History in Asaba, a City With Unending Allure

Delta State shows peaceful surroundings for tourism to blossom notwithstanding eco-system challenges. Omolola Itayemi on a revisit to Asaba and a precinct discovers several tourists' delights in state and their unending allure

My initial pier of call was Mungo Park House, a renowned colonial vestige of pre-fabricated wooden building that now serves as a National museum, Asaba. According to Victor Akugbe, "Mungo Park never got here; it was only named after him. It was erected by Royal Niger Company as an initial supervision chateau in Nigeria in 1886." The date the building was erected is still rough; its history has not been scrupulously documented. Nonetheless, it doesn't take a gleam off this building of high chronological value with an impressive museum that tells a story of its own.

Some part of the building is solemnly dilapidating due to weather corrosion. Nonetheless, Akugbue assures that the museum is soliciting supports from both state supervision and sovereign government.

From commerce to religion, Delta is high in story transcending pre-colonial times to post-slave epoch and with monuments, museums and birthright sites to uncover for it. Asaba for many tourists, hosts warm memories. For many fun seekers looking perhaps for peace and serenity from the daily hassles of life, this glamorous capital of Delta State may perhaps offer the best deal. In terms of historical monuments however, it is held in high esteem by both local and foreign visitors. It is historically recorded that Asaba was one of the best points of call for the foreign invaders that eventually colonised Nigeria. Till date, it still hosts many of the remarkable impressions of the sojourn of the British into the heartland of Africa in search of raw human and material resources to power their growing civilisation.

A tourist to the 'Big Heart' may settle for a short visit to the gangling edifice called the Mungo Park House reputed to be named after the enigmatic explorer who deployed all his resources to finding the mouth of the River Niger. Reflection on life could also be done at any one of the numerous destinations Delta State offers such as the mammoth River Niger Bridge; Falcorp Mangrove Park; the Turf, Abraka; Ethiope River Source, Umuaja; Warri Kingdom Royal Cemetery and the ageless Chief Nana Palace Living History Museum.

Next was the Landers Brothers Anchorage and Monument sites including the Expatriate Burial Ground which have become Mecca of sorts. It offers a glimpse into the pre-colonial era and the concerted efforts of the British to open up Africa via the Niger River in order to facilitate trade along the unending borders.

The anchorage overlooks the massive Niger River. From the low fence surrounding the museum, one can have an awesome and unrestricted view of the slowly moving waters and also the magnificent bridge built across it. In the forecourt of the building is the final resting place of many missionaries that came along immediately after the sordid reign of slave trade. It is amazingly in top condition.

The missionaries six feet below these grounds unlike the Lander Brothers who were adventurous freaks, came with messages of eternal salvation for the black race and made efforts to educate the natives in Western culture. They were successful to a large extent in their mission but many of them succumbed finally to the cold hands of death through debilitating illnesses their bodies were ill equipped to handle. Today, their burial site is visited by many across the globe in an effort to pay last respects to these messengers of peace. Buried here also is the former Governor of Asaba Prison, Reginald Eric Duncan Campbell, aged 42. He was the son of the Queen Victoria's Sergeant -at -Arms Sir Alexander Campbell. Alongside his grave are those of 16 others who played different roles in the controversial interactions between two opposing cultures.

Life and Times of Lander Brothers...

Richard Lander has a prominent place in the nation's pre-colonial history aptly immortalised by the monument built in his remembrance in this ancient town. He was the son of a Truro inn keeper. Online records have it that Lander's explorations began as an assistant to the Scottish explorer Hugh Clapperton initially on an expedition to Western Africa in 1825. Clapperton later died in April 1827 near Sokoto, leaving Lander as the only surviving European member of the expedition. He proceeded southeast before returning to Britain in July 1828. He later returned to West Africa in 1830, accompanied by his younger brother, John.

They landed at Badagri on 22 March, 1830 and followed the lower River Niger from Bussa to the sea. After exploring about 160 kilometres of the River Niger upstream, they returned to explore the River Benue and Niger Delta. They travelled back to Britain in 1831.

However, the expedition encountered difficulties. Many personnel died from fever and it failed to reach Bussa. While journeying upstream in a canoe, Lander was attacked by African tribesmen and wounded by a musket ball in his thigh. He managed to return to the coast, but died there from his injuries. In Truro, a monument to his memory by Cornish sculptor Neville Northey Burnard stands at the top of Lemon Street and one of the local secondary schools is named in his honour.

