Umm Sulaim's Thoughts

Thoughts Lead To Appreciation

ATTITUDE | Early Nigerian Architecture – Sustainable And Purposeful

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Besides mud or clay, how widely used were stones and baked mud or clay for construction?
Umm Sulaim's Thoughts - 4TH ANNIVERSARY - Decorated Title
What components were added to mud to strengthen the structure?

Ponder the possibility of incorporation of iron, silver, gold, metal alloys: bronze and brass, as well as clothing fabrics into architectural designs, both for aesthetics and stability.
Experts were metal designers of iron, gold, silver; sculptors and cloth weavers.
Certainly, Nigerians were versed in iron technology. Did they incorporate that proficiency in smelting and smithing in the traditional architecture?
Were buildings constructed, reinforced with iron rods? Had that been true for the wider population, residential houses, especially, would have more readily survived the torrential rains.

ETCHED IN STONE – Bini, Esan, Igarra, Somorika
Clearly, a people renowned for bronze sculpture; carvings; weavings of mat, basket and cloth; goldsmithing; and pottery would adorn their indigenous architecture, though primarily of mud, with ornamental metals, bronze and gold perhaps, and possibly cane and clothing materials and with a reasonable degree of carved designs.

How did the inhabitants of the region of the Benin Kingdom, now represented by the ethnicities of Edo State, conceptualise their abode?

How innovative were the people?

A mud wall and a roof of palm leaves marked the home, each with at least one door and one window, both of wood.

The flooring was a carpet of mud; the ceiling can often be of a light layer of mud with bamboo frames.

The female toilet was at a distance. Refuse point was at the back of the compound.

Traditional construction work relied on locally sourced materials – bamboo stalks and logs.

Mud was the primary material for some household furnishings, such as the bed and the bench.

Efforts were made to adjust the house to limit exposure to sun rays.

The town was structured linearly around the King’s Palace.

Each compound with one leader consisted of several families.

Gradually, the material for the floor and ceiling became timber.

Sheets of corrugated iron for the roof and fabricated cement blocks for the wall were popular some time at the end of the 1800s.

Built in 1905, the very first storey edifice in Benin City was the Egedege Nokaro.

GOLDEN HEART – Nupe, Ebira, Igala, Gbagyi
Families of common ancestry resided together. While this defined other ethnic traditional architecture, the compound was smaller, often a house meant originally for the nuclear household.

Houses had a characteristic rectangular [sometimes round] shape and incorporated stones for reinforcement.

Personal homes, fenced with a waist-high stone wall, were built within the town.

Family residences were developed on the outskirts of town.

Ventilation was provided through a doorway, limiting the number of entrance points for unwanted intruders, usually malevolent spirits.

Food storage for family use was beyond the boundary fence by the corner before the main entrance.

Situated at the far corner after the main entrance was the animal shed.

A fenced compound consisted of two courtyards –
1. The outer courtyard accessed from the compound entrance;
2. The inner courtyard accessible through the female entrance.

Each wife was entitled to a bedroom and a kitchen. She may also possess a reception for her guests.

To preserve privacy, movements of unrelated males were restricted into female living quarters.

Relative to the belief system of the household, observation of privacy occurred with increasing level from traditionalists, Christians to Muslims.

Immediately by the main entrance was the reception centre for entertaining guests of the husband.

Shielded at a corner with a fence was the husband’s residence.

For homes with less concerns of privacy, the compound was circular, with a central courtyard bounded by only one fence. The apartments were by the external wall.

For own family life, the adult male offspring was allocated a space, depending on availability of living spaces, within the compound next to his mother’s lodge or in another location, in that order.

Towns were organised linearly, which devolved into a circular format to accommodate clan members.

Often, the towns were fortified with a high wall for security.

To support the independent lifestyle of elderly homeowners, they were accorded spaces close to the town centre.

A household leader, an elderly man or woman was buried underneath own bedroom.

The rest of the household were interred in corners in open spaces.

