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Traditional Architecture

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 22:00, views: 2 766

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The village head of Okoroinyong, Chief Festus Reuben Nteile, grandson of the founder of the village, at the trunk of the tallen sacred okwe (iroko) tree, which stood in the village square since its first settlementThe village head of Okoroinyong, Chief Festus Reuben Nteile, grandson of the founder of the village, at the trunk of the tallen sacred okwe (iroko) tree, which stood in the village square since its first settlementTo a stranger, a village compound surrounded by farmed plots and made of low thatched houses with clay walls which huddled under the canopy of tall trees, and served as living quarters, storage places (under the roof), kitchens and animal pens (at the back), represents a sign of poverty and darkness.1

 

A closer look at the cleanly swept surrounding, carefully trimmed and cleared undergrowth, and the methodically laid out compounds, reveals a long tradition of maximum space utilisation, economy and convenience. Each small village, or bigger town, consisting of several distinctive wards, has its own spatial organisation: a canoe landing beach (esuk), fresh-water stream (idim), several burial grounds (for different categories of people) and a central square (ata essien), where the community hall (efe idung), the market and the ancient shrine groves are located. Wide roads, bordered by tall palm leaf or stick fences (atang eko or око) and farm plots with neat stick-hedges, connect the compounds and village wards to the central square, where village elders (men and occasionally, women) meet in the evenings to discuss and decide on vital issues concerning the community. Here, public announcements on war and peace, farming seasons and traditional festivities, marriages, births, deaths and public contracts were made, disputes settled and judgements passed; and religious ceremonies were performed, to ensure the continued existence and welfare of the community and the success of its endeavours.


Architectural elements: Central pillar; bamboo fence; compound entrance (Courtesy: NM, Uyo)Architectural elements: Central pillar; bamboo fence; compound entrance (Courtesy: NM, Uyo)In the early days of colonial rule, here, on the open grounds, under the shade of a big tree (cottonwood/ukim, African oil bean/ukana, African nut/ekom or pear tree/eben), the deck-chair of the District Commissioner was placed and, with a local interpreter and two policemen in attendance, he shook hands with the head chief, passed the compliments of the big white father of the people (i. e. the Provincial Commissioner or Resident), and proceeded to state the purpose of his visit. After due consultation with his chiefs, the village head provided a response and the customary exchange of presents - a goat and yams for a dash of tobacco, cloth and beads - took place (Patridge, 1973:4).

 

Each compound had a well-secured entrance, several internal doorways and other outlets for economic, social and security purposes, which would make a rewarding study of traditional architecture and inter-space communications. Several low and cool houses of bamboo-and-clay construction huddled under   overhanging palm-mat roofs and accommodated wives, relations, animals, shrines, kitchens, and the storage-cum-bedroom quarters of the family head, complete with a fire place and an ancestral altar.


Each wife still maintains her own quarters, consisting of a room for herself and her children, a kitchen and a shelter for domestic animals and firewood at the back, where nobody else had access in the past. Seated on a clay mound or a bamboo seat, she cooks the family meal with firewood over the low earthen hearth (ediok), or a more modern iron tripod (mfiok), dries the cooking ingredients, meat and fish on the bamboo shelf above (called utang) and stores her kitchen utensils (clay pots, wooden spoons and calabash containers of various size and purpose, palm oil and farm seeds) on the bamboo rack (ubium) above it. The smoke from the fireplace serves as a drying and preservation agent and goes out through the wall openings, situated near floor and roof levels to facilitate a vertical circulation of the air current (Akpan & Ekpo, 1994).


The self-righteous efforts of the early missionaries to improve the living conditions in the native huts by raising the roof structure and opening large windows to allow in day-light and air, in effect, replaced the cool, dim interior with liberal splashes of sunlight and hot air, made worse at night by the heat emission from the hot cement blocks and metal pan roofs. The traditional houses, meant mainly as places for storage and night protection, the day being spent in outdoor activities and communal sharing, have been now converted into sweltering-hot reception chambers and uncomfortable living quarters, yet to benefit from modern and regular electricity supply.


Plants and herbs of nutritional and medicinal value are still grown in the backyard gardens, flower blossoms per se have no practical value, since the whole countryside is awash with colours and, besides, they make the compound bushy and provide hiding places for unwanted insects and reptiles. Flower beds and iron furniture were introduced, along with the cement block and corrugated pan houses, by prosperous traders, middlemen and contractors of the 1930s-1950s. Longitudinal structures with open front veranda, and a central parlour, bordered by two corner rooms with corridors, connecting a number of living/storage rooms at the back, the back veranda and yard serving as a common sitting, cooking and working area, filled in the spaces between the traditional compounds. They were furnished and stocked with the latest household equipment, and proclaiming the financial status of their owners, who often spent their entire working life in town and came home only on weekends, holidays or on retirement. The storey houses of the Opobo and traders in Ikot Abasi and other towns served as models of modernity for the villages, which are, nowadays garnished with the palatial residential and commercial buildings of the nouveau rich.

 

The portal entrance in Chief Ntuen look's compound in Ikot OsukpongThe portal entrance in Chief Ntuen look's compound in Ikot OsukpongAn umbrella balanced on her head, a Catholic woman hurries by local dwellings and farms to an evening meeting at the churchAn umbrella balanced on her head, a Catholic woman hurries by local dwellings and farms to an evening meeting at the church

 

Notes

 

1. See the early missionary writings: R. M'Keown, In the Land of the Oil Rivers, 1902 and Twenty Five Tears in Qua Iboe, 1912', W. J. Ward; In and Around the Own Country, 1913, etc.

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Category: Ikot Abasi

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