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BARRACKS: THE HISTORY BEHIND THOSE NAMES
(PART 7 – EPILOGUE Section 3)
“Between Orok Edem and Theophilus Danjuma”
June 21, 2003
June 21, 2003
And, now we
come to the aspect of the Minister’s speech that upset Orok Edem and provoked
http://www.gamji.com/NEWS2453.htm, which in turn set the stage for this
investigational epilogue. Many others
have since sent in e-mails echoing his complaints.
“The following Nigerian Navy Barracks are to be renamed as follows:
OLOKUN - NNS BEECROFT
UMALOKUN - NNS DELTA
URHIAPELE - Nigerian Navy Engineering College (NNEC) Sapele
KAMANU - Nigerian Navy Finance and Logistic School (NNFLS) Owerrinta
AKASO - Nigerian Navy Basic Training School (NNBTS) Onne
ONURA - NNC ONNE
ANANSA - NNS VICTORY
OKEMINI - NNS PATHFINDER
Medical Centre - Obisesan Naval Medical Centre, Apapa Mobil Road, Apapa”
THESE NAMES MEAN?
Let me begin
my commentary by clarifying the meaning and significance of each affected name:
However, the following Shore establishments were
It is usually difficult to construct a counter-argument against an unknown argument. The MOD left few clues as to why it took it upon itself to change the names of nearly all Naval Shore facilities. However, based on the initial terms of reference given to the committee, and the ministerial declaration that “All names of barracks in existence during the colonial era up to the Nigerian Civil War shall be retained “ one can draw some preliminary conclusions.
It may be
surmised that the initial rationale for the change of NNS Olokun (in
particular) is that it used be known as NNS Beecroft before the civil
war. It continued to be known as NNS Beecroft until the Shehu Shagari regime
(1979-83). A reliable source hinted that then Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral
Akin Aduwo (rtd) got the approval to change the name to NNS Olokun. Apparently
the name change ceremony took place on the same day that the former flagship,
NNS Nigeria, became the NNS Obuma. Those changes heralded the consolidation of
an era in which various indigenous Nigerian languages became standard for naming
Nigerian warships by a variety of other names, as a supplement to “Town Class”
assumption is correct, then it is possible that once NNS Olokun was changed to
its previous colonial name, it brought the entire group of “Olokun Class” shore
facilities into focus. This would mean that similar shore bases named after
traditional coastal Nigerian deities of the sea became vulnerable. Such an
outcome may have transpired either because an effort was being made to avoid
appearing to be singling out “Olokun” or because the committee or the Minister
or the C-in-C, singly or jointly, were misguided by other considerations, known
Nigeria's navy was formally created by an act of the British Parliament out of the old Nigerian Marine Department (NMD) in 1958, two years after its men and boats were consolidated into an embryonic naval entity. The NMD was itself the result of a merger of the northern and southern marine detachments in 1914. In 1964, independent Nigeria formalized the role of the Navy by an Act of Parliament.
The question of whether ‘Beecroft’ is even an appropriate name for a Nigerian Naval Base is open to debate – whether or not it existed in colonial times, perhaps inherited from the NMD. I did write in one of my previous articles that ‘In my view, names inherited from the colonial era “that have now been abandoned” should be revived – as long as the colonial names did not supplant already established pre-colonial names, if any.‘ Later on during this essay, I shall answer the question, “Who was Beecroft”? In that summary it will be evident that the name “Olokun” precedes Beecroft in the naval and maritime history of Lagos and the history of the so called “Ethiope” river which was one of his claims to fame. Suffice it to say, for now, that “Beecroft” is not the name of an ‘important battle or campaign where Nigerian Armed Forces participated’, and thus, even by colonial standards it is an unusual name for a military base in British Nigeria. The resurrection of that name is akin to Ghana deciding to change the “Burma” camp in Accra to “Giffard” camp. Furthermore, Beecroft does not meet the standard we have set for indigenous Nigerian individuals after whom bases can only be named post-humously ‘for purely military professional excellence.’
The new guiding principle appears to be that “Naval bases are to be named after geographical features or to reflect technical duties performed at the bases. They may also be named after deceased personnel who contributed immensely to the development of the Nigerian Navy.” What is unclear is whether, other then colonially bequeathed names, the ‘new principle’ is without exception, preceded the changes or came after, since the MOD did not explain its thinking. For example, the announced criteria for “Army Barracks” did not include geographical features, and yet two prominent Army Barracks in Abuja were named after geographic entities – the River Niger and the Mambilla Plateau. That leaves its actions with respect to the Naval bases open to all sorts of interpretation, not to mention the hurt feelings of many coastal minority nationalities.
“Okemini”, for example, in Ikwerre means a “large body of water or sea or ocean”. Is that not a geographic feature? The Ethiope River in the western Niger-delta used to be known locally as the “Olokun” River. Is ‘Olokun’ not, therefore, also a geographic feature? That the names are indigenous certainly cannot justify their being changed, in a country where all surface naval vessels have local names, the Army’s motto is written in Arabic type Ajemi letters (character), internal security operations go by names like Operation ‘Hakiru I’ and ‘Hakiru II’ or Operation ‘Anansa’ etc. The word ‘Hakiru’ means “patience” in Hausa. The village of Odi was destroyed during Operation Hakiru II.
Based on the foregoing, barring hypocrisy, the
issue was unlikely to merely be a question of language. What then? Readers
have pilloried me with questions. Did someone think African deities are not a
credible source of professional military or naval names? Were naval operations
or professionalism undermined by the names? Was this a power statement by a few
Christian and Islamic fundamentalists eager to liquidate the primordial African
template of our people? Was it a power statement linked to the onshore-offshore
dispute between some ‘ethnic minority’ States and the Federal Government?
