This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Calabar...the Tourist Hub of Nigeria

Cross River has a lot to offer to keep its tourists occupied. Funke Olaode discovered some of its historical destinations and her rich history on her two-day tour of the ancient city of Calabar recently

The ancient city of Calabar has often been described as one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. This is not an overstatement. Drive through the Old Calabar and see the coastal stretch of the once bustling Marina, the European Cemetery, historical landmarks: the conquerors flag at the millennium park, the residency museum, Slave History Museum and Mary Slessor statue on Mary Slessor Avenue.

Truly, there is something exciting about the ancient city. The climate and atmosphere will make visitors feel this is home.

The Millennium Park...

Welcoming this reporter to Calabar was Williams Bassey, official tour guide for Cross River State Tourism Development Board. The tour began at National Park also known as Millennium Park which is also referred to as 11/11. The name 11/11 came to being because on 11/11/1945 the Second World War ended. The cenotaph at the park is put in place to commemorate the fallen heroes of First World War of 1914 to 1918 and second world war of 1939 to 1945. Here, names of Nigerians from all regions of the country who enlisted and sacrificed their lives in the First and Second World War were bodily written.

In the year 2000, the name was changed to Millennium Park. At the foot of the cenotaph are the two machine guns used during the Second World War. This is also significant because it is where the Carnival Calabar kicks off every December.

From this spot, THISDAY was taken to another breathtaking historical place, which has 450 years of uninterrupted history with Europeans. One hundred names of those who were significant in the evolution of Cross River State politically and economically were honoured. Among these great men were the famous Eyo Honesty who was very prominent during the Calabar slave trading era, Hogan "kid" Bassey who was made the chief in 1957, Rev. Hope Waddell, the Jamaican Missionary who established Hope Waddell Institute in 1895.

There was also Afi Ekong and Benjamin Adekunle who was in Calabar in 1967. And because of him, many Calabarians were able to see the first helicopter in Calabar because Benjamin Adekunle came in helicopter. The Biafria occupied Calabar in 1967 and with the help of Benjamin Adekunle; Calabar was liberated in that year.

There is also Senator Victor Akan; Okon Arikpo who was Federal Minister of Finance during Gen. Gowon administration, Dr. Samuel Efem Imoke, the father of the incumbent governor of Cross River State, Governor Liyel Imoke, and General Yakubu Gowon also played a key role in the development of Calabar.

Louis Edet, the first inspector general of police, Chief Margaret Ekpo, one of the women who accompanied Azikwe and Awolowo to London to sign Nigeria's Independence document and Mary Michelle Slessor. The significant thing about Slessor is that she was on the Scottish 10 pounds note with the old Calabar map in the background of that note in Scotland. Joseph Wayas was the first Senate president of Nigeria. These names were chosen because they have identified themselves with Cross River.

The largest map in Nigeria...

The crew also moved to the foot of the largest map in Nigeria. What informed this decision according to Bassey is a way of creating a legacy of Calabar being the first administrative seat of Southern Protectorate. So it is important to leave a legacy to remind visitors and Calabarians that Calabar was actually the seat of government before Lagos. The seat of government according to Bassey was moved from Calabar to Lagos in 1903 when the Calabar Chiefs refused to sign a document for Calabar to become a colony which was gladly signed by King Dosunmu of Lagos. These are some of the legacies past and previous governments have tried to preserve that the seat of government was once in Calabar.

Lord Luggard House...

The Official Residence Area of Lord Luggard where he stayed to administer the Southern Protectorate is still a sight to behold after over 100 years of its existence. This building originally known as government house was prefabricated in Britain in 1884 and erected in old Calabar to accommodate the early British administration of the Niger Coast territory.

And after 1914, it became the official residence of the Old Calabar province and served as ministerial guest house in the 50s. And after the Nigerian civil war, it accommodated offices of the New South Eastern State of Nigeria. The building and its compound was declared a national monument No. 20 in1959 and was renovated by the National Commission for Museum and Monument in 1986.

