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A trip to Lejja — a special place

June 30, 2010

From Liz Bird:

A highlight of our trip to UNN was an opportunity to leave the urban environment and travel to Lejja, a rural community not far from Nsukka. Our new friend and colleague, archaeologist Dr. Pamela Ifeoma Eze-Uzomaka, invited us to visit a site where she has worked for several years, exploring the history of ancient iron smelters.

We arrive in the Lejja area

As Pamela explained, people as long as 4,000 years ago (established through carbon-14 dating) built complex stone furnaces, in which they processed ore into usable iron for faming implements, household objects, and ceremonial goods.  The same site has been used for centuries, with layers of habitation one upon the other.

Iron smelting seems to have finished some centuries ago, but the people have retained the memory and the physical remains of the ancient industry. A great deal of ore is needed to produce small amounts of iron, and the process generated quantities of spoil, or slag as it is known here. All across the area, chunks of slag (rounded by the furnaces) have been arranged into gathering places, ceremonial areas, and buildings.

The village of Otobo Dunoka, showing the ceremonial area made from iron ore slag, the conical sacred shrine, and the spirit house.

We visited the village of Otobo Dunoka, guided by Pamela and her sociologist colleague Dr. Chukwuma Opata, who was raised in the area and has conducted extensive oral history and ethnography there. With permission from villagers,  we explored the ceremonial plaza, with its conical shrine and masquerade house, from which masked “spirits” emerge on special festival days. In fact, as we walked past one spirit house, loud shouting was directed at us from inside – we learned from Dr. Opata that the spirits were expected to make an appearance very soon!  

A small effigy in a spirit house in Lejja, where villagers make offerings on special occasions.Villagers gathered under a large tree, which our hosts called the “lynching tree,”  where in former days wrongdoers were executed. Later, we were shown shrines where small wooden effigies are kept, and where people make offerings on important occasions.  It’s clear that spiritual practices here are a melding of traditional customs and imported Christianity, as in many post-colonial situations.

Before we left, the oldest man in the village performed a traditional kola-nut ceremony, performed at many occasions across Igbo-land. He told us that the nut broke in five pieces, which was a good omen!

Villagers gather under the tree where wrong-doers once were executed

The visit to Lejja has been the first chance to see rural Nigeria, where agriculture is the dominant subsistence , with farmers growing corn, beans, cassava, and many other crops.  It was something we could never have done without the gracious guidance of our UNN colleagues, and we felt honored.
13 Comments leave one →
  1. Ejike Obute permalink
    November 1, 2011 11:14 pm

    Interesting article. I come from Lejja & have always wondered how those slags came about. It beggars belief that the town was smelting iron thousands of years ago but still remain mirred in poverty. How can this discovery help improve the living standard of the people of this town?

  2. Eartrick Ekene permalink
    November 3, 2011 11:57 am

    i am from lejja awell, my family house is just few meters away from the village square where we have the stones. this is the fisrt formal story that i have read about those stones, but the story doesn’t look quite convincing considering the present statues of the village. however my question is; do the stones have any economic or useful benefit besides the current tivial uses: sitting, sacrifices and other fetish uses. including the one at the middle which they said is meant for only the eldest besides which any other person that sits on it will die?

  3. Ugwuta nwalolo jude permalink
    February 1, 2012 5:32 am

    Those stones have been there for years. My questing is, can these stones be of any importance economically or otherwise or is it just for mere fancy.

  4. nnaemeka ode permalink
    February 27, 2012 9:01 am

    please where did u see that spriritual statue that u post here am 4rm dunoka lejja but i have never see dat since i was born

  5. Moses Ezea permalink
    February 28, 2012 5:15 pm

    The story and information given on this site is scanty. l believe that d trip is too brief and there was no mention of other villages dat make up the rural town of lejja. E qually d research was not thorough as there was no detail information at all.Pls Dr Pamella, go back and finish d business.

  6. March 28, 2012 10:04 am

    Dr. Eze, thanks for all the troubles you passed through to assemble your facts. For all intents and purposes, what value should the people of Lejja expect from your study? I believe, and so do others too, that studies of this nature are undertaken to better the lots of mankind. Are we expecting tangible benefits from this or was your study just to fulfil all righteousness? The people of Lejja deserve to be lifted from their present backwardness to dazzling light and prosperity. We are, indeed tired of these archeological studies that have not in any way taken us to the next level.

    • Uche Ngonadi permalink
      January 21, 2015 11:44 am

      Dear Johnson, where have you as an indigene of Lejja taken your community to in the aspect of ‘lifting it from its present backwardness to dazzling light and prosperity’? If I may emphasize, the purpose of archaeological studies is to reconstruct the past through material remains that can be found in the present, that is why we study the SLAG not stones found in Otobo Dunoka which is an evidence of iron smelting. It may interest you to know that through archaeological findings, metallurgical relics from Lejja has been dated to 4005+/- BP. This makes it one of the earliest iron smelting site in West Africa. So you should be indebted to Dr. Eze-Uzomaka for her effort in rewriting the history of your village that you have not contributed anything to. The work of archaeology is not to revive your village economically, that is “your job”, because a man who does not know his past does not have a future. So put square pegs in square holes. Thank you.

  7. Chinedu ezike permalink
    October 23, 2012 7:38 pm

    Dear pamela, you tried by telling me somethings I have not known about Lejja my home town. Thank you but the problem lies on how this your work will turn to a blessing to my people. Are you trying to say that there are deposits of iron ore in Lejja? Again, I believe that this work, if well done, should have been sent to federal ministry of culture and tourism to make Lejja one of d tourist site in Nigeria. Dear researcher, I believe you should go back to the site and tell us more about your findings. Thanks

  8. April 15, 2013 4:41 pm

    Your article and the effigy as painted are true but a lot more are left undisclosed. If only you will make a repeat of your visit when you can still find aged elites. As the early settler in Nsukka we have a lot of uncommon history that if properly harness would attract the interest of the government. It is just unfortunate that many have not taking cognizance of the beauty of Ugwu –esha as it is popularly called and the serenity of Adada river to make a good tourism reference for Enugu state. A lot more Dr.

  9. Ozor, Ikenna permalink
    October 7, 2013 6:23 pm

    Their Dr. Pamella, kudos for ur visit and wonderful research you conducted @ Lejja and I pray that the Lord will use you to speak to our govt so that they can invest in such as it can provide a good number of job opportunity not only to the pple of the town but many Nigerians in general.

  10. NWA AGBAJA permalink
    October 17, 2014 3:13 pm

    According to Profesor Acholonu through archeological evidences in Lejja, Lejja stands out as one of the oldest iron smelters & smiths in the world, but ignorantly majority of Lejja indigenes did not know their glorious past. Thanks to Acholonu and thanks to Lejja ancestors that had this glorious technology and civilization. This is a task for Lejja people to preserve thier valueable heritage.

  11. Nweze obinna permalink
    November 22, 2014 5:49 am

    Hmmmmm all this acolades are to lejja and a good number of lejjarians are no where to be found!plz if all this articles are something to write home about our elites have to re-double thier effort to attaining a stable standard in this village taken into cognisanze that we have a long outstanding history to the world as a whole…..thanks mr pamella for ur articulation

  12. July 17, 2017 7:29 pm

    Didn’t know the forum rules allowed such brnillait posts.

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