…Where art meets commerce
With archaeological sites and bronze artifacts dating as far back as the 9th Century AD and a National Museum, Igbo-Ukwu, a town in Anambra State is indeed a refuge of sorts for art lovers. Interestingly, Igbo-Ukwu is also a big center of trade
Igbo-Ukwu, an important town in Anambra State is fast becoming Nigeria’s city of art and culture. With archaeological sites and bronze artifacts dating as far back as the 9th Century AD and a National Museum, this town is indeed a refuge for art lovers. But not many people know that the community also hosts the Igbo-Ukwu Museum, a facility under the administration of Anambra State Ministry of Youths, Sports and Culture, and a couple of other privately-owned galleries and art workshops. And the town continues to provide inspiration, job opportunities, and livelihoods for businessmen and women, artists, apprentices, and other categories of people in the world of art and craft. In fact, this is an art town, no doubt.
However, Igbo-Ukwu is equally a big center of trade. At face value, commerce in the town appears like a junior partner overshadowed by art because of the town’s history and heritage. But the interchange of goods on a very large scale among people from different parts of Nigeria and even beyond makes Igbo-Ukwu a central trading point. So, every four days, the town bubbles with commercial activities in a big way. But this market town is viable for many reasons. It is not a secret that maintaining the vitality and viability of Nkwo Igbo-Ukwu has everything to do with geography. The location or centrality factor remains the town’s biggest advantage. That is also why it is clearly the major market in the entire Anambra South. Here, every street is a market
Adichie Okeke is a son of the soil. He is also the Commander-General of Anambra Vigilance Group, Igbo-Ukwu Zone. “Our town is a marketplace”, he insists. “People come from Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, Owerri, Aba, Osogbo, other parts of Nigeria and West Africa to buy and sell. Our market is unique because some of the things sold here are not easily available in other markets. For instance, (Uda) a seasoning used in preparing white soup especially for nursing mothers, is commonly found here. There are also hundreds of Bitter Kola trees here. People come from as far as Mali, Cote d’Iviore, Ghana, Senegal, and other parts of Africa for our special fruits and amazing flavors. We also have in abundance, Oil Bean Seeds, Breadfruit, Cocoa Yam, seasonings of different kinds, and a variety of beans known locally as Akede. Igbo-Ukwu has a big palm oil market that depends heavily on the town’s healthy palm trees. We also have abundant palm kernel and kernel oil. That is why major soap and pharmaceutical companies come here for their raw materials. These and more are the major attractions. So, people wait anxiously to come here every four days to buy and sell”.
Joe Okafor, a lawyer from Nnobi, a neighboring community provides another view. He reveals that among the Igbo, Igbo-Ukwu is widely believed to be one of the ancestors to the present Igbo. “Igbo-Ukwu, with its seven villages is also a town steeped in culture, art, and commerce. Historians have greatly studied the ancient metal-work art of the natives in copper, bronze, and their alloys. Their clay work also elicits interest from archeologists all over the world.
In trade, Igbo-Ukwu is a sort of business hub given its central location in Anambra State. It is a usual sight on every market day to see heavy-duty trucks and trailers offloading and loading up on assorted merchandise from and to different destinations in Nigeria. The visible presence of commercial banks, hotels and event centers, commercial tenements, sundry service providers, hospitals and mortuaries, schools, and so on, attest to the concentrated business life of the town. In fact, the frenzy of commerce in Igbo-Ukwu bears eloquent testimony to its name which means Great Igbo”.
Apart from the buying and selling of goods in Igbo-Ukwu, the town is also a notable reference point for unusual goods. This is the point Alfred Nnamdi Ozugha, a businessman and an indigene of Anambra State espouses. “Igbo-Ukwu is well-known as a commercial town in Anambra State. What many people may not be aware of is its importance as a town where almost everything from agricultural products to articles of trade is easily obtained. There are times you will be directed specifically to go to Igbo-Ukwu to buy something that may not be readily available in other towns and markets. They are specialists in food items as well and well known for their affordable prices. This is why many traders depend on their market for bulk purchases”.
But there is also something mysterious and bizarre about Nkwo Igbo-Ukwu and other adjoining markets in the town. According to Okeke who is also a sculptor and businessman, people start trading in the markets from as early as 3.00 am. This trading activity will continue until dawn and even to dusk. This is one of the secrets of the market’s energy and relevance as an appealing destination for buyers and sellers.
But there are also other beautiful scenery and sounds that cannot escape a newcomer. Any first-time visitor to the market will naturally be thrilled by the methodical arrangement of the stalls and items on display. In fact, every item has its section in the expanse market. For instance, there is a local dog section where dogs that are essentially for consumption are exhibited for would-be buyers. This is a major spot for lovers of dog meat and traders who come with lorries from different Nigerian states and cities. There are also many other things of interest in this famous market.
Indeed, Igbo-Ukwu is an interesting phenomenon with open arms waiting for visitors.