Graves irrespective of the social status of the occupant were unmarked.

When cement became available the practice of plastering graves for identification developed.

The first to add Islamic calligraphy and texture to the architecture of Ebiraland was Ibrahim Onoruoiza Chogudo, in the construction of his Palaces circa late 1920s.

That forever modified the architectural scenery of the region.

With the introduction of tap water in Okene and environs in the 1930s, pipe-borne water became a feature of some residences.

Portable drinking water became a readily available resource within the home.

Plus a public cemetery marked a variation from in-house burials.

FOREIGN TOUCH – British; Freed slaves from Sierra Leone, Brazil, Cuba
For the offices and residences of the British in Lokoja and other colonial centres prefabricated and detachable houses constructed on stilts were imported from the United Kingdom. Such houses were designed so as not to require nails and featured deep verandas and overhanging eaves and a row of multiple wide windows. The roofing material was usually corrugated iron sheets and the walls constructed from cement concretes.

From Latin America came the typical two-storey houses of concrete cement blocks and characteristic ornamental metallic railings.

IN THE WATERS – Ibibio, Efik, Ijaw, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Annang
Mud, instead of clay, was the developers’ choice, for the limited availability of white clay, though clay bricks were perfect for durability. The roof was thatch and windows were of wood. Houses in the creeks were constructed using wood.

An elaborate network of bridges was developed for mobility.

The village was a collection of rectangular compounds. Multiple houses within a compound were organised linearly with a central courtyard and shaded verandas in front of the houses. For effective lighting and ventilation, there were numerous courtyards of varying sizes, whereas the shaded verandas served as a rendezvous and a leisure centre.

With contact with Europeans arrived prefabricated western-style buildings.

A large home signified affluence and social position. The lodgings covered not just family but also slaves, home helps and security staff.
There were stores for food items.

Slaves were accommodated beside but immediately after the entrance. The guest room was also by the doorway, opposite the slave houses.

Adult children had an apartment within the compound.

The women of the household were usually stationed at the farthest points to the entrance.

The male leader’s residence was situated closest to his wives’ and children’s housing.

The one-exit, high walled, quadrangular large compound contained numerous families. Houses were built of mud walls and thatch roofs. Same with the Palace.

The town was planned with a focus on the market and Palace.

Returning freed slaves from Sierra Leone, countries in Central and South America introduced a new flamboyant Portuguese-Spanish style of architecture – the Brazilian touch.

ROCKY FOUNTAIN – Ngas, Gwoza, Jukun, Goemai, Yom, Gerka, Tel, Tarok
Because of the mountainous terrain and little soil substance, the people extensively developed the use of stones in architecture.

Each town was enveloped by a vast network of spirals of stockades, a security and soil management structure.

The large compound was for numerous families and residents, as many as 80 persons.

Stones featured prominently in the people’s lifestyle. Rocks were used as seats and perhaps beds.

Walls were largely of stones. Another type of stones was made the foundation.

A section of the courtyard reserved for socialisation and cultural dances was identified by the semi-circle of a wall of stones. In place of that, were rock-seats for recreation.

Specific categories of rocks of various colours and texture were utilised for certain components of the residence.
Granites – gray, brown, smooth;
Quartz – smooth;
Feldspars – red, brown, white, rough and smooth

The people often supplemented earth to their edifice, which gave buildings a defined robust visage.

While rocks formed the boundary of the animal shed, a blend of muddy clay and grasses afforded the plastering for food storage.

Roofs as usual were thatched.

RISING DESERT – Hausa-Fulani, Kanuri [Beri-Beri], Zuru, Fakai, Shuwa, Bura, Marghi, Chibok
The Masjid ~Mosque was the main centre of social gatherings. The other focal point was the Palace.

Construction materials were mainly earth products of mud, and brown and black clay:
a. Bricks, made of sun-baked moulded mud or clay, trampled or beaten for added density and sometimes reinforced with grass, formed the walls of the house.
b. Mortar, made of earth, acted as a binding force for the bricks. Horse droppings could be used as a binder and were spread on the moulded earth, dried, watered and trampled.
c. Plaster, a waterproof mixture of mud and locust bean juice, was a protection for the house from the effects of atmospheric elements.

