Return of Nanna Living Museum

For Delta Nanna Living Museum is a healing balm

By Uduma Kalu
THERE, a bungalow hangs like a ragged beggar. That bush used to be a night-club, a guide interjects. This lonely road, deserted at nine p.m., used to bubble till dawn, another adds. Behind, a combined team of soldiers and mobile police team shoot in the air, and soldiers and police are in every corner.
This is Warri. Seeking warmth, this city by the sea wears its garb of destruction, and mocks its violators. Perhaps, she invokes in them a sense of nostalgia, a refrain from their happy past, when she was their beloved, fun city.
And yet, Warri is just like Koko, another Delta town by the sea. Both towns share similar stories. They bear testimonies to the life and times of one of Nigeria’s foremost nationalists, Nanna Olomu. He was born in the Jakpa area of Warri to an Itsekiri father and Urhobo mother. He later settled in Koko, after the British sacked him from his Ebrohimi home in Warri. Both towns also witnessed violent ethnic upsurges in the early part of this decade. Mournfully, they wear their faces of destruction to their visitors.
But then, like all nature, Warri and Koko are in a renewal. Their wounds are peeling, meeting with new skins to bring a new name. Out of this new name will bring, perhaps, rainbow cities, which will serve as homes for all the ethnic divisions, in the region, not minding their tribes and tongues.
Already, Koko has a name. New America! The visitors wondered. What does America got to do with it? Koko, is a sleeping town that came into national limelight in 1987 when an Italian ship dumped its toxic waste there, with the story that it was one of late Nanna sons that leased out his backyard to the Italians for this nefarious act.
For Deltans, however, Koko is more than a toxic town. And this what the state’s Culture and Tourism Commissioner, Mrs Orezi Osievo, tells the visitors. Koko is chosen as the state’s pilot project to mark this year’s World Tourism Day, which the state hosts. Koko was sacked between 2001- 2003 when the town was caught in ethnic clashes between the Itsekiri and the Ijaw. But Osievo tells the world press that gather in Warri that the term New America is used for Koko by the nationalist and merchant, Nanna Olomu as a place of freedom and commemorated it as Neville’s Day. In this respect, it is place for healing.
Healing is what Deltans desire most, today, she says. And perhaps, the life and times of the man whom the government chose as symbol of its unity tells very much of the complex lineage that weaves the ethnic groups in this coastal region of Delta. And Koko is the state’s totem for this healing and peace, Osievo said.
As the visitors burst into Koko, a standing large size statue of the late merchant welcomes them. The tarred road curves, then swings rightwards, like black python, into the home of Nanna, which today is a national monument. In the open place, canopies stand in a rectangle, as women wearing gorge cloths, with beads on their heads and arms sing and dance. They carry soft cotton sticks of red, yellow and white colours and white handkerchiefs, and swing to the traditional music in their two rows. Their men sing and dance behind them.
Then the siren blow. The heavy cars screech, and stop. The deputy governor, Chief Benjamin Elue, representing the governor, James Onanefe, representatives of Chief Femi Fani Kayode, Minister for Culture and Tourism, have arrived. Osievo and other dignitaries are with them. The Itsekiri chiefs-men and women- waiting patiently in the garden of opposite Nanna’s house file out in fours or so. They wear huge white lace shirts. Some tie red ribbons on their waists. They have hats, with feathers on them and beads on their necks and arms. There are about 16 of them, perhaps, representing the 16 houses that rule Koko.
Then Nanna’s Urhobo maternal family from Warri arrive, with a man, perhaps, in his late 50s or early 60s leading the others. They sing and clap. They have no musical instruments. They raise their walking sticks in the air and dance to the songs, down where the dignitaries sit. Here, they exchange greetings with the Itsekiri elders and the visitors.
There is a small ceremony inside the canopies, and then the reopening and tour of the Nanna house begin. An elder explains things about the visitors. Koko used to be a coco-yam farm, hence the name, Koko, he says. Nanna’s house was first made of brick and thatched roof but now it wears an old brownish roof and painted in green and white depicting the national colours of the country. Nanna, he says, had 106 children from 59 wives.
“Don’t ask me how he managed,” he jokes.
And almost immediately, they are faced by white medium sized pillars arranged to form a fence round the large bronze statue of Nanna sitting on marble base facing the Benin River along which he had traded with the British, Urhobo, Ijaw and Itsekiri.
These 16 or so pillars of different sizes painted white end in two inner circles. The first inner circle harbours the pillar on whom the bust of Nanna stands. In front of the bust, a red paint, like paint, like red rug, spreads to the entrance of the rows. On the bust is an inscription dating Nanna’s life from 1840-1916. He was a merchant prince of the Niger Delta, Governor of the Benin River, a great Itsekiri nationalist, first class Nigerian nationality, the statute is unveiled by the late General Sani Abacha in 1995, it says.
The statute displays a man perhaps in his late 50s, muscular in appearance, and with beads in his wrists and a circular one on his neck.
