperiale Award for Sculpture plus countless other numerous awards, recognitions and honours.
In spite of his galaxy of international laurels, today’s event, the conferment of the royal title, Ikedire to El Anatsui is special and historical in an exceptional way, because, for over four decades and beyond, Anatsui has lived and projected the image of Nsukka in the global space, without being honoured by any traditional institution or cultural organization in the entire Nsukka community. Ikedire is the first traditional chieftaincy title conferred on Anatsui since his legendary sojourn to Nsukka.
Ike in the Igbo language means power while Ire in the Igbo language will imply competence, efficaciousness, efficiency or productiveness. Ikedire, thus, suggests a positive power that is efficacious, potent, efficient and productive far from the kind of demonic, oppressive and nihilistic power exhumed by our so-called political figures.
In every sense of the phrase, the royal title, Ikedire is a befitting appellation for our stalwart (El Anatsui), who is globally renowned for his indomitable and unconquerable power of creativity and excellence. For His Royal Highness, Igwe G. F. O. Asadu and his cabinets, Ikedire is not just a deserved title for El Anatsui, it is the host community’s affirmation and celebration of Anatsui’s incontrovertible creative excellence and unequalled capacity on the global scene.
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On why he chose El Anatsui for this grand honour, Igwe Asadu further elucidated: “Ihe community searched around Nsukka and all its environs for a distinguished and outstanding personality to be celebrated. Out of the very few names shortlisted, no one qualified for this recognition more than Anatsui.”
From clear observations, Emeritus Professor El Anatsui least expected what unfolded at Ihe Nsukka. An excerpt from his acceptance speech after he was crowned the Ikedire of Ihe reads thus, “when I first arrived in Nsukka almost four decades and a half ago, little did I know that I would be here today as a recipient of this great honour being bestowed on me.
“Nsukka has been my home for a longer time than even my place of birth and where I grew up in Ghana. I have spent more years living among you all than I have lived anywhere on earth. And, because of this, the town and people of Nsukka shall always remain an indelible part of my being and experience.
“As you know, Nsukka has always been identified as a University town and home of the first indigenous and autonomous Nigerian university-The University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Far less known generally is the fact that Nsukka and its environs were once Nsukka city-states, which were famous for being the oldest iron-smelting sites in the world, dating back to about 2000BC. They proved beyond any doubt, that iron-smelting within Africa existed at least 500 years before it ever began in south-east Asia in 1500BC, from where it subsequently spread to the rest of the world.
“These ancient city-states of Nsukka proved that unlike Nri/Igbo- Ukwu, Benin, Ife etc., they had developed the use of iron and excelled at it before the movement to bronze art which the Awka and Benin people were noted for. The Nsukka people, therefore, are the oldest merchants in the world, as the need for iron became great. As a result, they established particularly strong links with Awka and Nri. Among the first iron merchants were the Arochukwu, whose original name was Eru. And, contrary to popular belief, they were merchants who initially were from Nsukka, but who later inhabited their current home which previously had been largely inhabited by the Ibibios.
Nsukka means ‘a people with greater tongue ‘ and the traditional name of Nsukka is ‘Nsukka Igboeze ‘. It is also one of the accepted facts in Igbo oral tradition that Ndigbo originated from a quadrangle of four ancestors, who made up the Igbo nation. They were Eri and his wife, who represented the first, the second represented the Awka, the third, the Umudiala, who occupied what is said to be the heartland of the Igbo nation and the fourth, the ancestors of Nsukka.
Today, I am now being admitted into the honoured sanctum of this town, a few of whose historical antecedents I have tried to encapsulate here, as a reminder of what Nsukka once was and can build upon. I shall continue to do my best to assist in perpetuating some of these legacies. Thank you for considering me worthy of this great honour.’’
The event ended with royal dance initiated by the traditional ruler, followed by El Anatsui and a handful of distinguished and retired professors from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka who stood by him at the occasion. They are Professor J.O.A Okoye, Professor E.O Alumana, Professor N.F Inyama, Professor J.E Asiegbu, Professor Dave Onyejekwe and Professor and Mrs Enwezor.
Mbajiorgu is an actor, playwright, poet and Senior Lecturer at the Department of Theatre and Film Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.