Patrick J. Darling (1945-2016)

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Akin Ogundiran

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Jun 21, 2016, 5:01:00 PM6/21/16
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Patrick J. Darling (1945-2016)

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Akin Ogundiran

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

 

Dr. Patrick J. Darling, archaeologist, educator, and heritage manager, joined the ancestors on March 1st 2016. According to an online news report, Dr. Darling peacefully passed on in his home surrounded by his family. He was 71 years old. His Funeral Service was held on March 9th at Bournemouth Crematorium, UK. He is survived by his wife: Lisa; children: Melissa and Jonathan; and brother: Coralie.

 

Patrick Darling was until his death a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Conservation Sciences, Bournemouth University, UK.

 

I received the news of Dr. Darling’s transition in mid-May, two months after the fact. I was treading on some of the old archaeological grounds that Darling had walked when the news reached me in Nigeria. How did I miss the passing of this colossal figure in Nigerian archaeology? I am sure many are still unaware of his transition. This is not surprising, though unfortunate. Patrick Darling was not a conventional archaeologist. He did not hold any high browse academic position, neither did he receive one of those ground-breaking research grants. Yet, his contributions to African archaeology were no less spectacular.

 

I use this occasion to reflect on the legacy of Dr. Darling as an archaeologist and a staunch advocate for the preservation of Africa’s cultural heritage. I do so not because of any privileged access that I have into his personal life (I have none). I am however aware of his impacts in the archaeology of West Africa and Nigeria, especially in the Yoruba-Edo world, an area that has preoccupied my own intellectual curiosity. I met Patrick Darling on two occasions and we exchanged perhaps four emails in total. I know enough to say that for about forty-three years he was ruled by the unalloyed passion to document the spectacular tangible African heritage and to interpret Africa’s past accomplishments to the wider world.

 

Patrick attended University of London where he received BA in Geography and MSc in Agricultural Economics. He bagged his Ph.D. in archaeology from Birmingham University.

 

The network of earthworks in the Edoid region of southwest Nigeria is the subject of his dissertation. His voluminous dissertation was published in 1984 as Archaeology and History in Southern Nigeria: The Ancient Linear Earthworks of Benin and Ishan (Parts 1 and 2) in the Cambridge Monographs in African Archaeology (11) and the BAR International Series (215). That publication announced Patrick to the world of African archaeology as a serious but unconventional scholar. The storied fieldwork that produced both the dissertation and the monograph is a testimony to the tenacious and creative spirit of the man.

 

I don’t know the circumstances under which Patrick arrived in Nigeria but, as he stated in the preface to his BAR monograph, he began his research on the Edoid earthworks in early 1973. He was moved by the urgent need to document and map the earthworks before their total obliteration by the onslaught of mechanized forest clearing, erosion, and artisan mining of the earthworks for house construction. He had the foresight to see the historical importance of these earthworks as transcripts of a great society. He recognized that the much celebrated Benin earthworks which Graham Connah (1975) and others have documented are only part of a larger and regional networks of embankments that stretched hundreds of kilometers across the rainforest of southwest Nigeria.

 

In order to better understand the extent of these embankments, Darling launched the most ambitious archaeological survey project in Nigerian archaeology. And, this was to be implemented not in the open savanna landscape but in the thicket of southwest Nigeria’s secondary rainforest. The then 28+ year-old man was daring in his research agenda and steadfast in his commitment that the systematic survey and mapping of these earthworks across over a 2,000-square mile area was a task that must be carried out. His infectious and boundless energy met the approval of many people in high and low places including the then military governor of the Mid-Western State, Brigadier S. O. Ogbemudia, and the Director of Nigeria’s Federal Department of Antiquities (later Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments), Dr. Ekpo Eyo. With their support, Patrick developed a five-year research project for which, according to him, he received notification for a government funding plan.

 

He was excited by this promise of support and he immediately took the bull by the horns. He set up a nimble but efficient research team with equipment that included prismatic compass, measuring tapes, and several cutlasses. Today, these tools would appear to a graduate student as primitive but they are no less efficient and appropriately accurate. That was in the 1970s when the capabilities of a Global Positioning System (GPS) would have sounded like a Star War fantasy.

