A Tribute to the Life and Work of Professor Bassey Wai Andah

Thurstan Shaw (Independent Scholar, United Kingdom), Peter Ucko and Kevin MacDonald (University College London, United Kingdom) p.ucko@ucl.ac.uk, kevin.macdonald@ucl.ac.uk

In the last quarter of the century, the Nigerian archaeologist Bassey Wai Andah represented a symbolic figure among the consolidating and promoting actors in modelling the endogenous perspective of the anthropological archaeology of/in Africa (Bagodo 1999:11-12).


In 1964, when one of us (TS) was a Research Professor in the University of Ibadan and giving open lectures on archaeology, and seminars in the History Department, a final year History student came to enquire about a career in archaeology, and how best to equip himself for this. It was some years before the teaching Department of Archaeology was established, and although the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Kenneth Dike, was supportive, the university was not then in a position to offer teaching either for first or higher degrees in archaeology. The young man who made these enquiries was Bassey Eteyen Wai Ogosu. (He later changed his name to Bassey Wai Andah following a dispute with his father.) At the time of his enquiries, Bassey made a profound impression by his keenness and determination. Years later he told one of us (PU) how he had believed that archaeology was a subject which had the power to help the poor and those suffering from discrimination. In 1964 he was offered a job in the Nigerian Department of Antiquities but decided instead to accept a Nigerian Federal Government Scholarship to study in London. There have been suggestions by some that even at this early stage in his career, Bassey was something of a rebel!

Bassey had originally been accepted in September 1964 to study for an MA in African Archaeology at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, but there was already concern that he might need also to study at the Institute of Archaeology. After his arrival in London in January 1965, the School of Oriental and African Studies reported to the London-based Commonwealth Scholarship Commission that “it was clear that his interests would be better met at the Institute of Archaeology”. After successfully passing an MPhil Qualifying Examination after only six months attendance at lecture courses on a range of archaeological topics at the Institute, he was then registered in its Human Environment Department “for an (old style) M.A.” while “making a study of prehistoric environments in Central Africa” (G.W. Dimbleby to Daryll Forde, 11/3/1966) (and subsequently for the “M.Phil. and M.A. (Old Regulations) on Relationships between man and his environment in Africa south of the Sahara”). However, at the time there was no specialist Africanist in the Institute, and to a considerable extent Bassey must have been forced to work alone. He certainly attended a course of lectures by one of us (PU) on Anthropology for Archaeologists, and requested permission to have extra tuition from him. It is also known that he participated in excavations in Suffolk and in Cambridge (under the direction of Dr John Alexander, a year later to be one of Bassey’s (MPhil) examiners) and that he joined Henry de Lumley’s training course at Lazaret in France. In the summer of 1966 he was funded to join Eric Higgs’ survey and excavation in Epirus, Greece.

Throughout this period in London, Bassey was apparently very badly-off financially. He first lived in comparative isolation in lodgings near Lancaster Gate, and subsequently in the William Penson Hall of Residence. According to a very favourable reference (3/2/1966) from Professor J.D. Evans in support of Bassey’s application to the African Graduate Fellowship Program:

Mr. Bassey Wai Ogosu is undoubtedly a young man of high intellectual calibre… Though undergoing considerable… strain because of continuing difficulties about grants, etc… Though sensitive and highly strung he has great determination and is capable of carrying on a programme of work under stress of various kinds. Personally, [he] is a man of great charm, and he seems to find no difficulty in getting on well with all sorts of people.
After a month of hospitalization, he completed his thesis, finally entitled, “Past and present relationships between man and his environment in Africa south of the Sahara (Being an attempted appraisal of the relationship between man and the environment from Later Prehistoric times onwards)”. In this he demonstrated his interest in the origins of African food production through review and analysis of existing literature. Bassey was awarded an MPhil degree in July 1967.

Rebel or not, Bassey then faced a critical decision: whether to return to Nigeria, with its incipient civil war (which had been one of his main cause of stress in addition to financial considerations), or whether to continue with his postgraduate studies. In the event, after much discussion and having rejected a Gulbenkian studentship to research “the earliest agricultural and pastoral societies of East Africa”, he chose to go to the University of California at Berkeley, to work under Professor Desmond Clark for a PhD.