Fascinating as these unproved hypotheses may be,
they will not constitute the primary thrust of my analysis because the
government has not actually explained its motivation beyond issues of military
What is the process for naming Naval Ships in
It is important to consider this angle because
those who recommended the recent changes in Nigeria are all former Army Officers
– assuming the idea originated at committee level. There was no Naval or
ex-Naval member of the committee. The Chiefs of Naval and Defence Staff, (both
of whom were Naval Officers at the time) probably had an opportunity to make
input. This could have been to the Committee or at Defence Council level,
assuming it was actually discussed in that setting and that they had a free hand
to do so once the preferences of their political masters became known. However,
as noted by a reader, there was no representation of the south-south coastal
minority states at committee or ministerial level. Lastly, there was no
publicized parliamentary input in the process and the general public had no
opportunity to make contributions at formal hearings or by invitation. The
latter oversight, in my opinion, was an error because it denied the MOD an
opportunity to get buy-in at a time it was projecting itself as an agent of
improved civil-military relations.
In the United Kingdom, there is a ‘Ships’
Names and Badges Committee (SNBC)’ which meets several times a year. It has
permanent as well as ad-hoc members. The Head of the Naval Historical Branch
represents the Controller of the Navy as the Chairman. The secretary is the
Admiralty Librarian. Other permanent members are the senior Regional Naval
Officer, as well as the Norroy and Ulster King of Arms, said to be the naval
adviser on heraldry. From time to time ad-hoc members are brought in. For
example, if the ship to be named is a submarine, the office of Rear Admiral
(Submarines) will be asked to send a representative. The Controller initiates
the process. Based on guidance from the First Sea Lord and Admiralty Board he
gives the SNBC a theme, or “Ship Class”. An initial list of many names is
generated from multiple sources, including the public. It is then
narrowed down by the SNBC (based on numerous considerations) to a short list,
submitted through the Controller, the First Sea Lord and Defence ministers, to
the Queen for approval. The process is open. The public is encouraged to
send suggestions to the Chairman of the Ships’ Names and Badges Committee
(Head of the Naval Historic Branch), 3-5 Great Scotland Yard, Whitehall, London
SW1A 2HW. By tradition, once approved by the Queen, the name of a ship or base
is not open to change by the whim of some future government.
In the United States, Navy ship naming traditions have evolved over the years. Congress authorizes the three ceremonial occasions associated with keel laying, launch and christening, and final commissioning. It was on the basis of an original 1819 act of Congress that the Navy Secretary got the authority to name Naval Ships. The Law does not now set the sources of names in stone – although it used to be so at one time. It has evolved, based on traditions and exigencies – and the Navy Secretary keeps Congress informed, sometimes asking for permission to make unusual changes to established principle. The process begins at the level of the Naval Historical Center, which compiles a list of names (based on suggestions from active duty sailors, ex-Navy veterans, as well as the public). The names are then sent through the Chief of Naval Operations to the Secretary of the Navy. The Secretary combines the submitted names with those he has received from multiple other sources, and then makes the final selection. Carriers are typically (but not always) named after very famous men, old Naval Ships or historic battles. Cruisers are usually (but not always) named after cities. Submarines are often (but not always) named after sea creatures and famous men, while destroyers are typically (but not always) named after heroic servicemen and women and former Secretaries of the Navy.
DEITIES AND NAVAL FORCES
What is the connection between ancient deities and
modern naval forces?
Before proceeding with a general discourse of amphibious deities and modern naval forces, let me comment on NNS Kamanu, since the Igbo deity of thunder (and justice) concerned is not amphibious. Some may wonder what the name “Kamanu” has to do with the Navy – other than the typically superficial Nigerian observation that some of the most senior Igbo officers in Nigerian naval history come from the area Kamanu is known.
First I shall show below that deities of thunder have indeed been used in naming warships of western countries (such as the American naval ships USS Thor and USS Zeus). Secondly, maritime history teaches us that the Vikings (of modern Denmark, Sweden and Norway), were the greatest military seafarers at one time, taking Europe by storm between 800 and 1050 A.D. when they carried out numerous amphibious landings on distant beaches in vast naval armadas – without the aid of compasses. They even discovered North America before Columbus, touching down circa 985-1000 AD in what is now known as Newfoundland.
Also known as the Norsemen, their type of warfare
(and origin of the word “Viking”) was called "go a-viking." Vik
in Norse means "harbor" or "bay." Mythology was a key element of Viking
military doctrine and was a huge factor in the risks they were willing to take
out in the open uncharted seas without compasses. The chief god of the Vikings
was called Odin. He was in charge of
Valhalla, the warrior's heaven. Death in battle was
considered the highest form of honor. Indeed, only by death during war could a
Norseman gain entry into Valhalla. The Norse god of Thunder was known as Thor.
He was a war god and patron god of Viking warriors, hence the connection of the
“god of Thunder” to the heritage of modern naval forces.
Sailors, Myths and Superstition
Deities and myths are as old as mankind.
Historically, deities (predating
Christianity and Islam) have existed since time immemorial in numerous cultures
all over the world. For example, certain
deities are believed to govern sporting/competitive events. Better known
examples include Apollo, the Greek god of Archery, after which an entire
series of American Space Rockets (aimed at the moon) were named and Nike,
the Greek god of Victory, after which a highly successful American Sports shoe
company is named. Victoria, the Greek goddess of Victory is a commonly
used name all over the world. In Africa, Anyigba is a Togolese goddess
of Hunting, as are Atida of Uganda, and Dorina and Kyanwa
of Nigeria. Coti and Wagadu are also African Goddesses of prowess and
hunting. Ogun (as in Ogun State and Ogun River) is the Yoruba god of Iron, War
and Hunting. Ogun is also an Edo god of iron and war.
Internationally well known gods and goddesses of War include Mars (Roman) –
after whom the month of March (Martius) and
the common name ‘Martin’ is derived.