 

The logistics and strategies of Darling’s survey should be part of the handbook for archaeological fieldwork in the Tropics. According to him, he spent the cooler mornings cutting through the thick thorny undergrowth, while he dedicated the steaming afternoons traveling and recording where the ancient earthworks intersected with motorable roads, bicycle tracks, and footpaths. He shifted the gear in the evenings to interview the elders of the extant villages and towns he was traversing. He also spent some of those evenings transcribing his survey records onto graph papers.

 

Alas! The support that he was promised by the government came to a quick and abrupt end following the 1975 military coup. The funding dried up but Darling did not give up. Before then, he had already covered about 1,300 kilometers of survey distance! So, he adjusted his research design. He cut back on some of the grand plans of his survey, and concentrated instead on studying the profiles of the Edoid embankments in exposed locations. Even with this reduced plan, he managed to measure over 300 profiles of the embankments and collected surface and sub-surface ceramics in over 400 sites. I have on numerous occasions quoted and cited Darling’s work on the Edoid embankments. Here is one of those several renditions (Ogundiran 2013: 861):

Patrick Darling’s path-breaking archaeological survey in the Edo-Esan area of southwestern Nigeria has uncovered over 16,000 km of concentric earthworks forming boundaries around more than 500 interconnected settlements, enclosing a total area of 6,500 km² ( Darling  1984). His work showed how agricultural communities, who combined yam, oil palm, and vegetable cultivation with hunting and gathering, gradually built up their landscape over time beginning from about AD 500.

 

Upon the completion of his Edoid embankment project, Darling shifted his focus westward to the neighboring Yoruba-speaking area. There, he collaborated with Robert Soper (and later worked briefly with Babatunde Agbaje-Williams) to survey and map the royal palace at Oyo-Ile, the capital of Yoruba’s largest political unit (Soper and Darling 1980). He also explored the archaeological potentials of a number of rockshelters in central Yorubaland. But the most enduring of his Yoruba projects was the painstaking mapping of the Sungbo Eredo earthworks. Between 1993 and 1997, Patrick Darling and his team of Bournemouth University students, UK volunteers, and Nigerian staff traversed the rainforest of Epe-Ijebu area to map out the courses of the famed  but little known Sungbo Eredo embankment and ditch complex.  His assortment of tools was not different from that of the 1970s. The only addition was the low resolution GPS, mostly useless under the thick foliage of southwest Nigeria. Patrick was again undeterred. He forded through the swamps of Epe-Ijebu area and stomped over its overgrown paths like a possessed elephant. Where necessary, he hired motorbike taxis, what Nigerians call okada, to reach some of his earthwork destinations. The adventure was hair-raising, and would make a good Nollywood movie. According to Darling (1998: 55):

Each day, surveyors equipped with orienteering compasses, local guides, waterproof paper and pens, were sent up to 30 kilometres in all directions - none knowing exactly where they would finish. Their routes were crossed by great fingers of impassable freshwater swamp; one Nigerian girl waded up to her neck in water and one British student was left up a tree when his raft disintegrated.

As a result of this work, Darling gave us the first general and near-complete outlines of Sungbo Eredo embankment-ditch complex. His survey shows that the complex was about 160 km (100 miles) long, and in places 20 meters deep. The embankments and ditches enclosed “a vast area, nearly 40 kilometres north to south and 35 kilometres east to west”; and these, he argued, were “deliberately engineered with ditch baulks to retain seasonal rainwater as shallow moats”. He was however careful to note that “Some sections of the Eredo remain to be reached by ground survey” meaning that future work would reveal a far more complex network of the earthworks and ditches than he was able to show. I now think that many archaeologists were too cautious to accept his verdict that Sungbo's Eredo is “set to push back our understanding of state formation in the African rainforest by half a millennium or more”. Here, Darling implied that the construction of some of these earthworks began about 300-500 AD. Thankfully, David Aremu, Gérard Chouin, and others have recently embarked upon building on the pioneering research that Darling and his students started (e.g., Aremu 2002).

 

Patrick Darling was not only comfortable in the bush with his prismatic compass. He was also a steward of Africa’s cultural heritage as a manager and publicist. He carried out most of his preservation advocacy, educational, and fieldwork adventure vacation tours in Nigeria under the auspices of Africa Legacy, a not-for-profit organization that he established in 1996. He set up this outfit to promote the positive and realistic aspects of African heritage to colleges and universities worldwide. Darling led this organization till 2011, according to his Linkedin profile. The noble political mission of Darling is not in doubt: to write the legacy of African achievements into contemporary global consciousness.

