The Honourable Minister for Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke, has described Bayelsa State as a place of great interest to all saying that the state is a place of new civilization and the government’s commitment to culture and tourism no doubt makes it the most qualified to have the proposed UNESCO Underwater Research and Imaging Centre.

The minister, who stated this at the Ijaw House, Yenagoa, Bayelsa state, during the African Regional Meeting on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage organized by UNESCO, noted that Bayelsa state is the largest producer of oil in Nigeria, having more land mass covered by water; secondly, her hosting and participation in national and international cultural events, including the National Festival of Arts & Culture (NAFEST 2013) and World Tourism Day 2013, both in the month of September, and her appearing in true Nigerian colours and performances at the Nigeria Cultural Week held at Nanjing, China, in the month of October, reflect the culture-friendly disposition of the state government.

Duke explained that beyond the significant use of water by mankind, water, rivers and lakes play traditional and political roles in the life of Nigerians: traditionally, rivers are used to give permanent demarcation to boundaries between towns and states as well as countries; and politically, some states are named along the line of rivers, like Cross River, Rivers state, Anambra (from Anambra river) Osun and Ogun states (meaning rivers); and above all, the name, Nigeria, was coined from the words, “Niger area,” patterned from River Niger.

According to him, it shows that, originally, we are known to be surrounded by rivers, which symbolically are carriers of underwater cultural objects, like canoes and war objects that were first used on land before they were washed into the rivers by rain and water, giving the example of the discovery of a canoe, in 1987, by a cattle rearer around Kundugu River (a tributary of River Yobe), as he was digging for water for his cattle, and that today the discovery had become a jewel in the area of underwater cultural heritage in Nigeria.

High Chief Duke expressed his delight over the underwater cultural heritage programmes of UNESCO, noting that cooperation among member states, other international organizations, scientific institutions, professional organizations, experts, divers, archaeologists, and other international parties and the public, were essential components for the protection of underwater cultural heritage and its attendant benefits to us all; and, therefore, charged other African countries to find the will, the resolve and the courage to be more committed to this course and participate actively in the UNESCO initiative through partnership in capacity building aimed at producing professionals in the sector.

There were discussions on very incisive topics at the meeting, including, “The Interest in The Development of Underwater Archaeology in Africa,” “Threats to Underwater Cultural Heritage,” and “Legal and Practical Issues Concerning the 2001 Convention and National Strategy Development.”

Participants in the conference included Bill Jeffrey (Australia), Dr. Hakan Oniz (Turkey), Jonathan Sharfman (South Africa), Professor Ricardo Texeria (Mozambique), Damia Djakovic (Namibia), Caeser Bita (Kenya), Berthilla Walter and Fernando Carda (Seychelles), the Executive Secretary of the National Institute For Cultural Orientation (NICO), Dr. Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, represented by the Institute’s Director for Research and Documentation, Prince Bamidele Olusa, Nkanta George Ufot (Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation), and the Director-General, Bayelsa State Tourism Development Agency, Mrs. Ebizi Brown.

Clifford Ugwu
Corporate Affairs
NICO South-South Zone