To increase durability and waterproof quality, the plaster is mixed with any of the following:
Goat hair;
Animal fat from soaked hide;
Gum from soaked powdered wild root;
Acacia gum, which is applied right after plastering the wall;
Gravel, pressed into the plaster, after which the entire matrix is rubbed with layers of locust bean juice and acacia gum.

Other substances utilised for building included stones, timber, grass, and reeds.

The roof was of pitched or flat thatch, and for larger, more significant buildings, of mud, flat or dome-shaped.

Fences were of matting of wood materials or of mud.

Walls, in particular of prominent buildings, were embellished in the pattern of Islamic calligraphy and geometric forms.

Later, cement or paint became the substance for such decorations.

The styles of roof thatching were an elaborate interweaving of palm stalks on the building to act as a firm support for the roof. The palm fronds were each matted individually. The matted leaves were laid side by side and woven to the adjacent matted frond. The entire structure was carefully placed on the roof.

Walls were decorated with spiral designs reminiscent of the cowry and snails.

Located at the back of the house by the kitchen was the food barn of yam tubers.

Often, homes were surrounded by a wall.

The open-air bathroom was at the secluded corner of the house, away from sight.

For bowel movements, there was a clean toilet hut within a brief walking distance from the home.

The toilet was a lid-covered pit. Sometimes, a plank was placed across the top of the pit, for feet stabilisation.

There was a waste-paper basket by the corner.

Traditional religion was significant in the architectural framework of Igboland. Ala, the Earth Goddess, was pivotal in the psychology of her worshippers, for She endeared her people to earth.

Long after aluminium sheets and moulded cement sandcrete became widely available, faithfuls adhered to construction of private homes with earth ~mud. Even shrines were built in mud, with metal roofing.

The shrine was the undisputed gravitational force for inhabitants.

As each community was decentralised, there was no palace in much of Igboland. The individual was own King.

Test Against The Elements
Any structure was subject to atmospheric friction and corrosion from contact with living organisms.

Construction, thus, was designed to withstand wind, rain, hurricane, flood, and high temperatures.

Farm animals rested on and scratched walls, putting pressure on the walls.

To be rid of dermatological discomfort and parasites, the animal rubbed the affected part of the skin against the wall.

These behaviours caused an erosion of the wall surface and eventually a dent.

The thatched roof kept out rainwater and sunrays. The mud walls kept in the coolness, well appreciated in the extreme temperatures and humidity of Nigeria.

In several communities across the Nation, women were significant in maintaining the structure of the home. The woman routinely replastered and redecorated the mud walls to maintain the longevity of the smooth texture of the fabric.

Soil moisture compromised the aesthetics and life-span of the structure.

The Palaces of Monarchs and persons of influence and traditional worship centres were built for posterity. Private residences of other citizens were erected to be regularly maintained by the owner.

Construction materials readily available included wood, mud, clay, palm leaves, and sometimes, metal sheets.

Structures only when not carefully built and preserved did succumb to the weather.

To design durable homes, our people employed the best technology.

The town was planned with a market and a town centre, a gathering point for social festivals, news dissemination and worship.

City-states were fortified with stone and brick-reinforced mud walls, gated at several points.

Architectural design of the town was largely rectilinear. Each compound was aligned on the street to allow free movement of persons, animals, goods and rain water. Demands on space led to a clustering of houses.

A fresh water spring was always within easy reach of the household.

