Conserving Sukur Cultural Landscape for tourist attraction, economic development

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Being ravaged by invasions by other ethnic groups notwithstanding, Sukur Cultural Landscape, an UNESCO World Heritage site, has retained its originality, relevance and values for ages, culture enthusiasts observe.

Located on a hill above the village of Sukur in Madagali Local Government, Adamawa on Nigeria-Cameroon border, many ethnic groups such as Fulani, Maffa and Margi are predominant in the area, covering more than 1,942 hectares of land.

The invasions have resulted in the decline of iron smelting in the area while people migrating to the plains of the area.

Age-long relics found in the area such as ore and grindstones at the site have been established to be of pre-Sukur existence.

Analysts note that the cultural landscape of Sukur is eloquent testimony of a strong and continuing cultural tradition that has endured for many centuries.

In some parts of the settlement, village huts are simple circular structures of clay with thatched roof and woven floor mats. A group of such houses are surrounded by a compound wall of low height.

Also, in each house, people practise smelting activities with the ruins of iron-smelting furnaces with bellows, presenting the landscape as political and economic settlement waiting for exploitation.

Some creative experts say the Sukur cultural landscape in Adamawa, destroyed by the insurgency in 2014, needs restoration and promotion to boost revenue generation.

They observe that making the landscape popular is fundamental for utilising its unique art of dry stone architecture and stone terrace farming in the area.

Culture enthusiasts insist that Sukur, an ancient settlement with a recorded history of iron smelting technology, flourishing trade, and strong political institution dating back to the 16th century, ought to be popularised more for the world to know.

They observe that the landscape has certain exceptional features that are not to be found elsewhere, notably the use of paved tracks and the spiritual content of the terraces with their ritual features such as sacred trees.

According to them, the revered position of the Hidi as the political and spiritual head of the community and the magnificent dry stone architectural work of palace, shrines and some ceramic, among others, is ought to be the delight of tourists if well promoted.

Being the UNESCO’s first cultural landscape on the World Heritage list and the first Nigerian World Heritage Property in 1999, observers note that stakeholders are expected to harness the potential of the site to boost the country’s revenue generation.

Therefore, some stakeholders at the Awareness Support Dinner in Abuja recently, called for the recovering and rebuilding of the heritage site.

The dinner was organised by the Joint National Committee of UNESCO World Heritage Volunteers Initiative.

Mr Olagunju Idowu, the Secretary-General, Nigerian National for UNESCO, underscored the need to tackle alteration of rich cultural heritage of Sukur landscape.

Idowu, who was represented by Mrs Roseline Kurah, Assistant Director and Head of Culture Sector in the commission, said that the recovering and rebuilding of the heritage site were imperative for the nation and the global community.

“The federal government and Adamawa government as well as stakeholders will need to watch the Sukur cultural landscape and other heritage sites; the loss of any of its components is a loss to all of humanity,’’ UNESCO scribe said.

“Sukur cultural landscape serves as a living heritage where the residents live and practise farming which is their occupation.

“The evidence of pre-Sukur Iron Age phase is shown by finds of furnaces, ore and grindstones.

“The heritage landscape matters because it illustrates a form of land-use that stands out in human settlement, testifying to the spiritual and cultural tradition that has endured among the people for many centuries.

“Sadly, this cultural landscape suffered grave damage as a result of insurgency in 2014.

“After the attack, the Sukur cultural landscape and community was devastated, sabotaged and has never again existed as it once did, and this calls for rehabilitation and attention of stakeholders,’’ Idowu said.

Prof. Abba Tijani, the Director-General of the National for Museums and Monuments, said that Sukur cultural landscape with its associated traditions and customs had continued uninterrupted and largely unchanged for more than 500 years.

Tijani, who was represented by the Director, Monuments, Heritage and Sites in the Commission, Mrs Victoria Osuagwu, said that the activities of insurgents affected the way of of the Sukur people.

“In recent times, the through UNESCO International Assistance Funding, has carried out conservation intervention on the landscape,’’ he said.

The director-general, who described Sukur as a living site, solicited the need to improve on the conservation of the Sukur heritage property.

He called on stakeholders to improve the living conditions of the people in the area while supporting and contributing to the development and sustenance of the heritage property.

Gov. Ahmadu Fintiri of Adamawa also reiterated administration’s commitment towards development and restoration of the Sukur cultural landscape in the state.

The governor, who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Malam Bashir Ahmad, expressed administration’s readiness to partner with UNESCO and others to put Sukur on the global map.

Fintiri, however, said the Sukur landscape and other cultural sites would be given the necessary attention to generate revenue.

“Sukur site and other cultural sites should be publicised and turned to serve as source of revenue not only to the indigenes but to the state and the nation at large.

“It is at this point I commend those who have kept Sukur landscape and cultural heritage alive for the past six centuries.

“As a government, we will do all that is necessary to support all those who are on this cause of rediscovering Sukur landscape and cultural heritage,’’ he said.

Similarly, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, pointed out the need to create awareness on the imperative of restoring the Sukur landscape and cultural heritage in the bid to boost tourism development in the country.

Dogara, who said tourism could be used to diversify the nation’s economy, stressed the need for partnership among relevant stakeholders to develop and restore the Sukur site.

Mrs Malame Mangzha, the Director-General, African International Documentary Festival Foundation, said that the purpose of the event was to raise awareness about the site.

Mangzha added that the event was also to garner support for the much needed intervention to bring development to the site.

“As we create awareness about this heritage, we are seeking the stakeholders’ intervention and support in our projects.

“These include restoration of the gallery at the hilltop using traditional materials and techniques (museum), renovation of the health centre, provision of additional rural wells for safe drinking and restoration of stone structures within Hidi palace complex.

“Others are restoration and furnishing of hilltop primary school building, and supporting the economic empowerment of the Sukur women,’’ she said.

The director-general expressed optimism that the foundation would put Sukur cultural landscape on the lips of more than 100 million people around the world.

“We want to tell the story of how big and beautiful our world is, and how culture fosters great connections among us as humans.

“Sukur World Heritage Site offers opportunities for multi-disciplinary on authentic culture, environment, anthropology, archaeology, agronomy, mountain geography, biodiversity, and the traditional lifestyles.

“These will enrich the study of human history sustained for more than 600 years even in human conflicts and a sweeping civilisation,’’ Mangzha said.

According to her, Sukur is compact with modes and themes that can support studies in authentic cultural traditions thereby posing as a one-stop site for in human history and cultural resilience.

“It is also a one-stop site for research in agronomy, technology and other fields of academic and investment interest.

“Participants will learn techniques in the production of iron tools, production of artisanal handicrafts, and the maintenance of stonewalls and mountain trails, basketry, pottery, calabash making, and label designing,’’ she said.

All in all, stakeholders advise that appropriate authorities should ensure that terrorist attacks on the settlement are checked to make its preservation easier and allow for research works that can place the landscape on a platform that will attract economic gains.