In other cultures he is known as Vulcan (Roman), Ares (Greek and Spartan),
Bishamonten (Buddhist), Tyr (Norse), Begtse (Mongolian), Laran
(Etruscan), Maahes (Egyptian), Ab Kin Xoc (Mayan), Ain/Aine (Irish), Kuang Yu
(Chinese), Attar (Saudi Arabia), Adrastea (British), Aruna (Hindu),
Futsu-Nushi-No-Kami (Japan), Amaterasu (Japan), Neto (Iberia) etc. Ashtar,
Beher, Meder and Mahrem were Ethiopian Gods of war. Other African gods of war
include Shango (Yoruba), Isango (Edo),
(Ibibio), Bo (Ewe),
Ilankaka (Zaire), Iruwa (Kenya), Muhingo (Bunyoro), Kibuka (Buganda), Na (Ngutu),
Nyambe (Zambia) etc.
Sailors are by nature highly superstitious. Those
who have never sailed the high seas or gone to its depths simply cannot
understand the way sailors think. Their customs and traditions (all over the
world) are very old and deep. Sailors generally regard changing the names of
their ships and facilities as a bringer of bad luck – unless elaborate
precautions are undertaken. Those interested in more information about maritime
customs can read more about it at
http://homepage.ntlworld.com/c_traveller/super.htm To whistle on a ship,
start a voyage on a Friday, bring a black bag aboard, kill a sea-gull, porpoise
or albatross, use the word “drown”, etc is considered ill omen. Even
ceremonial gun salutes like the 21-gun salute, which originated in antiquity,
are always fired using an odd number of shots (eg 19 or 21) because of an
ancient naval superstition about even numbers. If one was to hear an
approaching ship fire a gun salute with an even number of shots, it implies that
the Ship’s captain is dead.
Sea deities in particular are very dear to
sailors. The word “Ocean” comes from the Greek sea-god Oceanus, son of
Uranus (Heaven) and Gaea (Earth). The word “Marine” comes from “Mari” an
ancient Roman goddess of the sea. Marine means ‘Mari’s house’. Other terms
like ‘Maritime’ are also derived from “Mari.” In Space terminology, the lava
"seas" on the Moon are called ‘Maria’, after ‘Mari’.
In fact many other
English words in daily usage derive from ancient myths. The days of the week,
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, for example, come from Tiw, Odin and Thor – all
gods of war in ancient pantheons. Mexico (a Catholic country) is named
after the Aztec war god. Nemesis is the Greek
goddess of Retribution. Leicester in England is named after Lir, a mythical god.
In Greek mythology, the
chief god of the sea is called Poseidon, known in Roman pantheon as
Neptune. Zeus, Pluto and Poseidon were all brothers who dethroned their
father, Kronos, and shared his jurisdiction. Poseidon took the sea. His weapon
was the Trident. Poseidon is known in Hindu as Kasyapa
and in Hebrew as Sidon. In western
civilization, his Roman counterpart (Neptune) is often referred as the inventor
of Horse racing because according to tradition, he turned himself into a
stallion to woo the goddess Demeter when she became a mare.
The national flag of the independent island of
Barbados contains a broken Trident said to belong to the Roman mythical sea god
Neptune (Poseidon). The original seal of the British colony of Barbados had a
complete Trident. When the country became independent, the shaft of the
colonial Trident was broken to illustrate its separation from Britain.
In Africa, the ancient
Ethiopians (called Axumites), who were at one time the pre-eminent naval power
in Africa, dominating the Red Sea, the Indian Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Bay
of Bengal, also worshipped Poseidon. Lake Tritonis in the Libyan
Desert was named after Triton, the son of Poseidon.
Other amphibious gods and goddesses include Lir alias Llyr Llediarth, the Celtic god of the Sea, Manannan Mac Lir, the sea-deity of Ireland, Tethys, Titan wife of Oceanus also called Thallassa, fish-mother and creator of all sea life, Oannes, Babylonian Sea god, Nereus, an ancient Greek Sea god, Amphitrite, an ancient Greek goddess of the Aegean Sea, Cybele of Asia Minor, also known as the "Magna Mater", or the great queen mother goddess, a concept that evolved into Catholic Mariology, Fuxi of China, said to have founded Chinese civilization around 3,322BC and Yu-qiang, Chinese God of the sea (also the four dragon kings/gods of rain and the sea, Ao Chin,Ao Jun, Ao Kuang and Ao Shun). To the list can be added Tien-Hou - the Chinese Ocean goddess, Matsu – of Taiwan, Nammu – a Sumerian sea goddess, Aphrodite – a Greek goddess of the Sea, Aneta - a Celtic water goddess, Aufruvva – a Finnish (Saami) mermaid goddess, Vishnu – a Hindu god-man who was half-man, half-fish, Wata-tsu-mi, Ryo-Wo, Susanowo and Suitengu – all Japanese sea gods, Benten - the Japanese Queen of the Sea, Sedna - the Inuit Sea goddess of Alaska, Rusalka and Vodyany, Russian female and male water spirits, Bangputys (meaning "He who blows the waves”) – the Lithuanian god of the sea, and Anky-Keleis - the god of the sea among the Chukchi of eastern Siberia. Sjora is a Swedish sea goddess and, as previously noted, Mari, the Roman Goddess of the Sea. Galatea, Thetis, Triton, Calypso, Proteus, Orion etc were all lesser gods and goddesses in Greek and Roman mythology.
Examples from Nigeria include Ndem, the Efik
goddess of Water. Gunuko is a Nupe deity still worshipped in Brazil to this
day. Among the Yoruba there are Olorun (Supreme), Olokun (waters), Yemoja
(waters), Osun (as in Osun State)
etc. Yemoja is the mother of waters known as Imanji or Yemanji in Brazilian
Macumba and Yemaya in Cuba. Brazilian Umbandists regard Yemaja as the patron
saint of shipwrecked victims. Olokun lives in a huge underwater palace served
by both humans and fish. Chukwu is supreme among the Igbo. The riverain Igbo
Spirit of the rivers is called Imo miri (or Mmuo Mmili) but it goes by many
other names in various dialects. For example, it is called "Onishe " in Asaba
dialect. The traditional Igala name for the river deity is Alijenu (or Ajenu
in some parts.) Olukun is the river deity among the Okpe of Delta State. It is
also called Anansa in Efik, Onura in Eleme, Akaso in Kalabari, Benikurukuru in
Ijaw (certain dialects) and Umalokun in Itsekiri. Among the Edo,
Osalobua is the Supreme Deity while Olokun is
the god of the Sea and Wealth. Olokun worship is derived from the Iso religion
of the ancient proto-Edoid Ogiso era. It is common to virtually all Edoid
groups in the country.
