In Nigeria today, many traditional buildings and monuments of historical importance built during the pre-colonial and early colonial era have virtually disappeared from our landscape. In their place we now have to contend with modern architecture of many styles and descriptions. To properly appreciate the ingenuity of the traditional house builder of the past, this account will focus on traditional archi lecture which employed indigenous technology and locally sourced building materials.
Before the introduction of modern European architecture and imported building materials, Nigerian traditional communities built their houses to meet their social, cultural and religious needs.
Building materials comprised manly mud, wood, stone, palm, grass and other appropriate vegetable materials.
Prior to and during the early part of European colonisation of Africa, the continent was referred to as the "Dark Continent" - a continent that had produced no 'Culture' and no 'civilisation.' This gener alisation, though unjustified, remained unchallenged for several centuries until European explor ers, traders and missionaries ventured into the heartland of Africa only to discover that Africa had achieved feats in several areas of human endeavour. One of such feats was in architecture. Claudia Zaslavsky revealed that in earlier centuries, European travellers were amazed when they entered African cities like Benin or the Asante Capital of Kumasi to find impressive architecture, well laid streets, and a cleanliness rare in their European towns (Zaslavsky, 1973). One of the earliest accounts was given by the Dutch explorer, Dr. at Olfert Dapper who in 1602, visited the royal Court of the Oba of Benin which he described as 'prodigious' and:
certainly as large as the town of Harlem, and entirely surrounded by a special wall. It is divided into many magnificent palaces, houses and apartments of the courtiers, and comprises beautiful and long square galleries, about as large as the Exchange at Amsterdam ... resting on wooden pillars, from top to bottom, cov ered with cast copper on which are engraved the pictures of their war exploits and battles, and are kept very clean (Dapper, 1906).
Accounts of palaces in Oyo, Kano, Bomo, llorin, among others, showed that the indigenous builders performed no mean feat both in the conception and execution of palace building and royal courts. Palaces occupied an important place in the community since the grandeur of the palace was a reflection of the political or religious prestige of the ruler.