Calabar has a date with history...

During the era of the Atlantic slave trade Calabar was a major port involved in the transportation of African slaves. The metal plaque at the foot of the largest map has the history from the 13th century to year 2000. This is the evidence that for 450 years, Calabar has had uninterrupted relationship with Europe both in administration and technology.

"We had documented information from 1400 till date as every 100 years of Calabar history is represented here at the foot of the largest map. What is today known as old Calabar was habited by an ethnic community called Ffik Burutu, which migrated from the Middle East through Aruchukwu. And part of Efik Burutu who are back in Aruchukwu still pay homage to Obong of Calabar till today," said Bassey.

It is also important to know that because of Calabar's affiliation with Europeans, an important traditional institution such as coronation of Obong of Calabar has never been complete without the Queen of England sending some representatives to be part of such coronation. That is how Calabar continue to relate with Europe. On the metal are some of Calabar traditional institutions and belief systems. Of significant note are the celebrations of marriage of a virgin, age grade, and New Yam festival. Calabar is one of the very few traditional institutions where if a young lady is getting prepared into marriage, she is confined in an institutional marriage setting where she is tutored on how to take care of her home. "When they tell you that the Calabar ladies are special, it is not magical it is because they are given instruction on how to take care of their homes.

Slave History Museum...

Another moving experience in Calabar was the Slave History Museum situated at Marina resorts in Calabar. Here, this reporter was taken round the dark enclave that served as hub of slave transaction that began in 1441. Here, most of the ships that transported slaves from Calabar were British, over 85 percent of these ships belonged to Bristol and Liverpool-based slave merchant. Old Calabar, formerly Duke Town, and creek towns were key hubs in the slave trade from the 16th to 19 centuries.

In this Museum is an artistic impression of how slaves were sold and taken from African coastal areas to the new world. Both males and females were sold to the highest bidder for 10 pounds. According to the tour guide "The slaves were lined in a ship with their heads opposite each other to avoid conspiracy against the slave masters." In the new world, they were made to work in different types of plantation farms such as tobacco, sugar cane and cotton.

"Those slaves that found themselves in the sugarcane plantations and worked from 6am to 6pm had their mouths padlocked so they would not have a taste of sugarcane throughout their lives. They were given food once in a while. However, those working in the cotton farm were well fed, given cloth to wear. Their legs were also chained so that they wouldn't be able to run away. According to history, the journey lasted to up to nine or 10 months depending on where they were taken to. Some of them died on the way while some were thrown in the high sea."

On top of the artistic ship were ginger, palm oil, gun powder and pepper. These ingredients were sold along with the slaves as compensations for slaves who might die on the way.

The exchange room...

Here, the medium of exchange for money in those days brought by the slave masters were wooden mirror, cowries and gin bottles. These were given in exchange for humans.

There was a warehouse where slaves were kept for the slave masters who came and examined their bodies before taking to the auction market for the highest bidder. Here is a point of no return. To add to their pains, hot iron was used as marks on their backs for identification in the new world where they were no longer addressed as slaves but 'Negro'. It is estimated that 15 percent of the total of over 10 million Africans traded as slaves came through the port of Calabar.

History recorded that these slaves did not emerge from Nigeria alone as it involved other countries: Liberia, Mozambique, Serial Leone and Angola. In the Museum was a portrait of a lady, Harriet Tubman called the 'Black Moses' who hailed from Serria Leone that helped slaves to escape to Canada.

Abolition of slave trade...

But reprieve came between 1759 and 1833 when William Wilberforce prevented further importation of slaves in Western India. Granville Sharp went to the British Court in 1772 and declared that no slaves would exist in England and freed over 15,000 slaves before he died. Thomas Clarkson, a clergy gathered the fact to show how many slaves had died before slave trade ended. Lord Mansfield, a barrister moved the motion for the abolition of slave trade.