Western Navies, mythical gods and goddesses
In his concluding remarks, the Minister said he hoped the renaming process would help re-establish “professionalism” in the Armed Forces. I wondered, therefore, if it was unusual for a highly professional western Navy to name its ships after mythological entities or engage in traditional ceremonies of ancient mythical origin.
Since the United Kingdom originally created the Royal Nigerian Navy, her ship naming practices are of academic interest as the former colonial power.
As an introduction, let me quickly debunk the
notion that shore establishments cannot bear the names of ships. In the United
Kingdom, British Naval Shore Establishments for Training include BRNC Dartmouth,
HMS Raleigh, HMS Excellent, HMS Collingwood, HMS Dryad, HMS Sultan and HMS
The HMS Dryad offers training in Maritime
warfare, Underwater Warfare, Mine Warfare, Maritime Trade, Applied Oceanography
and Meteorology, Navigation, Point Defence Weapon Systems and Ceremonial
training. The word “Dryad” is derived from Greek mythology. It refers
to wood nymphs – lesser goddesses in the Greek pantheon. (Interestingly, the
HMS Temeraire, which houses the Royal Navy Physical Training Center, is
derived from the name of a small French ship that was captured off the coast of
Lagos in 1759.)
The HMS Neptune was a British battleship cruiser during World War 2. The HMS Poseidon was a British submarine that operated in the China Sea until 1931. Neptune and Poseidon are Roman and Greek gods of the sea respectively. Other Royal Naval Ships named after Greek myths, gods and goddesses include the submarine H.M.S. Thetis (mother of Archilles), HMS Thermopylae, HMS Bellona (Roman goddess of war), and HMS Erebus (Greek son of Chaos). Also included are HMS Doris (Greek sea nymph), HMS Hercules (Greek strongman that performed the 12 great labours), and the former aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (Greek messenger and herald of the gods). Indeed, an entire Leander class of Frigates was named after HMS Leander (the young man who drowned while visiting Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite). These include HMS Aurora (Roman goddess of the dawn), HMS Euryalus, HMS Sirius, HMS Andromeda, HMS Scylla, HMS Phoebe, HMS Argonaut, HMS Cleopatra, HMS Arethusa, HMS Diomede, HMS Apollo, HMS Achilles, HMS Ariadne (the woman who helped Theseus escape from the labyrinth) etc. Other ships named after myths include HMS Polyphemus (the cyclops who temporarily imprisoned Odysseus before he was blinded), and the HMS Daedulus among others.
Be that as it may, the most interesting aspect (from the point of view of this article) of British Naval Tradition is the “initiation” called the “Crossing of the Line Ceremony.” A Marine Corps dictionary describes it as,
“An allegorical ceremony performed aboard ship
whenever the ship crosses a navigational line such as the equator or into
another ocean. Very colorful and usually involves an initiation of those who
have never crossed the line before”
It originated in the days of the Vikings and is
still practiced in the British, Canadian and US Navies among many others
(including Nigeria). In the maritime world, the line in question is usually the
Equator. But the Tropic of Cancer or Capricorn, Cape of Good Hope,
International Date Line or the Arctic may be involved if it represents a
transition to previously unexplored waters. Sailors who have previously been
initiated (a.k.a. shellbacks) assume the roles of King Neptune, Queen Amphitrite,
the Royal Baby, the Royal Barbers, the Royal Constables, and lesser sea entities
like the Tritons. They then initiate new sailors (a.k.a. wogs). In this manner
the new sailors are deemed to have performed essential rites of passage when
crossing certain parallels, straits and narrow passages in the oceans and seas
of the world.
During the ‘summons’, the following passage, which
was used aboard the HMS New Zealand in 1919, is typical:
Neptune, by the grace of Mythology Lord of the Waters, Sovereign of all Oceans, Governor and Lord High Admiral of the Bath, etc.
Whereas it has pleased Us to convene a Court to be holden on board His Majesty's Ship " New Zealand, " on the upper deck thereof, at the hour of 9.30 a.m.
By these presents We summon you …….……………(name) to appear at the said Court to tender Us the usual homage, and to be initiated into the mystic rites according to the ancient usages of Our Kingdom.
Hereof nor you, nor any of you may fail, as you will answer at your peril, and to the delight of Our trusty Bodyguard.
Given at Our Court on the Equator this Eighth day
of May, in the year One thousand nine hundred and nineteen of Our Watery Reign.
I have it on authority that this ceremony is conducted on Nigerian naval Ships whenever they cross the equator. In fact a certificate – signed by “Neptune” - is issued to commemorate the occasion. A senior Nigerian Naval officer who once acted as “Neptune” described the ceremony to me. For all practical intents and purposes he was acting as “Olokun” or “Umalokun” or “Akaso” or “Onura” or “Anansa” and did not seem the least bothered by it.
The US Navy
is certainly the most powerful and probably the most professional Naval Force in
the world. I wondered, therefore, what attitude this ‘highly professional’
Navy which is “reprofessionalizing” the Nigerian Navy had toward sea myths, gods
US Navy Submarine Insignia
insignia of the United States Navy Submarine Service has Dolphins on it.
According to an authoritative source, "The submarine insignia, adopted in March
1924, is a bow view of a submarine proceeding on the surface with bow planes
rigged for diving, flanked by dolphins in horizontal position with their heads
resting on the upper edge of the bow planes. The dolphins on this insignia
are symbolic of a calm sea and are the traditional attendants of Poseidon, Greek
god of the sea.....Regardless of the color of the pin or the insignia at the
center, dolphins are worn with pride by members of the Submarine Force "
Neptune" was the naval component of the invasion of Europe - via Normandy -
during WW2. Neptune is the Roman equivalent of Poseidon, god of the Sea.