 

Thanks to him, he pushed hard to facilitate the enlistment of the Edoid embankments (popularly called Benin Walls) as a World heritage. Although this was not accomplished, the Guinness Book of records has since 1974 recognized the Benin Walls as the world's second largest man-made structure after China's Great Wall. And, the New Scientist heavily relied on Patrick Darling’s assessment when it describes the Edoid embankments as “four times longer than the Great Wall of China”, consuming “a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops”, and forming “perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet” (Pearce 1999).

 

Patrick Darling was not contented with publishing his findings only in academic journals. He was an avid promoter of the gargantuan accomplishments of African ancestors in the popular media and international circles. Inverting popular knowledge with factual and spicy comparisons is an enviable forte of Patrick Darling. On this score, he had both major and minor media in his corner. He used his publicist skills so well in order to push the Sungbo Eredo rampart-ditch complex story to both the new and old media including the New York Times and the BBC News. The later quoted him thus: "In terms of sheer size it's (Sungbo Eredo) the largest single monument in Africa - larger than any of the Egyptian pyramids…” It’s a comparison with shock factor but it’s not inaccurate.

 

His dedication to the preservation of African heritage however goes beyond archaeological resources. He was interested in the entire repertoire of indigenous African knowledge. Hence, in 2005, Darling succeeded in receiving a British Library’s Endangered Archives grant to help preserve the Late Professor Ade Obayemi’s lifetime collection of documents and correspondence, and to make these available to the world. Through Dr. Darling’s intervention, about 950 unbound articles and 130 audio tapes of oral history and cultural resources were preserved.

 

I have traveled, lived, and worked in those areas of southwest Nigeria where Patrick Darling carried out his archaeological fieldwork - Ekpoma, Benin, Ijebu… Those impossible paths that he successfully navigated were not for the faint-hearted archaeologist. His passion and care for the African story no doubt propelled him to reach those seemingly forbidden inner recesses of the past. He was in every way his own man. He made ways where there was none. He patiently listened to his instincts unperturbed by the doubting onlookers. He was stubborn but for the right cause. Thanks to his uncompromising stance, we have learnt far more than would have been possible about the rich Africa’s past. Along the way, many misunderstood him and mistook his passion for self-promotion. Some minimalists, even those who have made an excellent career studying Africa, dismissed his claims of Africa’s great civilizations as delusional. By so doing, they ignored the evidence that Darling presented and therefore remained perennially ignorant of Africa’s past. Some of Darling’s writings show that he could also be as dismissive of others, especially those who do not take him seriously. Nevertheless, his commitment and hard work to uncover the greatness of Africa’s past far outweigh his multitudes of gaffes in interpersonal relations.

 

With his passing, the Yoruba-Edo ancestors have lost one of their best advocates; and the most popular, intrepid interpreter of their monumental legacies. I hope a new unconventional and free-spirited person who walk, dream, and think like Patrick Darling would soon emerge, a man or a woman unfettered by disciplinary consensus and tradition. I hope such a person would have far more support from African and non-African colleagues/institutions than Patrick Darling received. Adieu, Patrick Jonathan Darling.

 

References

Aremu, D. A. (2002). Saving Sungbo Eredo: A Challenge to Nigerian Archaeologists. West African Journal of Archaeology 32(2): 63-73.

 

Connah, G. (1975). The Archaeology of Benin: Excavations and Other Researches in and Around Benin City, Nigeria. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

 

Darling, P. (1984). Archaeology and History in Southern Nigeria. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports (215).

 

Darling, P. (1998). Sungbo's Eredo, southern Nigeria. Nyame Akuma, 49: 55-61.

 

Ogundiran, A. O. (2013). “Towns and States in Rainforest West Africa,” Oxford Handbook of African Archaeology (Oxford University Press), Peter Mitchell and Paul Lane, eds., pp. 855-869.

 

Pearce, F. (1999). The African Queen. New Scientist. Issue 2203 (11 September 1999).

 

Soper, R. and Darling, P. (1980). “The walls of Oyo Ile, Oyo State, Nigeria,” West African Journal of Archaeology, 10: 61-81.