Behind the statue is the Nanna house. It is rectangular shaped and has two buildings of same size facing each other but they are joined at the ends. Conspicuously displayed on the side wall facing the statute is a plaque announcing National Commission for Museum and Monument, Nanna Living History Museum. It states that the house is designed by Nanna and his Accra trained children and built originally from local materials between 1907 and 1910. And that it is a historical monument in Koko and is protected under Section 8, 14 of the Antique Ordinance Act of No 17, 1953.
Entrance into the house covered by a roof held by two pillars. This entrance projects outwards. A blue water tank is on top of the roof. The two rows of building facing each have their doors
Inside this house is a big opening which serves as a gathering place. Each of the two buildings has about three rooms. But in all there are seven rooms.
The first room the visitors enter is on the extreme right. It has family pictures of Nanna. And writings on the place of Nanna in history.
It is the Bay One, Nanna and Family, as Mrs Utsaghan Ayomike (Nee Nanna) describes it in her pamphlet. It has a photographic gallery corroborated by genealogical diagrams and illustrations from the researchers of J.O.S. Ayomike, Chief Horrace Eruorigho and Emmanuel Omatsola. It tells why the town iss called New America by Nanna as his new home of freedom. It also has pictures of Ebrohimi and describes it as full of white sand. Passage to the town was only one. It gives sizes of the town and its military power as well its 1894 well built wall, in this town of five quarters. But Nanna’s house, is said to be the most beautiful of the house. Some of the names in the pictures are Japan, among others.
.Bay Two: Nanna as Generous Provider, has one of the two dining apartments of Nanna, his generosity towards his kinsmen and other folk after his return from exile is visually presented with the aid of the same 1907 giant pots and utensils with which food was daily cooked and served as a matter of routine and responsibility.
Bay Three: Nanna’s Dining Room reflects in the exclusiveness of his dining apartment, furniture and utensils. He entertained his great friends here.
Bay 4: Nanna as a merchant and Governor. Inside this room is another Nanna’s Glory Glamour and Greatness displays the late prince as a successful trader and leader. It is visually represented by a recognition of his personal canoe, which he had imported from England. Two padles and a lamp, anchor chains, Nanna’s original cushions, cushions and a gun are decorated round the canoe.
Nanna’s regalia as Governor of Itsekiri-Land as perceived by the British and the Itsekiri people are also, in this room represented by two oppositional symbols around his high throne. It is a brown wooden throne, its upper part is like carved pyramid whose top which narrows like a stick upwards, is an eagle. A broken half of the original staff of office presented by the British in 1885 and an imported silver version of a Benin Chiefly ceremonial sword adorn the back of the throne.
Bay Six: The Ebrohimi War 1894: The Ebrohimi war of 1894 climaxed the conflicts between Nanna and the British. Around two surviving artefacts from the expedition – Nanna’s canon and an 1892 Winchester gun the story of imperialism and the attendant resistance movements it generated in Nigeria have been told with the aid of photographs of nationalists such as Jaja opobo, Attahihru, King Ibari Chuka of Okirka who was deported by Ralh moor maps and graphics. Over 100 of such canon were seized by the British from Ebrohimi.
Bay Six: Nanna at Rest. This display room is the original sleeping apartment of Nanna Olomu himself. Within here he has been laid to rest. This has been given the relevant visual treatment amidst the background of Itsekiri funeral martial (Ukpukpe) song. His personal bed and funeral catafalque are on display beside his Bible acquired in Accra. Nanna held bible readings in his house. The room also howed wooden plates. The grave is about 6 feet by 8.. inside the raised cement is white sand.
Neville’s Hall: The original Reception Room of Nanna is being developed into a library and archives around J.O.S. Ayomike’s significant donations of archival collections from the Public Records Office, London. It houses treaties between Nanna and the British, his trial procedures and other exchanges between him and George Neville.
George W. Neville was so close to Nanna that the latter declared the 8th of August, the day he set foot on Koko from exile in 1906 as Neville’s Day. To this day Nanna’s family marks Neville’s Day with a church service, symposium and other rituals within the palace.
The tradition will be reasonably encouraged by the management of the “Nanna Living History Museum” in identification with a surviving heritage that will continue to give life to this community-based facility; the first of its kind in Nigeria.
Photographs of Itsekiri leaders after Nanna are in the library, part of which holds photographs and biographical notes of Itsekiri achievers in a revered Album of Fame.
Thewre are also household items in this place. It indicates that visitors such Lord frederick Lugard, Alan Burns, hads dinner with him. The showcaes harboured the domestic items. The first one had ceramic dish, green gin bottle a brown decanter on framed oak tantalulus stand for wine, satin and snuff, white glass flower vase with blue colour on its petal tops, an inkwell and ceramic water jug.
The second case has a lamp petrol table lamp, heavy iron with rod hanle for pressing, and another wooden pressing iron.p of the bight of biafra in 1870. The windows had fframed iron glass panes. After all this, Nanna is referred to as a man of good manners.

