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The study adopted the historical-survey method to investigate the nine Local Government Areas of the Idoma territory of Benue State. It provides proof of iron smelting and blacksmithing in the traditional Idoma  society  and  recommends  the  re-establishment  and  reinvigoration  of  iron smelting and blacksmithing in the area as a way of empowering the rural population. In view of the rapid development in building and road constructions in Idoma area, this study also draws the attention of the local and state governments to the need for sponsoring an urgent archaeological excavation  in  the  Idoma  area.  This  may  help  to  salvage  the  existing  sites  from  further destruction. Some field problems encountered in the study were rapid destruction of some sites as a result of development in the area—iron smelting sites being inhabited by families and also the digging of graves for burial in some other sites—thereby hindering future excavation.



1.1      Background of the Study

Traditionally,  all  smelting  and   blacksmithing  works  in  most  Nigerian  societies, particularly Idoma were through apprenticeship system. Apprenticeship means the learner of trade who has agreed to work for a number of years under a specialist in the trade. It is painful to know that the richness and contributions of modern Nigerian art tradition are largely unknown to the contemporary Nigerian society. This traditional art seems to be ignored or misunderstood by art  scholars,  because  their  main  research  interests  are  heavily  on  the  modern  rather  than traditional art experience.      Traditionally,   aesthetically   and    instructionally,   popular   art traditions were  very different  from the conventional academic art  which  is organized with syllabus. Oloidi (1989) states that “popular art was taught informally through the traditional African apprenticeship system, there was no specific entry qualification required apart from moral standard.” He says that “as a result many road-side artists of the fifties did not have more than primary education. The workshops of these “artists”, according to him, were located usually in conspicuous commercial areas of the town with identifying big, inflated and attractive names which sound like accredited formal institution.”

He continued “Traditional Nigerian art was seen as products of raw emotion, infertile mind whose traditional processes were mainly based on mere accidental intuitive rather than methodical and calculable artistic actions. Since they are consciously or unconsciously started, comparing African art  form with those of their  own culture, the Europeans could  not  just understand the philosophical, religious and psychological essence of this art naturally, to many of the Europeans this misunderstood concept of African traditional art became an effective

fertilizer  used  most  dynamically  and  provocatively  for  the  rapid  growth  of  various  racial dehumanizing theories that had already been propounded in the west”.

He further stressed that “characteristically, these traditional artists were manufacturers than  creators  of  arts  forms.  Their  traditional  competence  as  craftsmen  was  not  in  doubt, obviously disregard for the conventional academic rules of art. Their main objectives were commercial than aesthetics or conceptual, mass production of artistic excellence. Eventually, the experiences of traditional art became very popular among many who seemed to judge art only by the production of these traditional roadside artists. Many people see training formally in art as a waste of time, money and energy as one can simply go to the traditional roadside artist and easily acquire within a short period through the workshop”.

According to history, it was only Roman Catholic Church who encourages parents to allow their children continue the craft tradition of their culture. This was necessary because some parents who  had earlier  been victimized or persecuted to  producing or creating what  were considered “idols” could no longer encourage these children to continue the tradition of smithing even in domestic objects.

According Ulli Beier in Oloidi (1989):

During the 1930s, an English art teacher in Nigeria carried out an interesting experiment, John Digby Clarke had become concerned that the people of Omu Aran Grammar School where he was working were alienated from their own culture. This is not only resulted in the social structure of the Yoruba being disrupted, it also signified the  end  of  Yoruba  (traditional)  art.  The  important  (traditional)  wood  carver Bamgboye, for instance, had no more apprentices. Clarke tried to remedy the situation by employing Bamgboye as a craft instructor in the school. In this way, the pupils

were intended to combine old traditions with modern knowledge and thus feel at home in both cultural spheres (p.295).

Oyeola (1981) says that “the knowledge and practice of iron working started in Nigeria dates back more than 2000 years. Iron was and still of great importance in everyday life to the farmers, hunters and warriors.”

In Idoma land iron ore deposits are available in many parts of the nine local governments in large quantity in form of rock which have to be heated at the high temperature to extract the metal through the use of furnaces. The process by which this rock is transformed to metal is known as smelting, while the process of heating the metal into shapes and forms is known as smithing.