In 1832, he became the first winner of the Royal Geographical Society Founder's Medal, "for important services in determining the course and termination of the Niger". To mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Richard Lander and celebrate the Lander brothers' remarkable achievements, an 'Expedition of Goodwill' was sent in November 2004 to retrace their historic river journey.
Following the positive relationship developed with the Emir of Bussa during the recce, starting at New Bussa in the north of Nigeria, the team traversed nearly 500 miles of the river using canoes and local boats, to terminate at Asaba in the south of the country.

Honouring Landers memory...

According to tourism sources, the anchorage was commissioned in 2002 and was essentially built in memory of the Lander Brothers - Richard and John. The complex has a rich museum, which houses, among others, the boat that was used by the two brothers', artworks and writings detailing their numerous exploits in Africa.

There is a belief in certain quarters that the Asaba anchorage is however not the original one but a replica of the actual monument built in their honour. The original one is said to be at Aboh. The present Anchorage has a restaurant which is not in operation at present and also an information centre which visitors are to report to before being allowed access to the burial site and of course the museum which has as one of its best attractions the boat used by the Lander Brothers during their historic voyage.

The anchorage and museum is a behemoth hosting portraits graphically depicting the historic journeys of the explorers up the numerous waterways leading to the massive discovery of the mouth of the River Niger. It also pictorially shows their interaction with the natives- some fruitful, others hostile. Pictures of the Landers' granddaughters who embarked on a trip to find the bodies of their father is also on display. There are also other paintings and works of arts showing the different tribes who lived on both sides of the Niger during the foray of the White man there.

But perhaps what catches the immediate attention of any visitor is the large boat sailed by the brothers when coasting up the river.

The boat which has a large 'don't touch' sign pasted on its body has been refurbished but interestingly still retains visible marks of much use no doubt by the Lander Brothers and their crew. Resting quietly on one of its sides are two oars apparently used to propel this historic craft up the river in an attempt to discover the river's mouth.

On the walls, numerous pictures of the young Landers, their granddaughters, their crew members, native chiefs of the era, the locals and emblems of the pre-colonial era gaze down at visitors each perhaps wordlessly passing across tales and messages of the glorious but tempestuous era in which they existed.

The expatriates burial ground...

It houses about 17 graves. A few are marked with vivid inscriptions still gleaming on perfectly crafted tombstones. These graves have in their depths bodies of men who embarked on missionary trips into the heart of the African continent. Many of the inscriptions however have become sun bleached; so it is difficult to know what they say exactly. Here the serenity of the nearby flowing River Niger which can be seen clearly from the graveyard. It adds in no small measure to the tranquility probably felt by the sojourners resting in eternal bliss.

Many of the sojourners bowed to the grim hands of death through locally contacted diseases such as malaria and diarrhea. A few others probably died of other natural causes but today their efforts in bringing civilisation and renewed relationship between man and his maker depicted by the monuments constructed in their honour.

This prestige is further buoyed by the pleasantly neat and well-kept premises of the graveyard.

On daily basis, the garden is mowed and the flowers pruned says Jibrin who has finally taken over the position of an unsolicited guide. He adds that the management of the site makes the cleanliness of the environment a priority as far as its administration was concerned.

A few of the legible inscriptions on the epitaphs give graphic descriptions of their occupants to prying eyes: Reginald Eric Duncan Campbell, late captain, Royal Irish Fusiliers, governor of Asaba Prison, second son of the late Sir Alexander Campbell of the Barcaldine, Sergeant at Arms to the Queen-Died July 21 1900 Aged 42 years; James Alexander Malcolm, Born 8th September, 1855, died 25th September 1888; Fredrick James Spink, who died at Asaba 2nd January 1894-this monument has been decorated by his friends in Niger...; In loving memory of Haric Simpson, who entered into rest 1896...

"There are 17 graves here and they are all well preserved by us. We always ensure that the surroundings are well kept so that it would attract people rather than do the opposite," said one of the guides I met on ground. In the distance, the waters of the Niger Rivers flow silently almost with a solemn touch as if in wordless salutation to the heroes buried just a stone throw from its banks.

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By 9jatravel / Administrator, bbp_keymaster

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on Sep 14, 2015

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