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Sungbo’s Eredo

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Just an hour northeast of Lagos, Nigeria, while exploring the rainforests around the town of Ijebu-Ode, you may stumble upon a wall snaking its way within the foliage; in some places, it may appear as a relatively unimpressive edifice, struggling to remain visible as the rainforest swallows it up, while in some places it looms visibly, even if the rainforest is still creeping up on it, but it trudges on, covering a vast territory within its 160km long perimeter.

This is Sungbo’s Eredo, whose fairly poor state of affairs belies its significance; it is history, crumbling right before our eyes for lack of attention as people barely know its importance in the history of the local region.

Sungbo’s Eredo is a complex of ramparts and moats that date back to at least 800 AD, built to enclose a roughly circular territory 40km wide from the north to south and 35km from east to west, about 400 square miles. Its ramparts go as high as 20m in some locations.

Part of Sungbo's Eredo. Image courtesy of cometonigeria.com

Part of Sungbo’s Eredo. Image courtesy of cometonigeria.com

It is estimated that the amount of material moved to build Sungbo’s Eredo is one million cubic meters more than the amount required for the Great Pyramid at Giza, hence its description as “the single largest monument in Africa, larger than any of the Egyptian pyramids,” by Dr. Patrick Darling of Bournemouth University, an archaeologist who has been at the forefront of pushing for the preservation of the Eredo.

Sungbo Eredo strongly suggests that an organized polity had been established within Nigeria’s rainforests at least three centuries earlier than most historians had presumed, based on previous evidence.

Why it was built has baffled even the likes of Dr. Darling, who’s been working on the site since the nineties.

Local folklore states that the Eredo was built following a decree by Bilikisu Sungbo, a wealthy childless queen, either as an offering, or as her legacy. Queen Bilikisu is believed to be buried in the town of Oke-Eri, and her grave is a shrine attracting pilgrimage from Christians and Muslims, who believe that she is the Queen Sheba, though that sounds incredulous, as the Biblical Queen Sheba (she’s also in the Qur’an) is believed to have lived millennia before the Eredo was built.

But spirituality may explain the nature of the Eredo, which has an inconsistent height along its length. It is believed that the builders’ main goal was to establish a watery base for its wall, as the swampy conditions created at the base could be inhabited by protective spirits; if the water table was struck just two meters down, that would be the depth of the ditch, and the accompanying wall would not be tall. There are also plenty of shrines along the wall, and in points along the wall, idols have been recovered at the bottom of the trenches.

Within the Sungbo Eredo, there are ruins that suggest it may have marked the boundary of a kingdom or a settlement, but as yet, there’s nothing to help archaeologists determine conclusively just what lay within its walls.