The US Naval
Meteorology and Oceanography Command runs a website called "Neptune's Web."
Neptune is the Roman equivalent of Poseidon, god of the Sea.
US P2V-7F 'Neptune'
Cold War, there were Naval Anti-Submarine Warfare and Maritime Patrol aircraft
called the P2V-7F 'Neptune' - based at the Whidbey Island base. Neptune is the
Roman equivalent of Poseidon, god of the Sea.
The USS Neptune (ARC-2) was originally built as a Cable Ship for the Army Signal Corps in 1945/46. Acquired by the US Navy in 1953, it later helped to lay deep ocean cables for SOSUS - the SOund SUrveillance System (SOSUS) used during the Cold War for tracking Soviet submarines by their signature acoustic signals. In 1973 the ship was seconded to the Military Sealift Command and became the USNS Neptune (T-ARC-2). She was finally decommissioned in January 1991.
The USS Poseidon (ARL-12) - named after the Greek god of the sea - was initially a Landing Ship Tank (LST). She was later converted to a landing craft repair ship and was very active during WW2 fixing battle damaged naval landing vessels for numerous amphibious landings during the Pacific war. She was decommissioned in November 1946.
Greek means Satan. However, it was the name given in ancient Greek
astronomy to the North Star (the "pole star" in Ursa Minor - Alpha Ursae Minoris).
The word is of Latin origin. Ancient sailors determined their direction at sea
using Polaris. The first U.S. Navy Fleet Ballistic Missile system in l956 was
called the Polaris missile. The A1 version was upgraded over the years to A2
and A3, before given way to the Poseidon missile.
generation of submarine launched Intercontinental ballistic missiles in the US
inventory (after the Polaris was phased out) was called the Poseidon missile,
named after the Greek god of the Sea.
Trident Fleet Ballistic Missile
the weapon of Poseidon, Greek god of the Sea. It is a three-pronged spear. The
latest generations of submarine launched Intercontinental ballistic missiles in
the US inventory are called 'Trident I' and 'Trident II'.
The USS Krishna (ARL 38 ) is a name sake of the Hindu lover, hero and destroyer of demons, known as the eighth avatar or reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. She was a landing craft repair ship during the Vietnam War. The USS Satyr is a namesake of the mythical Greek animal with pointed ears and the lower body of a goat.
The USS Sphinx took its name from a Greek mythological creature with the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and the head and breast of a human female. The USS Indra is a namesake of the Hindu god of the atmosphere, storms, rain, and battle. The USS Myrmidon, a Tank Landing Ship and later Auxiliary Repair, Landing craft, active at Iwo Jima, took its name from a Greek warrior of the Thessalian tribe who followed Achilles to the Trojan War.
The USS Atlantis, namesake of the mythical lost continent, was an Oceanographic Research Ship. The USS Neptune (AS 17) was a Submarine Tender. The USS Helios (ARB 12) was a Battle Damage Repair Ship named after the Greek God of the Sun. The US Hercules (PHM 2) was a missile patrol boat. The USS Mercury (AKR 10), named after the Roman messenger god, was a Vehicle Cargo Ship. The USS Midas (ARB 5), named after the myth of King Midas, was a Battle Damage Repair Ship. The USS Minotaur (ARL 15) was a Small Ship Repair craft. It was named after the Greek mythological creature with a man's body but a bull's head born to Pasiphaë, the wife of Minos of Crete after he offended Poseidon. The USS Orion (AS 18) was a Submarine Tender. Orion was the son Euryale (a Gorgon) and Poseidon. The USNS Saturn (AFS 10), a combat storage ship, was named after Saturn, a Greek God known as the "Sun of the night." USS Sphinx (ARL 24) was a Repair Ship named after a Theban monster with the body of a lion and the upper part of a woman. The USS Thor (ARC 4) was a Cable Repair Ship named after Thor, Norse God of thunder. The nuclear powered submarine USS Triton (SSN 586) was named after a lesser Greek God of water and son of Poseidon. The USS Victoria (AK 281) was named after Victoria, Goddess of Victory while the USS Vulcan (AR 5) – was named after the Roman god of fire. The USS Zeus (ARB 4) - a Battle Damage Repair Ship - and USS Zeus (ARC 7) – a Cable Repairing Ship – were named after Zeus, Greek King of the gods, who also functions as god of skies, lightening, thunder, and storms.
Australian Navy has a modern secure computerized tactical message handling
system called the POSEIDON, which is installed on most of its ships
The Greek (Hellenic) Navy has a Type 209 – 1200 Submarine, which goes by the name S116 Poseidon. Other submarines in the Glavkos class include S110 Glavkos, S111 Nereus, S112 Triton, S113 Proteus, S117 Amfrititi, S118 Okeanos and S119 Pontos. These names are not coincidental. The Hellenic navy also has a “Thetis” class of ships that are tasked with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) duties. There is also an “Andromeda” class of patrol boats including the P196 Andromeda, P198 Kyknos, P199 Pegasus, and P288 Toxotis.
and highly effective German submachine gun called the MP-5 has a naval variant
called the Poseidon 76 adapted for sea borne commando operations.
Poseidon Sweden is a highly successful company that makes diving equipment patronized by U.S., German and Swedish navies.
MYTHOLOGY AND THE NAVIES OF OTHER NATIONS
The Indian Navy is of interest as one of the
non-Western navies looked upon with respect by many. Indeed many Nigerian
sailors have undergone training in India and our ships have taken part in Indian
Naval Fleet reviews.
According to a website dedicated to the history of the Indian Navy,
“In Indian mythology, Varuna was the exalted deity to whom lesser mortals turned for forgiveness of their sins. It is only later that Indra became known as the King of the Gods, and Varuna was relegated to become the God of Seas and Rivers. The ocean, recognised as the repository of numerous treasures, was churned by the Devas and Danavas, the sons of Kashyapa by queens Aditi and Diti, in order to obtain Amrit, the nectar of immortality. Even today the invocation at the launching ceremony of a warship is addressed to Aditi. (Italics mine)”
Among the numerous ships and submarines of the
Indian Navy, some are named after Hindu deities – or are namesakes of deities.