A retired headmaster Mr. Michael Orinya, 92 years says that “despite the decline of traditional iron working in Idoma land, some groups who have the interest in the technology, have successfully persuaded indigenous groups to carry out iron smithing in many different locations across the Idoma territory’’. He continues that “in many cases, smithing and smelting in Idoma

area ceased only a generation or two ago, but by drawing on the knowledge of those who smelted and smithed iron in their youth, as well as the knowledge of younger smiths, it has been possible to smelt ore and produce implements of iron and steel according to traditional methods.”

An informant, Mr. Ogezi Ogboloje, a retired blacksmith aged 90 whose words were translated from Idoma to English language, says that “in spite of the enormous contributions blacksmithing had made in Idoma people in their traditional society, it is now realized that the industry is fast dwindling. The impressions previously left in the society is now been eroded. The factors which are responsible for this technological reversal include; first and foremost, the advent of the Europeans who provides ready-made substitutes of iron objects such as knives, hoes, cutlasses, animal traps, axes, shovel, rifle, drilling machines and so on. Comparing these implements with the locally made, Steel knives and cutlass for instance are more durable than the traditional one, so also are other imported goods in comparison to locally made tools hence, there is little wonder then why the imported materials were preferred at the expenses of the local goods. This led to the decline of smithing in Idoma land.

There are so many reasons why the industry is declining in Idoma land. The industry no longer attracts new candidates as the older ones have died of age. The competitive endeavours such as schooling, trading and working under the government which now appears to be more appealing to the youths than smithing. These and other businesses which require less use of energy, for instance, working as a security officer, a typist or a messenger in an academic institution, are considered more dependable than blacksmithing whose products cannot compete favourably with the imported iron wares. People want to be sure of earning some money for their living at the end of every month rather than depend on products from smithing which may not sell quickly. As the older smiths die out, only a very few people take over smithing from them.

One reason which led to the decline of smithing in Idoma land is its socio-economic stand since not much money is realised from smithing, people tend to despise it as a dirty work, it  thus  became  more  fashionable  for  people  to  introduce themselves to  others  in  a  social gathering as an engineer, lecturer, an accountant, a lawyer, an architect, permanent secretary, etc who earns big amount of salary than blacksmiths. The fact that smithing is looked down upon socially scared people away from the industry. It can also be pointed out that the major cause of the decline of smithing is the lack of government support. Government does not give loan to smiths or encourage them to show interest in the smithing. And because the smith did not have enough land and capital for expansion, and purchase of materials, the decline set in, to worsen

the situation, the government imported and still imports all kinds of metal wears that are needed which can be produced locally in Idoma land. This made the masses less reliant on the locally smithed iron implements. The smiths then stopped large-scale production of implements since the customers decrease. All these led consequently to the decline of smithing in Idoma land.

In spite of all these odds, it is pertinent to note that the industry is still surviving in the area; its services in providing agricultural and religious objects like iron gong (Oje Owa) hoes, cutlass and other traditional goods such as traps, arrows, axes are still needed by the people. Thus, unlike iron smelting in the study area, blacksmithing is resilient to collapse.

It  is  important  to  note  that  no  special  procedures  are  followed  in  appointing  an apprentice.  What  is  required  is  that  the  intended apprentice would  indicate  his  interest  in smithing by frequenting the smithing when the blacksmith is at work. After repeated visits, he automatically  becomes  an  apprentice.  Traditionally,  the  people  appreciated  iron  smithing, because they claimed that, though the industry was tedious, the metals made from it  were stronger and better than the imported iron.

Objects make meaning when they have functional values that are relevant to human needs. Hoes, cutlasses, axes and rakes, for instance, are vital agricultural tools especially as mechanisation has not taken any foothold in the area of the study. And until heap-mowing ploughs are available for use by the people, iron hoes made by the blacksmiths will remain the only dependable implement for making heaps in Idoma land. This is one of the reasons why the impact of blacksmiths will continue to be felt in the area for some time. Cutlass used in digging out yams, especially when the leaves are still fresh in the rainy season is indispensable to the people. Axes are used alongside with the firewood fetching, splitting them for cooking and burning them as charcoal for smelting and smithing work.

The three important tools mentioned above are equally used in clearing new farmlands, weeding grasses in the farm, uprooting stumps of trees, digging holes of rodents in the bush and killing them for food. Arrows, spears and guns are used by hunters and other people for hunting animals and self defence.