As Professor G.W. Dimbleby, who had been his Supervisor at the London Institute of Archaeology, wrote (26/1/1966):

[Bassey] wishes to continue to study the relationship of early man to the African environment, to build on the basic work he is doing now. Had we had the staff experienced in such work we would gladly have enrolled him here, but as we have not, certain American Universities are his best hope. With his outstanding keenness and industry and a higher average ability he should bring credit to his university, to himself and to those who sponsor him.
Not much later, in October 1967, Bassey was again worrying about money; another reference from Dimbleby, to Professor Karl Butzer who was a possible source for providing a grant if Bassey was to move to Chicago, makes fascinating reading:

[Bassey] showed a remarkable grasp of what he had read (especially considering that his background was not in the sciences), and his diligence in seeking out the very diverse and diffuse literature was most creditable… He certainly needed guidance in putting his… thesis together… Apart from this one weakness, I can recommend him as intelligent, keen and industrious, with a firm idea of what he wants to do…He is very likeable and was popular with his fellow students. I should like to see him given the chance to reach his full academic potential.
Bassey managed to stay on at Berkeley and, in connection with his PhD research, he undertook excavations in Ghana and Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta), thus avoiding returning to Nigeria for fieldwork. In the summer of 1968 he had applied for a Research Fellowship in Archaeology at the University of Ghana, and he managed to combine his PhD program with lecturing there. Later he was often to repeat how much he disliked his time in the USA, where he was seen to keep very much to himself and maintain a low profile, without any friends amongst his student colleagues. In 1973 he successfully gained his PhD with his thesis on “Archaeological Reconnaissance in Upper Volta 1970-1972”.

By then it was clear, however ‘difficult’ or independent of spirit he might be, Bassey was assured of a distinguished career in archaeology. Indeed, one of us (TS) entered into a polite, but fairly fierce, competition for his services with Professor Merrick Posnansky, Head of the Archaeology Department in the University of Ghana, who wanted him for his Department. Ibadan won, and Bassey joined the staff of the Department there as a Lecturer in 1973. Only one year later Bassey aspired to succeed Thurstan Shaw as Head of the Department when the latter retired in 1974. This turned out to be a premature bid, and served to add weight to those who were already suspicious of him. Nevertheless, Bassey had already proved himself to be an exceptionally good teacher, and had shown the originality of his thinking about the problems of archaeology in an African context. He also demonstrated the width of his concern for student welfare generally, and in particular in his involvement with the university football team and its coaching.

The Department of Archaeology and Anthropology

In 1978 Bassey was promoted to the rank of Professor and was appointed as Head of the Department of Archaeology at Ibadan. He quickly made his mark upon it and developed it in new and expanding ways. Those planning the new Department of Archaeology in the late 1960s (TS) wanted it to have an anthropological dimension, but came up against the situation that anthropology was suspect as having been used as a tool of colonial government. A second obstacle was that sociologists had no sympathy for the suggestion that the discipline of (an anthropologically-oriented) archaeology should be sited in the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Thus it was left to Bassey, some ten years later, when the climate was more favourable, to turn the Department of Archaeology into a Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, and to integrate the two disciplines in a most productive way. Bassey was in a good position to do this, having been introduced to ideas about the relationship of archaeology and anthropology at the Institute of Archaeology in London, and then having done further postgraduate training in an American university, where archaeology was, as usual in that continent, embedded in a Department of Anthropology. To Bassey, the teaching program of the Ibadan Department of Archaeology when he took it over, had a very British outlook and bearing. Its designers saw their primary duty as disseminating information about prehistoric man world-wide, including Africa, and secondarily, providing a few students with some training in the science of archaeology (Andah 1997:13). The designers of the original program were indeed British, in fact mostly trained in the Archaeology Department of the University of Cambridge; that was the best they knew, and the best they knew was what they were trying to pass on. This sort of thing happened elsewhere, of course, when British academics were trying to initiate university education in former colonies. The University of Ghana was modelled on Jesus College, Cambridge, even to the use of some of its anachronistic medieval terminology. As far as the Department of Archaeology in the University of Ibadan is concerned, “at this early stage a career in archaeology and museum curatorship did not appeal much to students, perhaps because the program as then structured, failed to indicate what relevance these disciplines had to contemporary living and the resolution of problems facing present day man and his societies” (Andah 1997:13). We have seen how this line of thinking had been stimulated by Bassey’s concept of archaeology from the time he decided to make it his career, and no doubt it may also have been coloured by his strong Christian beliefs (in 1984 Bassey left the Anglican Church to become an Elder of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria). Consequently, a primary goal of reorganization was seen by Bassey to be that of “drawing up programs to train the cadres of cultural experts that would be right for, and would function effectively in, modern African societies” (Andah 1997:15). As a first practical step it was found necessary to clarify just what curators and museums were and should be with particular reference to African historical experience.

