Not many people know that in the Highlands of Adamawa State, northeast of Nigeria close to the border with Cameroon exists a place of great historical and cultural significance to the whole world. It is a World Heritage Site known as the Sukur Cultural Landscape.
It is Nigeria’s and Africa’s first World Heritage site. The Oshogbo Sacred Grove in Ogun State is the only other World Heritage site in the country.
Heritage sites are areas designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as culturally and scientifically important to the world.
These historically significant sites, therefore, enjoy protection via international treaties signed by the nations of the world.
All cultural landscapes must be unique landmarks that can add to the body of knowledge of the world’s history.
So what makes the Sukur Cultural Landscape special to Nigeria and the world in Nigeria?
The significant of the Sukur Cultural Landscape
There is a popular saying that knowledge of your history or where you come from is the first step on the path to true greatness.
Due to colonialism, the histories of countries like Nigeria were rewritten to pander to the agenda of colonial masters to perpetuate the myth that we were nothing before the white man came around.
We are talking tales of savages living truly basic lives with no social structure or organization. These revisionists go as far as stating that there was an absence of community before the colonialists came along.
Unfortunately, several generations have been brainwashed into believing these euro-centric stories about Africa.
With a place like the Sukur Cultural Landscape, the narrative completely changes because of the story that can be gleaned from it. It is a story of a once striving community of people with a complicated social structure.
Places like that, in effect, tell the real story if our forefathers; not the ones peddled by the Europeans. They are the sort of stories that would make us proud of our true cultural and historical antecedents.
History of the Sukur Cultural Landscape
According to historical and archaeological records, Sukur can be traced back to the 17th century.
The records show that the people who inhabited the area around the period were famous for iron smelting. People came from distant locations to purchase smelted iron in Sukur.
A tour of the preserved site would reveal some of the iron furnaces used by the artisans to make the highly sought products.
However, iron smelting was not the only thing going on there. Think of a modern town centered around one main industry. Naturally, there would be ancillary businesses all servicing the major industry.
That was how Sukur was structured. There were other activities all revolving around the iron smelting world.
As a complete community, there were regular artists, priests cum local medicine men (healers/diviners), farmers and hunters. In other words, all the elements of a thriving, dynamic community were present.
Currently, at the well-preserved site, visitors can still see the magnificent stone Palace of the King. Known as Hidi, the stone structure is perched on a hill overlooking the rest of the community sprawled below.
In the sprawling community below the Palace are the stone houses of ordinary citizens. This is where most of the everyday activities are carried out.
So what happened to the place? Why was it deserted and abandoned?
According to historians, series of tribal wars with surrounding communities was the genesis of the downfall of the area. The wars led to the migration of the people to other places in an attempt to find safer places to stay.
As a World Heritage site, Sukur is a protected monument that receives an annual grant from UNESCO. The funds are channeled to the National Commission for Museums and Monuments who provide the expert manpower for the preservation of the landscape.
However, before UNESCO came into the picture, the area was designated a National Monument by the Federal Government in 1979. This was in collaboration with the Government of the old Gongola State, Madagali Location Council and the Sukur Development Association.
As part of the efforts to make sure the site gets the best possible care, the Federal Government inaugurated a management committee in 2010. The committee is basically charged with designing contingency plans for the preservation of the landscape.
So far, Nigeria News notes the management committee has done a commendable job in preserving the site for posterity.