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No, this photo doesn’t show pre-colonial Igbo architecture in southeast Nigeria

IN SHORT: The claim that this is a photo of “pre-colonial” Igbo architecture in Nigeria is false. It actually shows the palace of Foumban in Cameroon in 1907.

A black-and-white photo of a building with carved wooden pillars and thatched roof has been shared on Facebook, with the claim it shows the pre-colonial architecture of the Igbo people in southeast Nigeria. 

“This is Pre Colonial, Igbo Architecture in South East Nigeria,” reads a caption on the photo

It has been posted with the claim that Africans, including Igbo people, had well-built houses before the colonial era.  

The photo was posted here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here with the same claim. 

The Igbo is an ethnic group that lives predominantly in Nigeria’s southeastern geopolitical zone, a bulk of the region that seceded from Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra in the late 1960s.

Pre-colonial Igbo communities are known to have built houses with mud, thatched roofs and carved wooden doors.

Was the palatial house in the photo built in one of those communities in the region now known as southeast Nigeria, before European colonisation?


An old palace in Cameroon          

None of the posts give any details about the building or its location in southeast Nigeria. 

The first sign the photo was not taken in a pre-colonial Igbo community is that a man in the photo is wearing a white turban, the type typically worn by Muslim royals.

Islam was not known in pre-colonial Igbo communities and remains rare, and Igbo traditional attire did not include such turbans. 

A reverse image search indicated it’s a photo of the palace of Foumban in the Bamum kingdom in what is now northwestern Cameroon. It was taken in 1907. 

The man in the photo is believed to be sultan Ibrahim Njoya, who was the king of the Bamum people between 1895 and 1923. Njoya is wearing a turban in many of the photos of him we found online.   

We found a few other publications and social media posts linking the building in the photo with the kingdom of Bamum and Njoya, including here, here and here

The palace is also featured in a Deutsche Welle animated documentary about the king, titled Njoya Ibrahim: Cameroon's Inventive King.

All available evidence shows the photo was not taken in southeast Nigeria but in the northwest of neighbouring Cameroon.

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