As Bassey (1997:17) said:

The prime objective of the reorganization of our degree programs was thus to make the courses more practical in outlook and more relevant to the developmental needs and aspirations of contemporary Nigerian and other African societies… By the early 1980s our archaeology program had adopted an anthropological outlook, and a fully fledged degree course in anthropology began to be offered in addition to the new look archaeology program.
Courses were introduced in cultural resource management. These were:

developed into an important facet of both [the] archaeological and [the] anthropological degree programs. [They] serve, together with ethnoarchaeology, to link [the] study of past and present [and] also help greatly in removing the largely artificial separation between prehistoric and historical and… to offer training directly relevant to museum needs (Andah 1997:17).
As far back as the 1930s, at Achinoca College in Ghana, which was designed to become the springboard and nucleus for a future university, keen discussions used to go on among the staff, of whom one of us was one (TS), about what was the most suitable form of education in an African context. The staff were c1ear that they did not want to impose on Africa a totally alien, European type of education, like the French did in their territories. But the aim was to combine the best in both African and European traditions more easily expressed as an ideal than actually carried out! African traditions were encouraged in language, music, dress, dancing and art, contrary to ideas still prevailing at that time in many missionary educational circles. But it did not go much further than that. It was left to Bassey Andah to give greater expression to this basic idea of making the greatest possible use of indigenous African traditions. He felt strongly that development in any sector of society needs to receive stimulus and direction from that society’s cultural pool of wisdom.

Therefore he aimed to provide students with a range of competences not available in the purview of the natural, social or historical science curricula but which he regarded as crucially needed within the educational framework in order to be connected to these cultural reservoirs. He became more and more convinced, as a result of actually operating such programs, that the big challenge facing societies such as those of Nigeria today, was to design and execute courses in public archaeology and anthropology. These would enable them to undertake the kinds of cultural resource management projects that contribute directly and positively to their societies’ progress and development today.

Research and Published Work

Bassey Andah published prodigiously. He wrote about 70 journal articles and chapters in books, as well as four books of his own. He coedited a further six books on African archaeology. At the same time he edited the West African Journal of Archaeology from 1978 onwards and kept it going for 20 years in the face of horrendous financial and logistic difficulties; this was one of his greatest contributions. His impact on scholarship in anglophone West Africa as an educator, synthesist and general theorist was considerable. In broader terms he is well known as a pioneering advocate of indigenous archaeologies, striking out against the hegemony of the Western world view, and urging the establishment of an African archaeology meaningful to Africans.

In the scholarly life of Bassey Andah, stretching over almost 30 years, one can perhaps discern four distinct phases. In the first of these, while doing his MPhil in London, the basic principles and techniques of archaeology were laid down, and the seeds sown of his anthropological orientation. In the second, the impact of his doctoral education within the ecological, functionalist and stone oriented Anthropology Department at Berkeley of the early 1970s is evident. In the third, beginning in the 1980s, Bassey became increasingly concerned with distancing himself and Africa from Euro-American archaeologies, a move which shifted his focus towards theory, synthesis and education in Africa in general. In the final phase, cut short by his untimely death, Bassey strove to reconnect his commitment to African archaeology with a broader world view, embodied in his Presidency of the World Archaeological Congress (hereafter, WAC). Common to all of these phases of Bassey’s intellectual life was an unyielding commitment to the questioning of stereotypes and cultural models foisted on Africa earlier this century by European writers. There were others before Bassey who had rejected the conception of Africa as a passive cultural backwater, pliant to ideas and technologies from Eurasia, and replaced it with one which recognizes the diversity and antiquity of Africa’s achievements and cultural resilience, but it was Bassey who developed this rebuttal with a fiercely crusading spirit.

