The largest historical monument in the world
Sungbo’s Eredo is a system of walls and ditches that surrounds the Yoruba town of Ijebu-Ode in Ogun state southwest Nigeria. It is reputed to be the largest single ancient monument in Africa.
Hidden in the Nigerian rainforest, the earthworks at Eredo are just a few hour’s drive from Lagos.
More than 100 miles (160 kilometers) in circumference with some sections having walls which reach 70 feet (20 meters) in height, it encloses an area 25 miles (40 km) north to south and 22 miles (35 km) east to west. The Eredo served a defensive purpose when it was built in 1000 CE, a period of political confrontation and consolidation in the southern Nigerian rain forest. It was likely to have been inspired by the same process that led to the construction of similar walls and ditches throughout western Nigeria, including earthworks around Ile-Ife, Ilesa, and the Benin Iya, a 6,500 kilometer series of connected but separate earthworks in the neighboring Edo-speaking region.
The wall marks out what the believed boundary of the original Ijebu kingdom, ruled by the ‘Awujale’ spiritual leader. The impressive size and complex construction of the Eredo drew worldwide media attention in September of 1999 when Professor Patrick Darling, an archaeologist with the University of Bournemouth, surveyed the site and began publicizing his bid to preserve the Eredo and bring the site some prominence. Previously, the Eredo had been little-known outside of community residents and specialists in Yoruba history. Forty years passed between Professor Peter Lloyd’s [?] publication of his analysis of the site and that of Darling, requiring a complete rethinking of Africa’s past in the West.
Dr Darling, described the Eredo site as a breathtaking find with many of its remains relatively intact, though overgrown by the rainforest. “We are not linking what we found to a city, but to a vast kingdom boundary rampart,” he told the BBC. “The vertical sided ditches go around the area for 100 miles and it is more than 1,000 years old. “That makes it the earliest proof of an kingdom founded in the African rain forest.”
Queen Bilikisu Sungbo
Local legends link the Eredo to a wealthy childless widow named Bilikisu Sungbo. The monument was built as her personal memorial. Sungbo’s Eredo has also been connected with the legend of the Queen of Sheba. In the Old Testament, she is described as having sent a caravan of gold, ivory and other goods from her kingdom to King Solomon [?]. Solomon wooed and married the queen after she became overwhelmed by the splendor of his palace and their son began a dynasty of rulers in Ethiopia. In the Koran she is an Ethiopian sun worshiper named Bilqis involved in the incense trade in Lower Egypt, who converts to Islam.
500-year-old Portuguese documents hint at the power of an Ijebu kingdom and build the case for Sheba being on the other side of the continent. Her actual grave is located in Oke-Eiri, a town in a Muslim area north of the Eredo. Pilgrims of Christian, Muslim and traditional African religions annually trek to the holy site in tribute to her. It is believed that the Eredo was the means to unifying an area of diverse communities into a single kingdom.
Civil wars and the arrival of the British eventually broke the kingdom’s centuries-old Lagos lagoon trade monopoly. But the Awujale of the modern day town of Ijebu-Ode still holds a traditional position of responsibility.
World Heritage Site
Dr Darling, a member of the African Legacy educational organization which is working with the Nigerian Government, said that Eredo could become Nigeria’s first world heritage site, joining monuments like Stonehenge in the UK and the pyramids of Egypt.
He said Eredo had remained hidden to the outside world because of the lack of scientific and archaeological research in west Africa. “What is exciting about this for me is that we are beginning to [acknowledge] the tremendous political and cultural achievements of
black Africa,” he said.