The Talwar class (modified Krivak type) frigates include the INS Trisul, which
means ‘God’s weapon.’ The Brahmaputra (improved Godavari) class large frigates
include the INS Brahmaputra (‘God’s son) – which, like Olokun, is also the name
of a river. Sukanya class offshore patrol vessels including Sukanya, Subhadra,
Suvarna, Savitri, Sharda, etc, all of which are sacred female names from the
Vedas. (The Vedas are ancient texts of
Hinduism that are also associated with Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism).
The INS Amba is a submarine tender. Amba means ‘goddess’. The Gaj class fleet
tugs are called Matanga and Ambika, both of whom are also, goddesses. Shakti,
as in Shakti (Deepak class) fleet oilers means “energy” but Shakti is also a
Hindu deity. The INS Krishna is a training frigate, which was
originally a Royal Navy
Leander class Frigate called HMS Andromeda. She got her name from INS
Kistna, a sloop sailing yacht previously in the service of the defunct Royal
Indian Navy. But Krishna is a Hindu deity.
Japan has a long and proud maritime and naval
The majority of the names of post-World War 2
Japanese ships are based on surrounding mountains, rivers, cities, islands, and
flow-related and weather-related phenomena. However, some are based on ancient
deities, temples and myths.
The Hiei is a Haruna class anti-submarine-warfare
destroyer named after a famous temple - one of the most famous temples from
HEIAN (9th century) period. Haruna itself is a sacred mountain in
the Gunma prefecture. Located within the mountain is the Enryaku-Ji temple with
a long history of powerful priests presiding over religious and political
ceremonies. Among the Hatsuyuki class frigates is the Matsuyuki, named
after the "Matsu", a traditional tree located along seasides, and symbol of
luck. Among the Abukuma class ASW frigates are the Jintsu and Ohyodo,
symbolic of supernatural and omnipotent powers connected to the Japanese god.
Based on these observations one can safely conclude that mythical names (amphibious or otherwise) are not unusual in highly professional navies.
When the MOD announced that it had changed the
name of NNS Olokun back to to NNS Beecroft, many younger Nigerians wondered who
Beecroft was. This is a good time to answer that question.
John Beecroft was a British naturalist, explorer
and sailor [Dyke, K.: "John Beecroft, 1790-1854", Journal of the
Historical Society of Nigeria, volume 1, 5-14 (1956)]. He was born in 1790.
The French imprisoned him between 1805 and 1814 after being captured in a
coasting vessel. He later commanded a transport vessel in an expedition to
Greenland. In 1829, he became the Superintendent of works at Fernando Po, after
which he acted as Governor of Fernando Po (the island portion of Equatorial
Guinea) from 1830 to 1832. The British later pulled out of Fernando Po in 1833
but he remained as a defacto governor in a private capacity. Beecroft
took part in many voyages aimed at clarifying the course of the lower Niger and
the Niger-delta for the western world. In 1835, he went 300 miles up the River
Niger in a steamer called the Quorra. In 1836, starting off at Old
Calabar, he went up 120 miles along the Cross River. In 1840 he went up the
Benin River in a 30 horsepower steamer called the Ethiope to see if it
could be used to get to the main body of the River Niger, bypassing the swamps
of the Niger-Delta. In 1939, his employer, a Glasgow based merchant by the name
Mr. Robert Jamieson, named one of the tributaries of the Benin River (leading to
Sakponba) Jamieson River. This time Beecroft decided to rename another major
tributary after his ship. That is how the centuries old Olokun River became
known as the Ethiope River to western civilization. In fact in 1841, he
published an article titled "On Benin and the Upper Course of the River
Quorra on Niger" in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society.
That same year, he went up the Cross-River once more. When he returned he
assisted in withdrawing an unsuccessful Niger expedition in the steamer Ethiope.
The following year (1842) he went up the Cross-River again.
When Spain reasserted its control over Fernando Po
in 1843, it asked Beecroft to act as Governor without pay. However, because of
his intimate knowledge of riverain navigation in the Bights of Benin and Biafra,
the Royal Navy decided to employ him on contract for political missions along
the coast and inland. He played this role from 1844 to 1849 when he was formally
made the British Consul to the Bights of Benin and Biafra. It was in this
capacity that he engaged in the shenanigans that resulted in the British
take-over of Lagos. Encouraged by missionaries at Badagry and eager to control
Lagos-Ibadan trade, he ordered a naval bombardment of Lagos into submission in
December 1851. The political cover was a request by ex-Oba Akitoye to help him
regain the throne from his rival, the Portuguese backed Oba Kosoko, who had
earlier refused to sign a so-called anti-slavery trade agreement with Britain.
The UK later annexed it (by threat of force) in 1861.
John Beecroft died on Jun 10th 1854 and is buried in Fernando Po.
The important thing to realize is that Beecroft
did not discover any Nigerian river, nor did he discover or found Lagos, nor did
he found the Nigerian Navy. He wasn’t even a Naval Officer. He was an agent of
the British Royal Navy who made it possible for them to subsequently annex the
colony of Lagos (although he may not have intended that outcome originally). If
they named a base after him before Nigeria became independent, it was for
mercantile service to the Queen or King. The path of the Benin River and its
many tributaries had been known locally for centuries. What he and his employer
did was navigate it for the purposes of British trading and political interests,
publish their findings in Europe and then confer their own names. Naval
expeditions from Benin down the Benin river and via the Lagos channel were going
back and forth to Eko (Lagos) hundred of years before Beecroft was born. This
is well documented.
The story gets more interesting. The word “Ethiope” from which the name of Beecroft’s ship (and thus the Ethiope River) was derived, comes from the Greek word Aithíops. "Ethiope" derives from a combination of aíthô, meaning "burn," and óps, meaning, "face." In other words, “Burnt faces” which is how Negroes (or black people) were viewed. Indeed, Shakespeare used the phrase in Romeo and Juliet. When the word is traced back, it reveals itself in Greek mythology. Cassiopeia was known as the Ethiope Queen. She was the wife of Ethiopian King Cephalus (not modern day Ethiopia, but the island of Lesvos in the Aegean Sea) at one time called “Ethiope” because of its darker skinned inhabitants.