Shortly after Bassey began his doctoral research at Berkeley in the late 1960s, he began to publish on the Early Stone Age of West Africa (Wai Ogosu 1972, 1973b, 1974). His research into this subject, to which he would return throughout his life, was driven by the paucity of good archaeological evidence for the Early Stone Age in West Africa, and an interest in the role that the forest might have played in early hominid adaptations. He criticized the implicit racism of Carleton Coon’s (1962) “candelabra theory” of human evolution and the origin of races, attacking in particular the notion that tropical Africa and its rainforest had been unfavourable for human progress and had been responsible for African cultural backwardness (Wai Ogosu 1974).

Bassey did not concern himself much with Early Stone Age activity and occupation occurring in the more lightly-vegetated parts of West Africa, characterized by those tool forms universally designated Acheulian by archaeologists (Soper 1965; Shaw 1978:26-30). Rather, he concentrated his efforts on the forests and coastlands from Nigeria westwards and the industry generally referred to as the Sangoan or the San Lupemban technocomplex. The Sangoan is widely believed to be a successor to the Acheulian tradition, its date variously estimated as between 250,000 and 45,000 bp. Bassey questioned the appropriateness (principally on typological grounds) of applying the term Sangoan, originally applied to Central African assemblages, to any assemblage in West Africa. Through his work at the key site of Asokrochona in southern Ghana, he attempted to call into question the validity of automatically terming the earliest industry there Sangoan with all its implications for the earliest peopling of the African forests (Andah 1979). Since an absolute age estimate was unobtainable for the early Asokrochona assemblage, in the absence of datable organics or appropriate dating technology at the time, its putative date hung on typological arguments. Bassey argued (Andah 1979), on grounds of an attribute-based analysis, for an association of the earliest assemblage at Asokrochona with the Developed Oldowan or Lower Acheulian, giving an estimated age of 1 to 2.5 million years old. Other researchers (Nygaard and Talbot 1984) saw in the assemblage’s picks, bifaces, core axes and choppers satisfactory indicators for a Sangoan association, an argument supported by most subsequent syntheses. However, until such localities in West Africa have absolute dates assigned to them on the basis of associated deposits, the verdict must remain sub judice.

Bassey’s PhD thesis on “Archaeological Research in Upper Volta 1970-1972” further expanded his attention to issues concerning the emergence of cultivation in West Africa (Wai Ogosu 1973a), a topic of lively interest among archaeologists at the time, as seen in the 1972 Burg Wartenstein symposium on “Origins of African Plant Domestication” (Harlan and De Wet 1976). His excavation of a long open-air sequence at Rim (Burkina Faso) remains one of West Africa’s major data points for the early to mid Holocene. But here again, definite organic evidence was missing, and Bassey had to argue for subsistence intensification on the basis of artefactual change (the appearance of grinding stones and picks), ecological arguments, remnant terrace systems and even oral traditions concerning the cultivation of cereals. From these lines of evidence he hypothesized the beginnings of cultivation by c. 3600 bp (Andah 1980). Here, Bassey’s hypotheses have been borne out by recent work by Vogelsang, Neumann and others in northern Burkina Faso, indicating the beginning of agricultural systems there about 3500 bp (Breunig and Neumann 1996).

The essentially ecologically-driven approach which Bassey brought to these research interests were reflective of the late colonial paradigms of expatriate researchers in Africa. In a recent survey of archaeological theory in Africa, Bruce Trigger (1990:314) has noted that:

While ecological approaches in the 1960s tended to interpret cultural changes more as automatic ecosystematic response than as voluntary human behaviour, the result was to add a new dimension to African culture history that stressed cultures as functioning systems. This in turn laid the basis for understanding prehistory in terms not only of diffusion and migration, but also of internal transformation of cultures.
Bassey’s first work was undoubtedly part of this advance. However, the ecosystem approach to African prehistory can also be seen as a means of avoiding more highly-charged enquiries into the more recent peoples and history of Africa. Concern with the endless dance of environmental change and human response was ultimately, for Bassey, culturally sterile.

