The lost Kingdom of Ife, found in Europe

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People of different shades of life have been trouping into the British Museum to see some of the most fascinating display of arts produced in ancient Africa. No, it isn’t the well known Egypt or its Pyramids and Pharaohs or the Nubian Kingdom excavations. It is the Kingdom of Ife, in West Africa.

Ife kingdom, in what is now Western Nigeria, was mystified as a place where the world began and a holy city of deity, ancestors and kings can be traced back to AD1100-1200 the century of powerful kings, like Henry I of England, among others.

Since last week, the British museum has been exhibiting about 95 of some of the finest works of arts discovered from Ife. Works that have rivalled European Renaissance and edged that of Celtic and Roman Arts.

“We have the advantage of looking back over an albeit interrupted continuum of Celtic and Roman art and other cultural influences, and forward to the Renaissance and all that stemmed from it, but the artefacts of Ife seem not only to have sprung from nothing but swiftly to have returned to it within, at most the period of some four centuries that in Europe lie between the Bayeux Tapestry and Leonardo’s Mona Lisa,” writes Brian Sewell of the Evening Standard.

Even though arts catalogue writers may have not been precise on the period and description of the Ife works, many believe they are fascinating like any other respected European ancient artefacts. “For my part I can only look at these heads, figures fragments and animals in much the same way as I look at their European equivalents,” said Sewell.

The craftsmanship of the Ife arts is attracting lots of attention at the British museum and in fact, the king of (Ile) kingdom of Ife, was invited to London to grace the occasion. The kingdom which was first discovered by a German anthropologist who had ignorantly mistaken it for the lost land of Atlantis in 1911 was also rich in commerce and politics and was the strong-hold of the Yoruba kingdom that also spread to Dahomey, in Benin Republic and also some parts of Togo.

Some of the artefacts made from Copper, stone, terracotta and brass are beautifully crafted heads with beaded veils, cutting and piercing of the mouth, decoration of the face and carefully straight lines drawn across from the forehead to the jaw.

Those visiting the British museum say they couldn’t believe such magnificent work of Arts could be produced in Africa. Angela Smith said: “All I hear of Nigeria is crises and continued crises, but I don’t know there are treasures that are so amazingly beautiful in such a powerful kingdom of Ife, in Nigeria.”

The Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa is on display at the British Museum until June 6. See British Museum video on Ife.

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