The study area is located geographically between latitude 7oN and longitude 8oE and is bounded by River Benue, South-East and South-West by Ebonyi, Cross River, Enugu and Kogi states respectively, in the East and West by Gwer in Benue and Ankpa local government areas in Kogi State. Idoma has nine local government areas out of the 23 local government areas of Benue State. Idoma has 22 districts and is the second largest ethnic group in Benue State (Idoma Native Authority, 1951). Its population is estimated to be about 1.5 million people as at the 2006 census. It is inhabited by the Idoma and some other people like the Tiv, the Yoruba, the Igbo and Hausa. They speak “Idomoid” and pidgin English as their main languages. It s located within the North Central geographical zone (i.e. middle belt region) of Nigeria and it is located between the southern forest  zone  and the  northern grassland zone and  middle  belt  between them.  It  is occupied by the wide valley troughs of the middle Niger and Benue rivers and accompanying upland area immediately to the north and south. It covers about 86,800 square kilometres all within the north central belt of Nigeria. The vegetation is Guinea Savannah featuring a combination of dried trees and some tropical rainforest species.

Idoma is drained by the Okpokwu River between Utonkon and Igumale and drained into Ogege River at Utonkon and Otobi Akpa in Otukpo Local Government Area. Itsere River which flows to Awu River in Ijibam, drain to Ulayi and Ekile and Ado River as well which flows between Apa-Agila and Igumale; all these rivers flow into River Benue. Adum River in Owukpa which has its source in Orokam flows to the Oma River which empties into River  Ideme         in Okpoga and flows into Okpokwu River.

The climate of Idoma is not different from that of Benue State generally described as the tropical type. There are two clearly identifiable seasons namely; the wet and dry seasons. The wet season starts from April to October while the dry season begins from November to March. The  wet  season  is  often  characterized  by the  south  west  trade  winds  from the  equatorial rainforest belt. On the other hand, the dry season is influenced by the dusty harmattan wind which reaches Nigeria from Saharan desert. Idoma area experiences a fairly cooler temperature unlike Makurdi, the Benue State capital which is about 105 kilometres north of it. Since there are no much hills, relief rain is not very common. Rather, the area experiences the conventional type of rainfall often accompanying by thunder and lightening. The rainfalls are often very heavy between June and September.

Some parts of Idoma are covered with iron bearing (ferruginous) soil especially places like Otukpo and Agwu in Ado. The soil is mainly laterite though some areas have loose sandy sediments and fersols. The soil supports the cultivation of yams, cassava, maize, guinea-corn (sorghum), rice, millet and many other cereals, legumes, vegetables and tree crops. This had made Idoma the chief producer and suppliers of yam and by extension Benue State as food baskets of the Nation. The area is fertile because of the alluvial deposits from the advance and plateau highlands.

Idoma is the second largest ethnic groups in Benue State of Nigeria numbering 1.5 million people, according to the 2006 census. The Idoma occupies an area of about 86,800 square kilometres covering nine local government areas which comprise of 22 districts that make up Idoma land. The local government areas are Ado, Apa, Agatu, Otukpo, Okpokwu, Ogbadibo, Ohimini, Oju and Obi. Also the districts are Apa, Agatu, Adoka, Agila, Edumoga, Igumale, Okpoga, Otukpo, Otukpa, Ugboju, Onyangede, Owukpa, Orokam, Ochekwu, Obagaji, Ichama, Ochobo, Oglewu and Ekele (Idoma Traditional Council Gazette, 1979).

Historically, Idoma are an ethno-linguistic group that primarily inhabit lower and western areas of Benue State, Nigeria, and kindred group can be found in Cross Rivers and Nassarawa states in Nigeria. Idoma is classified in the Akweya subgroup is closely related to the Yatye- Akpa subgroup the bulk of the territory is inland, south of River Benue, some 75 kilometers East of its confluence with River Niger.

The Idomas are known to be warriors and hunters of class, but hospitable and peace loving. Idomas are said to have migrated from the old Kwararafa Empire to their present abode. Their place of settling was Apa. Oral tradition holds that the greater part of Idoma remained unknown to the west until the 1920s, leaving much of the colourful traditional culture of the Idoma intact.

