Akwanshi Conference, Calabar

Akwanshi Conference in Calabar on the future and plight of the Cross River Monoliths (Akwanshi), and subsequent field trip to record new monolith sites.

Akwanshi Conference, Calabar
Conference poster on wall of Conference Centre.

In early March 2018, David Coulson returned to Nigeria’s Cross River State to take part in a Conference on the Cross River Monoliths. This was a return visit following a highly productive visit in 2016, in collaboration with Factum Foundation (Madrid), to document the remaining monoliths in the Ikom area of Cross River State – a project funded by the Prince Claus Fund of Amsterdam.

These monoliths, known locally as Akwanshi, are carved anthropomorphic (and usually phallic) stones in previously forested areas, and are believed to have represented powerful ancestral spirits.

The oldest stones are thought to be around 1,500 years old but large numbers of them have been stolen during the last 40/50 years. Before that, there were around 500 stones and now there may be as few as 200. Indeed, some of the stolen stones have been turning up in international museums and private collections around the world, e.g. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Quai Branly in Paris, and we have heard, in the British Museum.

Using advanced 3D technology, Ferdinand Smith of the Factum Foundation has been recording the surviving stones. See link: www.factumfoundation.org/Cross-River-Monoliths-Metropolitan-Fragment-Conference-and-Site-Visits

The Conference was intended to raise the profile within Nigeria, as well as well as globally, of the Monoliths of this State/land, in a country known for its spectacular cultural and archaeological riches (ref: the international traveling exhibition ‘Treasures of Ancient Nigeria’ some years ago.) But so far, the Nigerian government has done little if anything to promote these monoliths which are by any standards exceptional artworks. The principal torch bearer for the monoliths has for some years been Dr Abu Edet from the University of Calabar, with whom TARA and Factum have been working. Dr Edet is a passionate and knowledgable promoter of these particular treasures. The opening of the conference was attended by several hundred people and a number of well known people shared the platform to speak of its importance. On the following morning, a range of academic papers were presented.

During the subsequent field trip, we were taken to 3 sites which we had not visited on our last trip. One of these, Iting Nta, had a number of exceptional stones but it was clear to us that many stones had been stolen, probably during the Biafran War but no doubt more recently too.

Cross River Monoliths
Conference Poster.

Akwanshi Conference, Calabar
Conference Hall audience.

Akwanshi Conference, Calabar
Akwanshi Conference, Calabar.

Akwanshi Conference, Calabar, David Coulson
David Coulson, TARA, Akwanshi Conference, Calabar.

Akwanshi Conference, Calabar, David Coulson
David Coulson, TARA, Akwanshi Conference, Calabar.

Akwanshi Conference, Calabar
Conference Hall audience.

Akwanshi Conference, Calabar
Group photo outside Conference Hall.

Cross River Monoliths
Conference Poster.

Cross River Monoliths
Ting Nta site Monolith.

Cross River Monoliths
Ting Nta site Monolith.

Cross River Monoliths
Ting Nta site Monolith.

Cross River Monoliths
Ting Nta site Monolith.

Royal Geographical Society, Hong Kong, David Coulson

The Royal Geographical Society – Hong Kong invited David Coulson to speak on “The Rock Art of Africa: 25,000 Years of World History and Climate Change on the World’s Biggest Canvas”.

Royal Geographical Society, Hong Kong, David Coulson

The prestigious event was introduced to RGS members and guests as follows:

“Residing in Africa for more than 40 years, British adventurer and photographer David Coulson has discovered and documented more rock art sites across the continent than anyone else. On the way, he has accumulated many amusing stories, including being charged by elephants and frequently lost in desert sandstorms.

In the Kalahari, Mr Coulson spent long periods with the Bushmen when he photographed some of their ancestral art. In Egypt’s Western Desert, he used modern photographic techniques to map the trove of faint images in a huge underground cavern known as the Cave of Swimmers, because of the front-crawl-like depiction of the figures.

Other African rock art discussed in the talk includes a collection of 8,000-year-old anatomically accurate carvings of nine running giraffes on an ancient riverbed in Algeria, the largest measuring 27 ft from muzzle to hind hoof. In addition, he talks of a series of white circles the size of dinner plates that migrating Stone Age hunter-gatherers painted on a granite hillside in eastern Uganda, roughly 1,500 years ago.

David Coulson is a photographer, writer and African explorer as well as being a specialist in African rock art. In the 1980s and 1990s, he worked out of Kenya as a professional photographer and writer, and his books and articles were published across the world. It was during his many travels for these projects that he became aware of the richness and diversity of Africa’s rock art.

He is the founder and Executive Chairman of the Trust for African Rock Art, founded with the help of Dr Mary Leakey and Sir Laurens van der Post. Since its inception, TARA’s work has been supported by a number of well-known international institutions such as National Geographic, and the Getty, Ford and Andrew Mellon Foundations. During this, he has driven the equivalent of at least three times around the Earth. Mr Coulson also spearheaded the Focus on Your World international photo competition on the Environment in the early 1990s sponsored by Canon. The competition, of which David was also a judge, attracted 32,000 entries from 140 different countries, the biggest photo competition ever held. He is the author of African Rock Art and Namib on Namibia’s coastal desert.”

Location: The Bloomberg Theatre, Hong Kong.
Date: Tuesday, 26 September 2017.