The monoliths are a series of 450 engraved, upright stones scattered around thirty communities in the Ikom area of Cross River State, Nigeria. The stones, considered 1500 years old, vary in height, from one to two meters, and are shaped in the form of a phallus. The Éjághám people of Cross River refer to the stones as Ákúânshì. Ákúânshì means ‘ancestors in the ground’; ákú means ‘ancestors’; kâ means ‘in’ and nshì means ‘ground’.
In each community, the monoliths stand in sometimes-perfect circles, facing each other. They are situated in the centre of the villages or uncultivated forests outside the villages. They are mostly carved out of hard, medium-textured basaltic stone and in some cases out of sandstone or shelly limestone.
These stones harbour prehistoric text and images, which are believed to be forms of writing and visual communication: complex inscriptions and depictions of human features including two eyes, an open mouth, a head crowned with rings, a pointed beard, a navel, two hands with five fingers, and a nose, among others.
In many communities, based on oral traditions, the stones represent diverse meanings. In some places, the stone circles serve as a place of sacrifice and a venue for community meetings. Some view the monoliths as memorials for dead family members or heroes, who have become ancestral spirits. Others dedicate the stones to various gods, to whom they pay obeisance, for example, the god of harvest, the god of fertility and the god of war.
In July 2007, the World Monuments Fund (WMF), a New York-based non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting endangered ancient and historic sites around the world, included the Ikom monoliths in its 2008 World Monuments Watch as one of the endangered sites in the world.
The WMF revealed that “an environmental study of the site has identified the most immediate threats to the stones: erosion, exposure to heavy rainfall and extreme heat and sun, biological attack caused by high humidity, damage from falling trees, theft, and vandalism.”
It also discovered that “in addition to the environmental threats to the monoliths, local agricultural practices such as brush burning also threaten the stones.”
Due to these factors, the monoliths are now estimated to be less than 250, with many now housed in major museums throughout the world.
In October 2007, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), a federal agency of Nigeria responsible for operating several museums and historic sites, submitted the Ikom monoliths for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.
The Ikom monoliths can be found in some areas of Western Cameroon.
Uzoma Ihejirika is a Nigerian creative writer and journalist. He is an editor for the AfroAnthology Series and a copy editor for Minority Africa and has written for Open Country Mag. He has works on Lolwe and Isele Magazine.