Poseidon sent a sea monster called Cetus to ravage the island after Cassiopeia claimed to be more beautiful than the sea goddess nymphs or Nereids. It will be recalled that her daughter Andromeda (described as having a dark complexion), was chained to a rock for purposes of sacrifice to ward off the sea monster. She was, however, rescued by Perseus the son of Zeus on his way back from the killing of Medusa the Gorgon – and they got married. The Persians (who are relatively dark skinned) are said to have descended from Peres, first child of Perseus and Andromeda.
later changed Cassiopeia into a constellation of stars. She looks like she is in
the position of being seated on her throne, with her head pointing
towards the North Star (Polaris). As the earth revolves it appears as if she
spends half of every night upside-down. The constellation is
called the Celestial "W" and
Celestial "M". She is known in Arab
mythology and astrology as “the Lady in the Chair.”
In an effort to escape from the inescapable
African myth of Olokun, the god of the Sea of the first settlers of Eko, we may
have settled for a British sailor that sailed our shores hundreds of years later
in a ship named after the Greek myth of “burnt faces”.
HOW THE NIGERIAN NAVY HAS HISTORICALLY
NAMED IT’S OTHER SHIPS.
Having established the international credibility
of myths and deities as a traditional mechanism (among others) for naming ships
and shore facilities, it would be a good exercise to review historical naming
practices in the Nigerian Navy. This is important because there are probably
some readers wondering whether the use of local dialects is recent, unique to
the languages and dialects so far reviewed, or peculiar to Nigeria.
The following table illustrates the names of many
(but not all) Nigerian Naval Ships since Independence. Most are no longer
operational, but that is not the focus of this article.
*Most current and former naval officers I
contacted when preparing this article claimed these ships were indigenously
named after the Tiger. Except in captivity, however, Tigers are not indigenous
to Africa. The indigenous "big cats" of
Africa are the Leopard (Panthera pardus), the Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), and
the Lion (Panthera leo leo). Therefore, except in reference to those
unnaturally bred in captivity, when one hears references in indigenous Nigerian
languages to a 'Tiger' what is actually implied (in indigenous knowledge) is a
Leopard. In some dialects the differentiation from either a Cheetah or Lion is
vague. Thus the popular wisdom about a "Tiger” in Nigeria or any African
country is a misnomer. The only "Tigers" in Africa are African tiger bitterns (Tigriornis
leucolophus) - a type of bird, African tiger fishes (Hydrocynus vittatus) and
African tiger lotuses (Nymphaea maculata) - a type of flower. [While on the
subject, the Nigerian Army's 2nd Mechanized Division has a "snarling Tiger" as
its emblem. There is no doubt that bared teeth in African cosmology symbolizes
ferocity and aggression - and that is obviously the intent of that mascot.
However, a "snarling Leopard" may be more accurate].
SOME SUB-SAHARAN AFRICAN NAVIES
For completeness I have included a review of names of ships belonging to Naval forces of some African countries.
has patrol boats like the Bakassi, named after the Bakassi peninsula, and
the L'Audacieux, a french word meaning ‘audacious’ or ‘bold’.
CONGO once had a group of small patrol boats called “Les Trois Glorieuses”
or “The glorious three” none of which are now operable. GABON has large
patrol boats named after famous or pioneering military figures - General
D'Armee Ba Oumar, Colonel Djoue Dbany and General Nazaire Boulingui.
Its landing ship is known as President el Hadj Omar Bongo named after
the current President. A sample of GHANAIAN warship names is presented
in a tabulated summary below. IVORY COAST has vessels with french names
like Le Valeureux, L'Ardent, L'Intrepide, and a small landing ship called
Elephant. KENYAN warships are presented in a tabulated summary
below. NAMIBIA has a large patrol boat called the Tobias Hainyeko.
Hainyeko was the first Commander of the People's Liberation Army of
Namibia (PLAN). He is revered as one of those who initiated Namibia's armed
struggle on August 26, 1966. He died in battle on May 18, 1967 during a
confrontation with then apartheid South Africa’s Defence Force along the Zambezi
River. The other patrol boat is called the Oryz, part of the Oryx class
of boats, named after a type of endangered antelope or gazelle. The Indian Ocean
island of SEYCHELLES has a patrol boat called the Andomache.
Andomache (also spelled Andromache) was a famous Trojan female
personality. She was the wife of Hector, son of Priam, a distinguished leader
of Troy. During the Trojan War, Archilles killed Hector. Andromache’s sorrow
after the Greeks finally entered Troy – and sentenced her son Astyanax to death
- is one of the great literary classics about women in war. (The NNS Penelope,
a naval boat that took part in the Nigerian civil war, was also named after a
female figure from the Trojan War)
South African submarines and ships also have
interesting names and they indicate great effort to reflect the multiplicity of
ethnic and racial heritage in that country. Unlike Nigeria, South Africa has a
large resident White citizen class.
The Maria Van Riebeeck class of
submarines is named after Maria, wife of Jan van Riebeeck, the Dutch merchant
(and first European) – on commission for the Dutch-East India Trading Company
- to land in Cape Town on April 6, 1652. However, the subs themselves are
called Umkhonto and Assegai. Umkhonto means ‘Spear’ in Zulu and
refers to the more traditional long Zulu spear before the advent of Shaka the
Zulu. Assegai (also Zulu) refers to the short stabbing spear Shaka the Zulu
designed, which revolutionized warfare in that region. [‘Umkhonto We Sizwe’,
meaning ‘Spear of the Nation’, was the ANC’s military wing created in December
The Jan Smuts class large missile boats are named after General Jan Christian Smuts, a famous Boer guerrilla leader (and lawyer) who initially fought against the British during the Boer War, but then helped to make peace with them. He was a Defence Minister in Louis Botha’s government but later put back his uniform and led South Africa’s military campaign against the Germans in East Africa during WW1. He subsequently joined the Imperial War Cabinet in the UK and helped in creating the Royal Air Force. Smuts helped to negotiate the Versailles Treaty and returned to South Africa where he later became Prime Minister twice, first from 1920-24 and then 1939-48. Not only was he present when the League of Nations was created, he also helped in creating the United Nations after WW2. The missile boats are named after diverse figures like Adam Kok (a Griqua leader in Transorangia who confronted the first Boer settlers), Issac Dyobha, Rene Sethron, and Galeshewe. Others include Makhanda (a Xhosa prophet and 19th century military leader) and Job Masego, a Lance Corporal in the Native Military Corps who won the Military Medal when as a Prisoner of War during WW2, he single handedly sank a German "F" boat in the Tobruk Harbour.