The beautiful commisser however used the reopening of the Nanna Living History museum to mark the symbol of that healing. The artfacts in the museaum were ferried out of the museum by concerned Koko individuals and deposited at the National Museum in Benin for safe keeping. However, with the return of peace in the sgate and in the town, the artfecats were retruned to the town.

Osievo explained that this year also marks a centennary of the return of nanna from exile in accra., for her, in celebrating nanna, the tourism day is also a lesson for the people to emulate their pasr heroes in defending the unity and integrity of the country above personal interest and immediate gains.
The reopning of the museum also symbols, as she put it, a new chaper in briningng about enduring peace and feconcilaition within the Nigerr Delta region.

Koko, once known for toxic watse dump is being transformed into an economic healing and reconcilaition. Sheb has also included Kok, with President Olusegun obasanjo’s approval, into the national Heritage conservation Master Plan as a pilot project foe eco-museum developmenmt in the region. The programme will include youth developmemht projects such as eco and cultural industry based programmess supoted with telemedcine, boating, sustainable fishinhg, cultural parks, food museums, festivals, filming. Hrbal medicnal thearapeutic centres, suenir industry, etc. a comprehensive, she went on, being worked out by her minstry and other experts in the national commissin for Museums and momuments. Inputs will also come from the state government, UNWESCO and other donor agencies, thuis adopting the new concept of heritage conversation for poverty alleviatioon. Local capacities and entrprenurship, for reduction of rural urbal migration.
The rapid scientific restoratin of the national momunent, she said, was finace by the state government. She ws however gratfeul to the Nanna family and the itsekiri community to embrace peace, reconciliation and cultural dialoge. She called on other local government areras in the state to identify at least one product to serve as the basis for job creation and poverty allevation as way to adress challenges of youth development, environmental degradation and rising urban crimes.

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