«MEANING AND RELEVANCE IN NIGERIAN TRADITIONAL ARCHITECTURE: THE DIALECTICS OF GROWTH AND CHANGE Arc. (Professor) Ekundayo Adeyinka Adeyemi Head, ...»
Public Lecture Series
MEANING AND RELEVANCE
THE DIALECTICS OF
GROWTH AND CHANGE
Arc. (Professor) Ekundayo Adeyinka Adeyemi
Head, Department Of Architecture
College Of Science & Technology
Covenant University, Ota
Corporate & Public Affairs
Covenant University Canaanland, Km. 10, Idiroko Road, Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria Tel: +234-1-7900724, 7901081, 7913282, 7913283 Covenant University Press Canaanland, Km. 10, Idiroko Road, Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria ISSN 2006---0327 Vol. 1, No. 21, April, 2008 Arc. (Professor) Ekundayo Adeyinka Adeyemi Head, Department Of Architecture College Of Science & Technology Covenant University, Ota Public Lecture Series, Volume 21, April 24th, 2008 Introduction Aside from the brief descriptions of some traditional dwelling types and settlements gleaned from the notes of early Europeans explorers and missionaries, few and scattered efforts exist to provide information on the African Traditional Architecture. The early assumption that the Africans lived in unstructured, isolated bush communities with little appreciation of the aesthetics in town design may have restricted enquiry into indigenous African Architecture. This lack in information would appear compounded as architectural history and the theory of Architecture have traditionally emphasised the study of monuments. The monumental work in Sir Bannister Fletcher's History of Architecture left out the rest of Africa after elaborating on the Architecture of Egypt which featured the pyramids and the temples.
The first comprehensive work on the indigenous Nigerian Architecture was published and released to the reading public by Ethnographica Publishers, London in 1984. It was Zbigniew Dmochowski's Corpus on the indigenous Architecture of the major groups in Nigeria. This lecture will emphasise some of the highpoints of Nigerian indigenous Architecture and also show that the traditional builder possessed the ability to evolve an architecture as unique in architectural history as the monumental buildings of the Western civilisation.
1 Public Lecture Series, Volume 21, April 24th, 2008 The Bias for the Monumental Much as the study of monuments can hardly be ignored in architectural history, structures of modest scales may also be found to possess qualities of architectural literacy which endow them with the architectural accolade. In monuments however are usually embodied the sum-total of architectural thinking as they 2 Public Lecture Series, Volume 21, April 24th, 2008 symbolise and epitomise a people's technological achievement and cultural refinement.
The African Heritage in Monumental Structures Not all African traditional buildings lack the monumental character, nor are all traditional buildings mud huts. The Mopti and the Djenne mosques and particularly the Zaria Friday Mosque, Massallacci Juma'a have a refreshingly monumental character that qualifies each for a prominent place in architectural history. The cities of Gao, Timbuktu, Djenne, Katsina, Bauchi and Kano, all located in areas historically known as the West Sudan still have some of the best examples of mud building tradition.
Fig. 6: Double Arch Formation in Mosque Construction The African royalty built to impress and to overawe. The accounts of the early missionary explorers to Africa confirmed the magnificence of some of the royal palaces. The Palace of the Alaafin in Oyo was described by Clapperton to have covered approximately 640 acres, or one square mile. Edward Bowdich in 1817 described the Asantehene's Palace in Kumasi as, “an immense building of a variety of oblong courts and rectangular squares, the former with arcades along one side, some of round arches symmetrically turned, the entablatures exuberantly adorned in bold fan and trellis work ” Richard Hall (1976) provides examples of monumental urban Architecture of Africa and among the Architecture listed is the Deji of Akure's Palace, an elaborate layout of Ughas, complex in the intricate spread of apartments and preserved till this day
Hindham was said to have described the Oba of Benin's compound in the 16th century to be “as large as the town of Harlem,..... and divided into many significant palaces, houses and apartments and comprising beautiful and long square galleries about as large as the Exchange at Amsterdam”.
Traditional House Forms
Though not monumental in form, the traditional house-forms provide the bedrock of indigenous Architecture. The African compound reflects the extended family structure, promoting a family cohesion much more than a modern bungalow can ever do.
In spite of the onslaughts of modern life, the family compound 6 Public Lecture Series, Volume 21, April 24th, 2008 remains, unaffected by the storms of change. It has become a haven for family members who sometimes find city life oppressing and thus seek to escape into the safe environment of the family compound, at least, once in a while.
European or American writers have often arrogated to indigenous creations a curio-factor, a tendency to see such creation as curious or vulgar. For as long as alien writers interpret African creations in the context of their value systems and culture, the curio-factor will continue to persist. An example of such misconceived interpretations as reported by J.F. Ade-Ajayi (1965), of the way houses were built in Badagry without any regard to anything like
order or convenience can be read from a Missionary's complaint:
“Several times I followed what I supposed to be public thoroughfare but found it to terminate in a private yard”.
The missionary went further to even put a theological question on life in family compounds. “Is it proper”, he asked, “to apply the name of a home to a compound occupied by two to six or a dozen men each perhaps with a plurality of wives?”. This is the extent to which differences in culture values could affect meanings and the interpretation of intentions of a creative work. Interpretive meanings and value judgements based on the value systems of the critics, even with the best of their intentions, can and do often breed misconceptions and prejudices.
African indigenous Architecture is more than instinctive. It has developed from conscious efforts at creating functional as well as psychological space, both coming to terms and creating an aesthetically satisfying three-dimensional form. The African creative effort is therefore not an exception in creative thinking.
