Face-to-Face with the Monoliths
Far before I got the travel bug all over again I had known of the Ikom monoliths also known as Akwanshi or Atal to some people. I served in Cross-River State and stayed back for some months after my Youth Service days but never got to see all the wonderful tourists sites Cross-River State has to offer due to, one, the places are very far from each other and two, I could not do all the tripping on a Corper’s salary.
Sometimes in December last year I got to tour some places in the State and the Ikom Monoliths was one. If you have ever been to Calabar, the capital of Cross River State you will notice that the monoliths are erected along the Murtala Muhammed Highway. They are about five in numbers and are huge, standing at about six feet tall for the tallest and the lowest is about four feet. This is the picture of the monoliths that I have carried in my head for years and I was excited that I will finally get to see them.
Ikom is about four hours’ drive from Calabar on a good road, but the road leading to Ikom from Calabar is nothing near good right now, so poor for a Federal Highway and the governor is talking about building a super highway which will pass through the forest to God knows where. That is another story for another day.
Well, the journey from Calabar to Ikom was about six hours on a manageable road with some horrible traps in the middle of the road. I finally go to Ikom and on alighting I looked for a bike to take me to my two major destinations in that town, the Agbokim waterfall and the Ikom Monoliths.
We went to Agbokim first and then went to find the monoliths.
ABOUT THE MONOLITHS
According to the dictionary definition, a monolith is ‘a single block or piece of stone of considerable size, especially when used in architecture or sculpture, OR, something having a uniform, massive, redoubtable, or inflexible quality or character.’
According to history, Akwasnshi/Atal as it is called among the Ejagham (also known as Ekoi) people, the ethnic group where it is mainly found, is distributed among over” thirty scattered communities.
The stone monoliths are known by different names, some call it Akwanshi or Atal or Alaptal. They are carved monoliths, of which the origin is unknown, and they occur in groups numbering about 350 stones located in about 35 sites which are located in different places.
The Monoliths are said to be evenly distributed within seven main clans of Cross River State namely; Abanyom; Akaju ; Akpanobong ; Nde ; Nnam in the Ejagham tribe; Nselle, and Nta.
FACING THE AKWANSHI
Due to the fact that they are scattered my bike man has never been on a journey with someone that came specifically just to take pictures and document the monoliths. It was an adventure for both of us. For this reason we started asking where the monoliths were for the sites were quite a distance to each other. There are two popular sites for the monoliths, Nkarasi and Alok. We came across Nkarasi first and the people encouraged us to stop that their own monoliths were more in numbers that the ones in Alok and theirs was taller. We were not allowed to go straight to the monloiths, we have to see the village chief first to explain our mission. We were shown the direction to the chief’s house. He was quite welcoming and gave us a young boy to lead us.
It was inside the bush in an uncultivated area in the village, covered by circular formation of trees with the monoliths in the near center in circles like they intentionally formed a ring to have a meeting. I got a rude shock and awakening, they were pretty small, about 4ft with the smallest to be about 2ft. I was coming with the assumption that I will see some beautiful six feet beautifully carved stones, but alas, my expectation was crushed. I returned back to the village chief to explain what I saw and what I had in mind to see, he laughed and explained that the ones I saw in Calabar were molded by the State government after taking some of the stones away for more study. I asked if there were taller ones and he said they used to be at Alok but have been taken away, there are very few monoliths left.
I asked him about the background of the stones, what is their story. He explained that the story passed down to them was that their fore fathers woke up one morning and found these round molded wet stones, the people were the ones who drew on the stones.
The peculiar design that is common to all akwanshi is that they have eyes, nose, open mouth and some markings that leads straight down which have been said to portray the navels. The monoliths have the same story of just appearing at the spot with the Esie soapstones images. They both are mysteries to the people.
I was happy to get this adventured cross off my list but I felt I have been sold a lie from the images I first saw of the monoliths.
I am not sure what significance they hold for the people, but it will be nice if a proper museum can be built for the monoliths with each history taped to its side. The monoliths are in the open, under the sun and rain, thus they are susceptible to weather for the beautiful designs are already eroding. This is the story of the Ejagham people to be preserved and if I am right this axis is the only place where you will find them in this country.