Perhaps prompted by these concerns, which were to emerge strongly in his later works, Bassey began to turn to more recent periods. In 1976 he published the very prescient article “An Archaeological View of the Urbanisation Process in the Earliest West African States”. In it he proposed that the origins of historically-known states and cities of the West African forest were earlier than previously believed. He averred that scholars had been overly reliant on potentially-biased Arabic sources, tending to attribute the origins of states to the stimulus of external trade, rather than internal developments. He advocated regional studies of urban emergence in Africa, sampling sites from each microenvironment of the region studied, so as to learn better each site’s function and its role in local trade, subsistence and social systems. Indeed, he predicted (Andah 1976:6) that:

the crucial factors which made possible the development of the towns of Old Ghana… are to be found in the preceding iron age developments and the associated ability of indigenous folk to perceive and exploit both natural and social resources… in more sophisticated ways than before.
This timely prediction has been strongly supported by the work of Roderick and Susan McIntosh at Jenne Jeno in Mali, where local trade networks and the exploitation of diverse resources are seen as playing a key role in the advent of this urban centre almost 400 years before the first introduction of Islam to West Africa (McIntosh and McIntosh 1980, 1993). However, despite the role which western research was beginning to play in dispelling many of the old myths about Africa. Bassey began to become increasingly suspicious of it and its ultimate impact on African archaeology.

African Archaeology for Africans

In December 1983, Bassey had attended the 9th Congress of the Pan African Association of Prehistory and Related Studies meeting in Jos, Nigeria. There he had participated in the debate on the question of the participation in international archaeological conferences by South Africans, and was present when the motion was carried which:

…unequivocally condemn[ed] (on scientific grounds) the practice of apartheid and any other forms of discrimination; reject[ed] racist criteria used anywhere to restrict education, research, and employment opportunities…; call[ed] for a cessation of all contacts with South African institutions; call[ed] for the censure of colleagues and institutions maintaining links with South African institutions. (Ucko 1987:37-38; Andah et al. 1993:xv-xvi)
By the time of his inaugural lecture as Professor of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Ibadan in 1985, Bassey had formulated a very clear agenda for archaeology in Africa. In this lecture he emphasized the need for self-reliance on the part of African scholars and departments, and for active delinking from Western partners, stating (Andah 1985 n.d.:3):

I suggest here for the African man to fully understand his present situation, he must trace his roots and course of his journey to the present; and to make meaningful progress in the future he must not only appreciate, but also appropriate his cultural history.
As to delinking from exterior scholarship, he compared the process to

the same way a sensible woman hard pressed by an overbearing and domineering suitor delinks, i.e. makes herself scarce if not completely unavailable to the suitor. The advantage of so delinking is that the person or people in question give themselves the opportunity to take proper stock of their relationship with their erstwhile colonial masters, now self proclaimed friends… and really study themselves closely and critically so as to derive whatever their pool of historical knowledge has to offer the planning process. (Andah 1985 n.d.:26, 27)
Delinking had numerous implications for education both in terms of teaching (wanting to foster African, rather than expatriate led departments, and Africa-based, rather than Euro-American-based, graduate programs) and textbooks (wishing to have African written, printed and distributed text matter). In essence, there was to be an effort to transform the largely alien institutions of Africa to authentically African ones. Bassey was not slow in following his newly-charted course. Although sometimes confusing to outsiders unaware of his plan of action, issues of the West African Journal of Archaeology, packed with continent-wide synthetic pieces by himself and associated scholars, began to appear (Andah and Okpoko 1987; Andah 1988b, 1990). The culmination of this trend was the 1994 publication of a uniquely African manual of methodology and theory, Practising Archaeology in Africa (Andah and Okpoko 1994).