 

Uyilawa Usuanlele

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Jun 21, 2016, 11:36:42 PM6/21/16
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Akin, 
         Thanks for this tribute. Am still in shock particularly about the lateness of the news of his death. I also don't know how late Patrick got to Benin, but I was reliably informed by one of his former students that he was a high school teacher in rural Benin in the late 1960s. We missed ourselves many times in Benin in the 1990s but was lucky to stumble on him at a conference in UK in 2003 where we had fruitful exchanges. He still wanted a go at the Edo  Iya /lyalla  (moats) for which he was seeking funds. But he did not receive the cooperation and assistance of the Nigerian establishment. He would be greatly missed. May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace.
Uyi


From: ogun...@gmail.com
Date: Tue, 21 Jun 2016 13:20:54 -0400
Subject: USA Africa Dialogue Series - Patrick J. Darling (1945-2016)
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Segun Ogungbemi

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Jun 21, 2016, 11:36:43 PM6/21/16
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 What a great man!  A scholar of substance who dedicated his life to unearth valuable contributions of Africans to human civilization. 
My heart goes to his family and friends he has left behind particularly, Professor Ogundiran. 
May his soul rest in perfect peace. 
Prof. Segun Ogungbemi. 
Department of Philosophy 
Adekunle Ajasin University
Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State
Nigeria
Sent from my iPhone 
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Alinah Segobye

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Jun 22, 2016, 6:54:10 AM6/22/16
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May his soul RIP. I met him at a few conferences and indeed he loved Nigerian archaeology inasmuch as he ruffled a few feathers with his views. Many learned of the richness of African archaeology through his work.

AK Segobye
As past president of the Pan African Assoc. of Archaeology & Related Studies. 

ジョン フィリップス

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Jun 22, 2016, 7:15:04 AM6/22/16
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Thank you for this. To be fair, Patrick did a lot of work in northern Nigeria, too. My wife and I stayed with Patrick for part of my Fulbright year in 1984-5. I was in touch with him several times after that, and was able to introduce him to academics in Sokoto, but I hadn’t heard from him in several years. I was wondering what had happened to him and now this bad news. Well, it happens to all of us in the end.

Emeagwali, Gloria (History)

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Jun 23, 2016, 4:23:50 AM6/23/16
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Indeed a great archaeologist.  His last contributions were  two chapters in 

African Indigenous Knowledge and the Sciences: Journeys Into the Past and Present 

Sense Publishers.Paperback – March 18, 2016. 

by Gloria Emeagwali (Editor), Edward Shizha (Editor)


May I  also add to Prof Ogundiran's eloquent piece, a reminder of his contribution to Akodi Afrika, Kogi State.
Unfortunately he faced obstacles from some quarters in his effort to administer this academic  resource unit
handed down  by  the late Ade Obayemi. He believed in the project and did his best.

May his soul rest in peace.

Professor Gloria Emeagwali
History Department
CCSU. New Britain. CT 06050
africahistory.net
vimeo.com/user5946750/videos
Gloria Emeagwali's Documentaries on
Africa and the African Diaspora



From: usaafric...@googlegroups.com <usaafric...@googlegroups.com> on behalf of Alinah Segobye <alinah....@gmail.com>
Sent: Wednesday, June 22, 2016 5:58 AM
To: usaafric...@googlegroups.com
Subject: Re: USA Africa Dialogue Series - Patrick J. Darling (1945-2016)
 

Emeagwali, Gloria (History)

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Jun 26, 2016, 8:13:25 AM6/26/16
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From: Emeagwali, Gloria (History)
Sent: Thursday, June 23, 2016 3:40 AM

To: usaafric...@googlegroups.com
Subject: Re: USA Africa Dialogue Series - Patrick J. Darling (1945-2016)
 

Indeed a great archaeologist.  His last contributions were  chapters in 

African Indigenous Knowledge and the Sciences: Journeys Into the Past and Present 

Sense Publishers.Paperback – March 18, 2016. 

by Gloria Emeagwali (Editor), Edward Shizha (Editor)


May I  also add to Prof Ogundiran's eloquent piece, a reminder of his contribution to Akodi Afrika, Kogi State.
Unfortunately he faced obstacles from some quarters in his effort to administer this academic  resource unit
handed down  by  the late Ade Obayemi. He believed in the project and did his best.

May his soul rest in peace.

Professor Gloria Emeagwali
Mekelle
Ethiopia

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