Akwasnshi/Atal as the monolith is called among the Ejagham people of the Cross River State is distributed among 30 communities. In each community, the stones are found in circles, sometimes-perfect circles, facing each other standing erect, except where they have been tampered with by weather or man.
In some cases, the stones are found in the center of the village or in the central meeting place of the village elders, as in the case of Alok and Agba communities. In Etinan and Nabrokpa communities, the stones are located in an area of uncultivated forest outside the villages. The majority of the stones are carved in hard, medium-textured basaltic rock, a few are carved in sandstone and shelly limestone. The common features of the monoliths are that they are hewn into the form of a phallus ranging from about three feet in height to about five and half feet and are decorated with carvings of geometric and stylized human features, notably two eyes, an open mouth, a head crowned with rings, a stylized pointed beard, an elaborately marked navel, two decorative hands with five fingers, a nose, various shape of facial marks.
The stone monoliths of Alok Ikom bear a form of writing and a complex system of codified information. Although, they seem to share same general features, each stone, like the human finger print, is unique from every other stone in its design and execution. The geometric images on the monoliths suggest that their makers possessed more than a basic knowledge of mathematics, not only because they are geometric, but also because of the obvious implication that there were computations and numbers on the layout of the stones. The Ikom monoliths with their geometric inscriptions could be compared to the rock Arts of Tanzania. The meanings of the codified symbol are known to only the artists. These are also associated with their origin, which is like most rock art works in Africa. Ikom monoliths could be West Africa’s answer to United Kingdom’s Stonehenge.
They are similar in arrangement and ordering to the Stone circuits in the Gambia, but unique in their complexity of design and interpretation. Over 300 monoliths carved from basalt in this style were created in the Cross River region of Nigeria between 200 to 1900 A.D. These lithic monuments, which vary in size ranging from around two to over six feet in height, are usually found in circular groupings facing inward. The depiction of human features in stone is unusual in sub-Saharan Africa; additionally, the scale, number, and arrangement of the Cross River monoliths distinguish them from other groupings of anthropomorphic sculpture. This particular example, with its elegant low-relief detailing around the eyes and the ornate cicatrization along the cheeks, led to its attribution to a class of objects created by members of the Nnam, one of eight clans that comprise the Bakor ethnic group of the Cross River region. Frequent motifs that appear on Nnam-style monoliths include a single spiral, double spiral, concentric circle, diamond, and triangle. This work is fragmentary and is the top half of what was originally a taller monolith. There is a clear differentiation between the sculpture’s front and back, with the rear being devoid of inscription. The marks themselves refer to cicatrization patterns, which comment upon the wearer’s level of initiation, ethnic, clan, and family identity. These markings may also relate to symbols that would have been painted on the body during festivals and ceremonies. All of the stones depict bearded figures, which suggest venerability and wisdom.
Though these objects have played an important role in the ritual life of successive generations of members of local communities, their original purposes can only be conjectured. They may represent the spirit of deceased ancestors. It is also possible that they were created as memorials to important political and historical figures. Local people maintain that the stones were created by otherworldly powers and emerged out of the ground like trees. The difficulty that carving and transporting these stones would have represented to their makers as compared to wood, which would have been more easily available and workable is a further indication of their importance.
• Culled from www.vanguardngr.com
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