Relinking with World Archaeology

Soon after announcing his delinking strategy for African archaeology, Bassey attended the first WAC in Southampton in 1986. This meeting would have left him in little doubt that he was not alone in his quest for an endogenous archaeology. Indeed, it must have become apparent that elements of Western archaeology had moved on significantly from the ecological and processual paradigms against which he had turned. As one of the editors of The Archaeology of Africa: Food, Metals and Towns (Shaw et al. 1993), a volume that emerged from the Southampton Congress, he made (together with two of the other editors) a critique of the historic ills of African archaeology, with some suggested solutions (Sinclair et al. 1993). In particular, the application of chrono- technological schemes derived from European archaeology were condemned (e.g. notions of distinct Neolithic and Iron Age periods), as were the historic and potential abuses of definitions of ethnic movements and consequent innovations (e.g. Hamitic and Bantu expansions).

To the latter subject, the so-called Bantu expansion, Bassey brought all his reforming zeal (Andah 1998). In claiming that archaeologists have done less than justice in their reconstruction of the real landscape imagery of the Bantu peoples, he himself declared that his treatment of the subject was more a process of deconstruction than reconstruction. For nearly two decades Bassey conducted widescale research in part of the area often put forward as the Bantu homeland, in the Katsina Ala section of the Middle Benue Valley occupied by the Tiv people (Andah 1983). He concluded that these researches had not turned up any evidence to support the idea that this area was an early centre for the development of food production and iron working, much less for the thesis that it was part of the possible cradle area of early Bantu language and Bantu cultural evolution (Andah 1998). He condemned the equating of Bantu history with Iron Age pottery typology, and the traditional archaeological criteria for pot classification instead of indigenous African criteria. He was certainly right in pointing out the shortcomings of many excavations treating Bantu cultural history as not having yielded enough faunal, floral and other materials for identifying staple species exploited, and for tackling the questions of when and how farming was commenced. He further saw the necessity for a combination of large-scale and test-pit excavations for sampling sites representative of a region, in order to establish an adequate archaeological data base (Andah 1998).

WAC1, and After

In 1986, widespread controversy was aroused by the decision of the organizers of a world conference of archaeology to exclude participants from South Africa and Namibia as an expression of disapproval of that country’s racist policy of apartheid at that time (Ucko 1987; Shaw 1989). From his side, Bassey must have received enormous strength from finding so many colleagues from across the world adopting an ethical and proactive social and political stance over the matter of institutionalized, legalized racism in an African country. From the organizers’ side, there was no doubt of the commanding eminence that Bassey Andah occupied within African archaeology. Some of his Nigerian archaeological colleagues, perhaps lacking his charisma, anxiously awaited his eventual, though late, arrival at the Congress; they were no doubt dreading the possibility that it would have to be they who would be filmed on the television program Heart of the Matter, in what proved to be an acrimonious debate with the then South African Ambassador to the UK, and Professors John Evans, David Lewis-Williams and others. In the event it was Bassey who stunned the British television audience with his eloquence, his passion and his personal integrity. No one who watched the program will ever be able, nor wish, to forget some of his impromptu phrases, such as his statement directed at the South African Ambassador:

If you don’t accept [that Blacks and Whites belong to the same species] why should I parley with you? Why should I allow you to dance around with me? I think that’s the issue, isn’t it?
Bassey’s ongoing negativism towards the colonial derivation of the archaeological discipline, and its development within Britain and America especially, did not affect his admiration and appreciation of some of his British colleagues. This was perhaps most evident in his superb organization and handling in November 1989 of what he called “an International conference…held at the University of Ibadan in honour of Professor Thurstan Shaw, pioneer Head of that University’s Department of Archaeology, founding editor of the West African Journal of Archaeology, and a true doyen of African archaeology” (Andah 1998:1). The conference has produced three major publications. His aims in organizing this important event reflected at least two of Bassey’s ongoing preoccupations: the evil influence of colonialism, and the need to improve social conditions in Africa. In Bassey’s view, conferences:

should consciously and systematically help draw the attention of Africans, especially those saddled with the responsibility of designing and executing development plans for, and of, their societies and lands, to ways and manners in which they can effectively counter all extraneous (especially colonial) and internal influences known to be hampering healthy societal development (Andah 1998:2) and that the study of Africa’s past should, if practised correctly, allow “a reconstruction of Africa’s usable cultural knowledge systems and resources” (Andah 1998:3).
The 1989 conference at Ibadan is an illustration of how Bassey, in spite of his deep felt resentment of colonialism, was able to differentiate between what he saw as the evils of the system, and his personal relations with those that he came to trust from that detested colonial background. This does not mean that Bassey was not often suspicious even of such friends, and sometimes irascible, but he appeared able to forgive and forget. This can be further illustrated by two examples. In the first case, Bassey was a difficult person to edit and publish; often his book contributions were much too long, somewhat rambling away from the main theme of the book, and poorly referenced with regard both to accuracy and (because of the absence of adequate library holdings in Nigeria) to coverage of recent publications. But it was not to the rather fierce editing and ferocious reduction in length of his 1995 chapter on “European Encumbrances to the Development of Relevant Theory in African Archaeology” described by one of us (KM) as one of Andah’s most important essays to which Bassey objected, but rather to the somewhat meek and mild remarks (Ucko 1995:xx, 3) wherein the Volume Editor (PU) thanked the Series Editor for showing how to include Bassey Andah’s chapter in the book, although “it did not appear to be aware of much recent theoretical writing”; and to the statement that “nothing [resulting from colonialism] is perhaps as inevitable as Andah suggests”. After one splenetic letter from Bassey to PU, all was forgotten in ongoing close association and friendship.

In the second case, Bassey’s never failing devotion to archaeology, and to the University of Ibadan, as well as his pride in being a Nigerian, was sorely tested. For several years he had been made aware that TS planned that his library of archaeological books and offprints should go to Ibadan, and Bassey watched carefully as the library’s owner moved into a smaller dwelling where it could not be housed. The WAC offered to subvent the costs of storing the library, to prevent its being dispersed. It was not to the delay that Bassey objected but to the eventual decision, following discussion between him and Thurstan Shaw in 1993, that libraries were no longer safe in Nigeria and that the library would be more usefully and securely housed within the London Institute of Archaeology. Critical and disappointed though he was at this outcome, nothing would ever really disturb his feelings for his first Head of Department. Others could be less lucky, their published views, modes of examination, or careless utterances being treated as colonial insult, resulting in personal distancing.

Bassey’s 1995 chapter concerning archaeological theory was a more refined expression of his radical agenda of the mid-1980s, couched in terms not alien to the discourses of multivocality and power present in the post-processual archaeology of the time (e.g. Hodder 1991). Additionally, it contained a powerful advocacy of what has been termed more broadly in archaeology the “direct historical approach”: the notion that the most important analogues for behaviour at an archaeological site can be found in the living peoples in the same region. To the end, he stressed that African archaeology must:

become a historical science that distances itself from the present discipline, which studies illusory entities and reduces human beings to mere chessboard pieces, as if they were part of an organic world totally under the control of the physical and mathematical laws of Science and Nature. It has to be an archaeology firmly founded on the fact that historical, not mathematical or any other scientific awareness, is the only form of self-knowledge.(Andah 1995:107)
In essence Bassey stated that to understand the African past, expatriate archaeologists had to be as much students of African cultures as teachers of archaeology. Furthermore, the particularistic complexity inherent in the African past must not be subject to abstract models or evolutionary schemes supplied from external sources, but rather investigated via close cooperation between archaeological, oral historical and other anthropological approaches. In this final reasoned appeal to archaeology, Bassey found an approach in harmony both with current developments in world archaeology and with his own passionate conscience.

To return to the WAC, less well known than Bassey’s televised anti-apartheid role in 1986, or his magnificent contribution there at the Plenary Session, or his selection to serve on the WAC Steering Committee during 1986/87, was the ongoing importance of his contribution to this world organization. So, for example, at the WAC2 in 1990 in Venezuela he was urging Council to strengthen African effectiveness within the organization by establishing two African coordinating centres, one in the East, one in the West, and promising that a strong African membership of the WAC would be built up. But where Bassey’s voice was crucially important was in discussions leading to the continuing ban on South African membership of Council. At that same meeting, he seconded the motion to accept Namibia as a Council member, and he also argued in favour of a policy of allowing any individual South Africans who received approval from South Africa’s Mass Democratic Movement to be observers of Council and participants in WAC academic discussion sessions, provided that it was clearly understood that they were not in any way representing the country of South Africa. The importance of his interventions in these debates no doubt contributed to his being appointed in 1990 by the WAC Council to be their representative on the WAC Charity Directorship.