Nigerian Traditional Architecture Professor Zibgniew Dmochowski's long-awaited corpus on the Nigerian Traditional Architecture was finally published and released to the public in 1984. Professor Dmochowski is now dead, after a long battle with death. It was this lecturer's privilege (my privilege) to announce to the World Community at the International Union of Architects (IUA) Congress held in Cairo in 1985 the arrival of this three-volume corpus and to review the published work at the Nigerian Museum in Lagos also in 1985. The posthumous launching of the volumes was a befitting tribute to the prodigious efforts of a great scholar, a visionary with a deep appreciation and understanding of the indigenous creativity of Nigerians. Those of us who were privileged to know him and to work with him on this monumental classic continue to learn from his unshaking belief in the purity of indigenous creations and from his penchant for accurate documentation. In spite of his failing health, towards the end, and of the doctor's prediction of his approaching death, he worked feverishly to complete the manuscript just before the cold hands of death snatched him away.
His enthusiasm for the work was infectious. In the Preface to the Corpus, Professor Dmochowski perceived Architecture as a “technical activity by poets”. Poetry, he explained, has the kind of value that perishes when translated into a foreign language.
True Architecture, like poetry cannot be copied from foreign patterns. It must grow out of its own root, expressed in its own language. He also believed in the purity of traditional creation, in its poetry and in its relevance. The survey of the Nigeria Traditional Architecture was planned to last eight years (1958Sir Bannister Fletcher, author of another monumental work on 8 Public Lecture Series, Volume 21, April 24th, 2008 architectural history described Architecture as a “lithic history of social conditions, progress and religion and of events which are landmarks in the history of mankind”. The different epochs in architectural history are intimately related to a nation's life. The genius of a nation is unmistakeably stamped on its architectural monuments. It is in a people's traditional Architecture that one is able to discern its social and cultural milieu. Buildings are analysed in terms of their geographical, social and cultural context.
Value judgements are best avoided in situations that critics know nothing or little about.
The Study of indigenous Nigerian Architecture must assume a mentality that rejects African societies as “Curios” which values and cultural heritage must be studied through the anthropologist's microscope. Indigenous creations are more than instinctive.
The Yoruba Courtyard Houses
In the courtyard houses of the Yoruba, spaces are organised not only to accommodate the activities of sleeping, cooking, storage etc. but are so disposed as to promote family cohesion. The centripetal nature of the Yoruba compound allows rooms to be organised round the ancestral resting place usually located in the centre of the courtyard. The bigger the family and the more diffused the lineage, the greater the number of courtyards, each courtyard forming as it were, a meeting point for family members.
A visitor to the Yoruba compound is instantly admitted into the centre of family activities and becomes a welcome beneficiary of the family hospitality.
The layout plan of the indigenous house is significant for its sociocultural relevance, an attribute considered of greater importance than the technology of the house construction. The layouts have deep socio-cultural meaning and the decorations that go with the 9 Public Lecture Series, Volume 21, April 24th, 2008 building are equally steeped in the culture phenomenon. The sculptured roof supports along the veranda's enclosing the courtyard bear images of revered gods or personalities and the murals on walls may be graphic representation of human experience or symbols of religions or of cultural relevance. These decorations give distinctive identity and character to the Architecture.
The language expressed by these seemingly insignificant aspects of the architectural character is perhaps stronger and more meaningful in creative thought and expression than the anonymous language of the international style. Regrettably, global acculturation is quietly but surely creeping into the African Societies and dangerously replacing the creative genius of the African and which may in the long run lead to creative indolence and cultural impoverishment This cohesive plan composition of the Yoruba courtyard house is also indicative of an urban culture and tends to confirm the widely held notion that the Yorubas are an urbanised group of people. The more cohesive and bigger the plan, the closer is the affinity to the urban. In contrast, small isolated buildings tend to reflect the transient and almost rural. Such contrast is more profound in the dwellings of the Fulani Bororo and the more sedentary buildings of the Hausa, suggesting the transition from the rural to the urban.
10 Public Lecture Series, Volume 21, April 24th, 2008 Both building types however do have architectural validity to them and any suggestion of the rural and transient to complete the primitive image cannot be acceptable.
Fig. 13: Decorations to Palace interior The Islamic Connection and the Hausa Architecture The Islamic connection in Hausa Architecture is generally accepted to be bipartite. The first connection was through ancient Mali and Songhai, a link that was very much reflected in the Kano Chronicle. Songhai notables and scholars visited Katsina and th Kano towards the end of the 15 century and possibly left impacts of their Islamic beliefs. The second link was established with the th Arab merchants in the late 16 century. The Arab merchants had come from the far-north through Tripoli and Kano and settled in Kano, establishing a direct contact with Arab-Moorish Architecture.
In Mosque building, the early similarities with the Mali and Songhai types gave way to Hausa innovations in the construction of the Bauchi Mosque (1812), the Sultan Bello Mosque in Sokoto and the Zaria Old Friday Mosque (1836). The Zaria Mosque is said to incorporate all the architectural forms and techniques of the 11 Public Lecture Series, Volume 21, April 24th, 2008
The Malekite Common Law has implications in Hausa building practice as well as in the primacy of the private domain. The Privacy of the domestic domain must be preserved by closing it from outside view. These Islamic notions affect also the design of Mosques and have implication for the design of Palaces of the Emirs and even the compounds of the common man. The derivation of the Hausa mud vault is based on a structural concept as logically valid as the development of the Gothic Vaults. It is in the construction of the Friday old Zaria Mosques that we find the higher level of excellence in mud construction. Basically the structures are of framed construction of arches, domes and vaults ingeniously built to fulfil their particular functions of creating beautiful interiors, absolutely resplendent with the ornately composed ceilings, arches and corbels. Hausa builders have, through these structures, demonstrated not only their skilled craftsmanship but also their excellent abilities to shape splendid forms in space
12 Public Lecture Series, Volume 21, April 24th, 2008