The First And Oldest Museum In Nigeria-Esie Museum

Esiẹ Museum is a museum in Esiẹ, Kwara State, Nigeria. The museum was the first to be established in Nigeria when it opened in 1945. The museum once housed over one thousand tombstone figures or images representing human beings. It is reputed to have the largest collection of soapstone images in the world. In modern times the Esie museum has been the center of religious activities and hosts a festival in the month of April every year.

Ere Esie has long been known and associated with the people of Esie. Indeed, it has become a referent in the cosmology and socio-cultural spectrum of the people. However, the origin of these stone figures has long been a subject of social and academic discourse. In some quarters, it is believed that the images were formally human beings turned to stone by Supreme Being (Olodumare), while researchers and Archaeological findings prove that they were carved by some yet to be identified carvers. In fact, the objects are shrouded in great mysteries, myths and taboos.

It is widely believed that Esie people migrated from old Oyo in the years of Alafin Amuniwaye (late 18th Century). An Oyo prince, Adesole had contested the throne with Amuniwaye and lost. Consequently, he had to leave the Oyo town as tradition forbade him to stay after losing the contest. These Oyo emigrants, having wondered and settled at different places finally came to their present abode around 1775. It is also believed that a famous hunter, Baragbon who took the mantle of leadership led the people to Esie. It is equally believed that it was Baragbon, during one of his hunting expeditions that he accidentally discovered the stone images in a grove arranged in a semi-circle.

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This grove is located about 1.4 kilometres south west of Esie Township. The images consist of over one thousand stone carvings of men and women presided over by a king (Oba Ere), the largest collection of stone images in sub-Sahara Africa. Majority of the objects are carved in sitting position and were manufactured from satiate type of rock, otherwise known as soapstone. Features like facial marks and striations are seen on majority of the objects while some of the heads are plain-faced.

The sculptures range in height from 1.4 to 120 cm and weight between 0.55 and 104 kilograms. The carvings represent people engaged in different social activities: some playing musical instruments and many armed with arrows, machetes and unidentified objects. Few objects represent lower social status while majority of the objects depicts higher social status as attested by their rich attires, heavy beads and well-designed head gears. The artistry of the objects suggests that the objects were produced by highly developed African Society of the past.

These impressive artistic features of the object prompted the then colonial government of Nigeria to build a shelter to house the images in 1945 at the site of discovery (National Museum, Esie).

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