. Slavery was officially abolished on May 1, 1807 by King of England and that is why May 1st was declared as Worker's Day. England was the first country to abolish slave trade, followed by Abraham Lincoln of America in 1865 and Brazil in 1888. Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, was a slave who came to Nigeria and became the first Anglican Bishop that translated English Bible to Yoruba. Slaves were later liberated back into their various countries.

19th century and expansion of missionary activities in Old Calabar

The 19th century saw the expansion of missionary activities in old Calabar. The famous Ekpe institution was used as traditional policies: the dos and don'ts of the people. 1851 to 1899 saw the arrival and expansion of trading companies, the United African Company (UAC), the Royal Niger Company among others. Actually, 1876 saw the arrival of the Scottish missionary, Mary Slessor who died in 1915. By 1862, the first publication and translation of the New Testament Bible in Efik was done by Rev. Hugh Goldie who had one of the streets named after him and was awarded a doctorate degree. By 1868, translation and publication of the Old Testament Bible in Efik was done by Rev. Alexander Robe.

Old Calabar changed to Calabar in 1904...

Between1900 and 1950 there were major activities such as the establishment and consolidation of British colonial administration in Old Calabar as well as the expansion of educational and religious institution by the missionaries. The game of football was introduced in Hope Waddell Institute in 1902 by Rev. James Luke. And by 1903, the first Roman Catholic Mass was held in old Calabar. By 1904, the name Old Calabar was changed to Calabar by Sir Walter Egeton. 1908 saw the beginning of the British occupation in Nyala in the Northern Cross River State.

"We have been struggling with electricity in Nigeria for some time now; it would be interesting that by 1940, introduction of electricity in Hope Wadell Training Institution and part of Calabar was put in place. In 1949, Obudu Cattle Ranch which has now become a famous resort for all Nigerians was founded," recalled Bassey.

Queen Elizabeth II visited Calabar in 1956 and laid a wreath on the grave of Mary Slessor. She was initially buried in Itum in the present Akwa Ibom State but it was generally agreed that she should be exhumed and re- buried in Calabar. So her actual grave is now sited in Calabar. In 1957, Hoggan Kid Bassey won the World Feather Weight Title by beating a Briton which was a big plus for Nigeria.

In 1999, there was an important landmark event when some games of the FIFA under 17 World Cup was held in Calabar and the official commencement of the Calabar Christmas festival as part of the tourism drive of the state.

Calabar now...

Year 2000 was also significant as Cross Rivers State government was able to sustain the urban renewal in Calabar. Officially, Ikom, Ogoja and Obudu were made semi-urban areas. There were also developments of various tourists' sites in Calabar such as Ikom, Obudu, Abi, and Akangba amongst others. In 2005, the first Obudu Ranch International Mountain Race started.

This year, Cross River held the 8th edition and it has become the largest mountain race in the world. And because of her consistency in Mountain Race, Cross Rivers State was able to win the 2014 world bid. All the mountain race runners from over 50 countries would converge on Calabar in 2014. It is a big plus for the tourism drive of the state. "The reason for coming up with the mountain race is to market and advertise the potential of Calabar. Today, it has paid off."

Let the Carnival begin...

From 1960s, 70s and 80s, there was a zoo in a place now called the Calabar Garden on Mary Slessor Avenue. The 30 days of Calabar Festival is a period of economic activity for everybody in Calabar. At the background of the adjudication points that visitors have the view of the five official bands performance and get the experience of the carnival. The clean MCC Road is where all major hotels are.

On Mobil Road is where you have the largest adjudication point where massive stands are erected. It is the last route before the last one at the stadium. The Carnival Route of 12 kilometers kicks off at 12 noon and ends at the stadium at 2am the following day.

The official name of the carnival bands are: The Seagull Band, Masta Blasta, Passion 4, Bayside Band and the Freedom Band. Apart from the competing bands, there are non-competing bands. Calabar Urban Development Authority (CUDA) also plays a major role. The band is saddled with sole responsibility to clean up the garbage on the road.

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