There are many traditions of origin of different Idoma clans. According to Unogwu (1997) says that “one of the traditions, Idoma came from North Africa and the middle East, on their way they found the kingdom of Ra-Buma in the Chad Basin around AD 1282.’’

The general Idoma legends of origin can be classified into three categories; there are the legend of origin of the Igede and Utonkon (Ufia) which do not have any clear connections with the legends of other Idoma clans. The second type is found in the Northern and particularly Western part of Idoma where many of the clans trace their origin to parts of Igala. Among the majority of the Idoma however, their oral tradition are unanimous that they migrated to their territories from Apa, these include Agila, Otukpo, Adoka, Igumale, Ugboju, Agatu, Ochekwu, Edumoga and Otukpa. Several of the districts belong to the third category. Apa has tentatively been identified as one time capital of the legendary Jukum Empire of Kwararafa.

On the basis of the available evidence the Idoma and Jukum do not appear to share any common characteristics to such an extent that would encourage one to conclude that the two people were originally part of the same stock.

The  Idoma  have  been  involved  in  migration  which  brought  them  to  their  present territories as evidenced in many sources. But the precise time when these movements occurred is obscure. All the tradition of their category insists that the Idoma left Apa as a result of unstable conditions created by constant warfare. The situation deteriorated progressively over a period of time during the second half of 15th century.

This led to the disintegration of the original Apa society and the beginning of migration. One was not told in any of the traditions where the invading forces came from and who the invaders were.  But  the  use  of horses by the  invading armies appeared to  have  played  an important role in this war. Many of the clans maintain that they left Apa as a result of the ‘Ewu Onya’ meaning horse war.

Other allusions that the Idoma once occupied the territory in the valley of the middle Benue, supported by ample evidence in the oral traditions collected from Doma, Aboha, Ugboju Otukpo, Ugbokolo and Obagaji (Armstrong 1983, 1984) and other researchers on the middle belt of Nigeria suggested that the Niger-Benue confluence area is the home base from where the Kwa speakers of the Niger-Congo family group of languages viz; the Tiv, the Igbo, the Edo, the Idoma, the Igala, the Yoruba, the Ijaw, Jukun (Kwararafa).

Armstrong (1997, 1999), using linguistic evidence has derived some time depths during which the Idoma people separated from their neighbours as we shall see later. According to him, a high percentage of the probable cognate in the people’s language suggest a late period of separation, while low percentage suggest a long period of separation. Thus for some group we have the following probable cognates in the data given below.

PeoplePercentage Cognate %
Idoma-Akpa (Akweya)38
Idoma-Nokwu (Arago)87
Etulo (Katsina/Ala Idoma)57

Source: The Idoma languages of the Benue and Cross River valley, University of

Ibadan, 1999.

Looking at the above chart, it is clear that the Yala in Cross River State and the (Idoma-Nokwu) (Idoma), i.e. Arago of Lafia who have the highest percentage of similar vocabulary with the Idoma people were the last people to separate from the Idoma. Similarly, the Yoruba people who have the lowest percentage were the first to separate from the Idoma people.

If the same rule applies to the other people, in calculating the years, Armstrong says that “the Yoruba who have the only 25% must have separated from the Idoma about 6,000 years ago, the Igbo with 27% must have separated from the Idoma about 5,000 years ago, the Edo with about 30% are believed to have separated from the Idoma 5,000 years ago. The Igala-Yoruba with 60% similar vocabulary separated from each other about 2,500 – 3,000 years ago.

Beside Igumale, according to oral tradition, the people living in Benue State valley were referred to as ‘Akpoto’, Akpoto once inhabited most of the areas now occupied by Igala and Tiv as well as the Idoma. The Akpoto were thus, regarded as the progenitors of Idoma. This explains why the people in Idah town refer to the people East and West of Ankpa division as Akpoto. By the beginning of the 16th century, the Idoma had begun to venture far out over large areas of the lower Benue valley mainly south of the river. Vanguard of this migration probably aided the

Igala in their war against the Bini, at the beginning of the 16th century. The migration became imminent in the face of the increasing pressure from the Tiv when they began their vigorous push into the Benue valley in the second half of the 17th century.