In the January 1993 WAC Inter-Congress meeting in Kenya, Bassey was one of the five-strong monitoring group which recommended to the WAC Executive that South Africa should henceforth be allowed to join the WAC Council’s Electoral College. But Bassey was at least as important an influence in a very different role at that Inter-Congress meeting, taking the considered lead in expressing his extreme suspicion of the motives, sentiments and recommendations being proposed to WAC from the US Development Agency Forest Service with regard to funding archaeology and cultural heritage management and “the requirement to make the deployment of high technologies routine in such work”. Bassey spent much of his time warning participants in the Inter-Congress from other developing nations of the dangers of what he identified in this and other cases as being simply a new kind of colonialism designed to facilitate access to Africa by European countries and America, with resultant detrimental dependence on high technological equipment and training.

By the time of WAC 3 in 1994 in Delhi, Bassey was ready to take on the role of President of the organization. In the context of what has been described by one of us (PU) as a meeting “marred by administrative problems within an overly politically fraught atmosphere” (Ucko and Layton 1999:xxv), there was really only one individual who could have restored the confidence of WAC in those participants in WAC 3 who had been drawn into the internal fire of Indian archaeological politics. At this Congress, Bassey’s deeply-held Christian ethic was clear for all to see as he effortlessly chaired his first, complicated and contentious, WAC Council and Executive meetings. He was equally determined to be an effective President, it having been a condition of his accepting that Presidency that the existing WAC office in Ibadan be upgraded with phone, fax and email linkages.

In the event, of course, Bassey was forced to all intents and purposes to be inactive in international affairs for the next two years because of the worsening situation in Nigeria. During that time he had apparently decided he could do more good for those Nigerians about whom he cared so much by moving on to a senior university administrative position. He was not successful in his attempt to move back to Calabar as that university’s Vice-Chancellor, and during early 1997 he was embroiled in problems regarding his expected appointment as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Administration) in the University of Ibadan. Nevertheless, he was able to attend a WAC meeting in the UK, when he appeared bursting with energy and ideas for a future WAC Inter-Congress on the “Archaeological Evidence for Slavery”, as well as for the already scheduled Inter-Congress meeting on the “Destruction of Cultural Property” (resulting from the aborted discussions of WAC 3). After his return to Nigeria, he again became uncontactable, at least from outside Nigeria.

Rumours first reported that he had at last been appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Ibadan in March 1997, and subsequently that he was ill, first in Ibadan, and then in Lagos. On 15 December Bassey’s apologies were presented to the London meeting of the WAC Charity Directors. The Directors agreed to pay for him to come to London for medical tests.

He died in Lagos on 22 December 1997, at the age of 56. As his wife Louisa wrote:

What do I say to you? Yes, Bassey is truly gone and his passage is so painful and so permanent … I thank God for the way He affected humanity through Bassey’s life and works.


The foregoing is a slightly revised, and referenced, version of the Memorial Lecture, read by Thurstan Shaw, presented on video at the World Archaeological Congress 4 held in Cape Town on 12 January 1999, and shown again at the University of Ibadan on 27 January 1999.

In the video Professor Shaw first gave a word of explanation about the lecture having been composed jointly by himself, Professor Peter Ucko and Dr Kevin MacDonald. He then explained that when the invitation came from Ibadan to do this lecture, they all desired to pay tribute to Bassey Andah both as the man they had known and as the outstanding African archaeologist of the continent. However they wanted the lecture to have some unity, and accordingly their separate contributions are not distinguished, and the whole, on which they all collaborated, was read by one person, TS.

He explained that their willingness to present this lecture was not only an expression of their admiration for Bassey Andah, it was also an expression of their faith in Nigeria and Nigerian scholars in spite of the tremendous difficulties and obstacles they have been encountering. European scholars are fortunate that it is difficult for them to imagine the extent of these obstacles and discouragements, but the authors believe that the persistence and determination of Nigerian scholars, so outstandingly demonstrated by Bassey Andah, will prevail in the long term.


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