1. Resources were so scarce such that despite employing multiple varied keywords, this author still was unable to pinpoint precise research materials for certain ethnicities and regions.
2. Because of [1.], this author searched the website linked to each image to ensure accuracy and relevance.
In many cases, there was no indication on the web link of the location identity the photograph represents.
In such situations, the said photograph was not used in this treatise.
3. In the course of this research, the author was careful to ensure the ethnic building fashion reflects that of the particular ethnicity in Nigeria and not of the same ethnicity in an adjacent country.
4. Granted, this piece of work concentrates on early architecture in Nigeria.
To whet the reader’s appetite for traditional building styles, included are a couple of photographs of exceptional designs erected in neighbouring nations.
5. Spatial proximity and similarity in language and origin influenced this author’s decision to aggregate ethnicities.
Of course, all the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria are not mentioned, because of practicability.
Pardon is sought from omitted ethnicities.

The one and only,
Umm Sulaim
Publisher: Umm Sulaim’s Thoughts
Saturday 2016 August 13

1. About Edo State
2. Africa Update Current Issue – Building Terraces in Agriculture: A Feature of Yil Ngas before the 20th century; author – Samuel Barde Gwimbe College of Education, Gindiri, Nigeria
3. Africa Update Current Issue – Pre-colonial Terraces on Highland Fringes south of the Chad Basin: A Comparative Survey of Gwoza and Yil Ngas; author – Samuel Gwimbe
4. Classification Of Nigerian Architecture; author – Bogda Prucnal-Ogunsote
5. Cultural Issues in Architecture – Case Study of Esan in Edo State – Nigeria; author – J.E. Ahianba
6. Colonial Relics In Lokoja; author – Isiaka Wakili
7. Ebira Youth Forum Association (E.Y.F.A); author – Matthew Adeiza David
8. Esan people – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
9. Ibibio | people |
10. Igala Association Usa – History of Igala Kingdom
11. Igbo Architecture – Ulo Ome N’Igbo – Culture – Nigeria
12. Interesting Facts About The Esan People Of Edo State – Culture – Nigeria
13. Kogi State History, Attractions, Hotels, Tourist & Travel Information | Nigeria travel info, tourism and attractions
14. Nigerian Traditional Architecture –
15. Nupe Facts, Information, Pictures; author – Aribidesi Usman | articles about Nupe
16. Okene LGA | Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman
17. Saro (Nigeria) – Wikipedia
18. The Effect of Modern Techonology on Traditonal Architectural Expression: Case of Old Calabar Architecture; author – Anthony Adomi Mbina, Ephraim E Edem, & Nnah Udosen Otto, – Global Journal of Science Frontier Research: H Environment & Earth Science Volume 15 Issue 2 Version 1.0 Year 2015
19. The Influence Of Rainfall On Hausa Traditional Architecture; author – Anselm E.O. Eneh and Ojonigu Friday Ati – Research Journal Of Applied Sciences, Engineering And Technology
20. Transformation Of Vernacular Housing Pattern In Periurban Abuja-Nigeria Due To Informal Urbanism, 1976-2006; author – Moukhtar M. Mai
21. War And Peace: A Focus On Traditional Igbo Architecture – Open Eye |

Some of the cities, towns or centres represented, if not same as name of ethnicity, are as follows:-
Ethnicity – Centre | State:
1. Bini – Benin | Edo;
2. Ebira – Okene | Kogi;
3. Efik – Calabar | Cross River;
4. Gwari – Kaduna | Kaduna; Abuja | Federal Capital Territory ~FCT;
5. Hausa-Fulani – Kano | Kano; Sokoto | Sokoto;
6. Ibibio – Uyo | Akwa Ibom;
7. Idoma – Otukpo | Benue;
8. Igala – Lokoja | Kogi;
9. Igbo – Aba | Abia, Enugu | Enugu; Okigwe | Imo;
10. Itsekiri – Warri | Delta;
11. Kanuri – Maiduguri | Borno;
12. Ngas – Jos | Plateau;
13. Nupe – Bida | Niger;
14. Tiv – Gboko | Benue;
15. Urhobo – Sapele | Delta;
16. Yoruba – Ibadan | Oyo; Lagos | Lagos

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3 comments on “ATTITUDE | Early Nigerian Architecture – Sustainable And Purposeful

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