Politically, fragmented and thinly spread over fairly extensive territory the Idoma put up poor resistance to Tiv encroachment. Many of the Idoma had dug to the bank of the River Benue on their dispersal from Apa as a result of unstable situation created by the wars. Until well into the 19th century, the Idoma occupied a large area of unbroken territory starting from Koona in the Northeast and passing through Doma and Agatu to Agila in the South.

Idoma had moved out from Apa not as a body under a single leadership but the migration had been in waves and droves under separate leaders. In the legends these leaders are referred to as both the founders of the various clans and their chiefs. These clans were independent of each other. The Igumale tradition claims that their leader inherited the Apa throne and had great precedence over the Idoma after the destruction of their original home. The ‘Otse’ Apa Igumale, it is claimed, wielded considerable influence, if not real authority over the rest of the Idoma. In the west, relations with the Igala appear to have deteriorated over the years. As the Attah dynasty at Idah establishes itself firmly among the Igala it began to send out its representatives with the tittle of ‘Ona-Ogene’ to establish his authority among the segmented Idoma societies that had formed the vanguard of migration from Apa. The administration of community by the chief was checked by the ‘Itsogwa’ or council of elders to prevent tyranny. Apa as an ancestral home of all Idoma people, was located some few kilometres East of Katsina/Ala River covering only a section of the area as stated by Armstrong (1986).

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The study titled “Development and Growth of Iron Working in Idoma land, Benue state, Nigeria and its Implication for Arts Education,” has its intent, the investigation of the sudden disappearance of the traditional iron working in Idoma land. The researcher wishes to study the evolution  of  blacksmithing  in  Idoma  land  and  to  examine  the  processes  involved  in blacksmithing and iron working. The researcher is set to determine if Idoma people have any knowledge of  iron  smelting and  smithing.  To  find  out  factors responsible for  the  lack  of awareness and  continuity for  the  importance of blacksmithing and  iron working  in  Idoma society.  The  decline  of the  traditional iron working calls  for  immediate redress to  inform posterity of the importance of this job creating art. It has been noted that the modern technique in metallurgy is expensive and many people cannot procure the sophisticated furnaces used in the industries today. So the revitalisation of the traditional iron working is imperative and should be encouraged. Thus, there  is a need to  look back into  history to  determine what  was in the blacksmithing industry and see how best to re-establish and perhaps improve the traditional iron working so as to alleviate poverty and provide much needed job for the teaming youths of the area.

1.3 Research Questions

The following questions are raised.

1.        did Idoma people have any knowledge of iron working?

2.        what are the evidence of iron working in Idoma villages?

3.        how did the art of the smelting and smithing start in Idoma land?

4.        how were the furnaces fuelled?

5.        what position did the blacksmiths hold in the traditional Idoma society?

6.        how was the art of smelting and blacksmithing in Idoma land learned?

7.        why is the smelting and blacksmithing practice in Idoma land declining or progressing?

1.4 Objectives of the Study

The general objective of this research is to investigate the Development and Growth of Iron Working among the Idoma of Benue State Nigeria and its Implication for Art Education. The objectives of the study are as follows:

1.  to determine if Idoma people have any knowledge of iron smelting.

2.  to ascertain how the art of smelting and blacksmithing started in Idoma land.

3.  to find out the evidences of iron smelting in Idoma villages.

4.  to examine the processes involved in blacksmithing and iron working in Idoma land.

5.  to ascertain whether smelting and blacksmithing practice in Idoma land is declining or progressing, and

6.  to determine how the teaching and learning of blacksmithing and smelting in Idoma land was done.

1.5 Significance of the Study

Many art educators and art specialists have expressed their views about the general attitude of people towards traditional art education. Because of the availability of iron ore all over Idoma land, this research will be significant in various ways. Firstly, it will propel the youths roaming the streets in search for jobs to learn and explore the material. This will curtail if not eradicate the social vices such as stealing, cultism, militancy and other crimes being perpetrated by the youths. The findings of the study will also add to the knowledge in the profession and thus help other researchers who may be interested in similar studies.

1.6 Scope of the Study

The study of traditional iron working in Idoma land is principally centred on the nine local government areas of Idoma land; namely: Apa, Agatu, Ado, Otukpo, Ogbadibo, Okpokwu, Ohimini, Oju and Obi. The study focuses on the development and growth of iron working among the Idoma of Benue State and its implication for art education. For the purpose of this study the researcher will be restricted to the areas with abundant materials for the research which is iron ore.

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