chapter  11
13 Pages

The ancient city walls of Great Benin: Colonialism, urban heritage and cultural identity in contemporary Nigeria


Whereas historic sites are rooted in and attributed to the past, they are to be considered in light of the living contexts that lend them political currency in contemporary society. They legitimize the goals of preservation by providing visibility that serve as ‘proofs’ of cultural identity. Heritage sites may also be seen as useful units of social and political analysis. The networks that flow from (and to) them link individuals and social groups in the endeavour to preserve sites, and they will reveal and reflect tensions and competition for power that lie beneath the surface in the urban settings of nation-states. A well-defined and drafted study of heritage sites is a valuable tool in large-scale complex societies where group boundaries are difficult to define and identify. The ideas of heritage and cultural identity are intertwined, involving both people and ‘things’ (tangible and intangible), and they involve degrees of organization and action by groups and the material culture they choose to identify with. Thus, the ideas of heritage, cultural identity and artefacts are to be seen as both ‘made’ and malleable in society (Anderson 1983; Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983; Kaplan 1982, 1996).