Mine Countermeasures Vessels are named after coastal towns (and Naval Bases) like Walvisbaai (Walvis Bay), East London, and Windhoek. The Kimberley is a coastal minehunter, named after the Northern Cape Provincial capital of Kimberly, site of a famous Boer war siege. It is also a diamond-mining town surrounded by five of South Africa's largest rivers. Inshore minehunters like the SAS Umhloti, SAS Umzimkulu, SAS Umgeni and SAS Umkomaas are all named after rivers. Logistics and support ships like the Outeniqua and Drakensberg are named after Mountains. The survey ship Protea is named after Protea Banks, a famous tourist destination south of Durban on South Africa 's East Coast. Protea itself is a type of flower.
us review a sample of names of warships from two former British colonies.
WHY ARE ANIMALS, INCLUDING THOSE THAT CANNOT
SWIM, A POPULAR SOURCE OF AFRICAN NAVAL NAMES?
of animals in African mythology, cosmology and folklore is very deep. In Egypt,
crocodiles were sacred to ancient Gods like Ammut, Sobek etc. One can even find
evidence of mummified crocodiles. Sacred Egyptian cats include Bast and Ra. In
the Gambia, the Katchikally Crocodile Pool at Bakau is revered as a sacred
place. Coming closer to home, Adjakpa, the sacred Crocodile Spirit, is a water
deity in the Mami Wata tradition. In Benin cosmology animals - such as fish,
snakes, leopards and crocodiles - were also symbols of deities. Some
specifically projected the power of the State, personified in the Oba. The
Leopard was a royal symbol (and totem). Crocodiles were respected as the
'policemen of the waters', and, along with pythons, were associated with Olokun,
the god of the seas/rivers and wealth. The manatee, common along the West
African coast, used to be thought by sex-starved European sailors to be a
Many totems are animal based. Therefore, quite apart from the physical and behavioral characteristics of one animal or the other in relation to the intended use of a Ship, the psychic imagery and spirituality in African society is very significant. Sacred crocodiles, Hippopotamuses, cats, bulls, antelopes, falcons, beetles, chameleons, birds, and even insects like the praying mantis, etc have all been described all over the continent all the way back to ancient Egyptian days. In Nigeria, many traditional art forms from different parts of the country illustrate this principle. A bronze figure of Olokun, for example, shows him in royal coral bead regalia holding a crocodile, using mudfish legs to position himself on turtles.
This is not to say that the practice of naming Ships after animals is peculiar to African navies or that every ship named after an animal is so named primarily for mythical or spiritual reasons. In the 19th century Royal Navy the HMS Crocodile was in service. During the First World War, the HMS Tiger was active. American submarines are often named after fish and other marine animals - so called “denizens of the deep”. One example is the sea wolf. The Royal Navy has a line of submarine launched torpedoes called the “Tiger Fish.” They hit world headlines back in 1982 when used to sink Argentina’s General Belgrano during the Falklands war.
In conclusion, the use of sea/river deities and ancient myths as a mechanism for naming warships, naval bases or naval weapons is neither peculiar to Nigeria nor unprofessional. Long before the arrival of European traders, sailors and colonialists, nationalities that are now part of Nigeria had a proud marine tradition. Those traditions are part of the canvas of modern Nigeria and cannot be wished away.
Long before the compass was discovered and became widely available, those of our ancestors who dared to sail or row the dangerous waters off the coast of Nigeria were doing what no ‘modern’ Nigerian sailor will attempt. They were armed with little more than their modest boat constructing, sailing and swimming skills, intense courage, adventurism and an abiding respect for they regarded as the spirit of the sea. Like the Vikings of a different era and time, cosmology and mythology played a central role in the doctrine and success of pre-colonial African maritime activity – and still does. This is the context in which commemorative names like the NNS Olokun, NNS Umalokun, NNS Urhiapele, NNS Kamanu, NNS Akaso, NNS Onura, NNS Anansa etc should be viewed. ‘Olokun’ and ‘Okemini’ are also geographic names. Olokun River existed hundreds of years before John Beecroft showed up in Africa. ‘Okemini’ is none other than another local name for the Atlantic Ocean. ‘Urhiapele’ is the correct indigenous spelling and pronunciation of the riverside town the white man calls ‘Sapele’.
There is no escaping the fact that we are who we were. When in the early eighties, then Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Akin Aduwo (rtd), with the approval of then President and C-in-C, Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari, changed the name NNS Beecroft to NNS Olokun, the Naval Hierarchy was on solid historical ground. The deference to local names of ancient mythological entities and original names of anglicized Nigerian cities in the naming of other naval shore facilities was a positive development in civil-military relations. The recent renaming exercise threatens to unravel that bond by coming across as spiteful to entire communities as well as naval tradition.
Based on this author’s review of the subject
matter, therefore, barring a full exposition of convincing counter-arguments by
the government, one substantially concurs with the concerns raised by Orok Edem.
I recommend that the Naval Base issue be revisited by a panel of Nigerian Naval
Officers, former and current, the MOD, and/or the appropriate committees of the
National Assembly – after which the Executive arm of government should retrace
its steps. Alternatively, based on the arguments put forth, the C-in-C can and
should contemplate a change of heart and restore the status quo ante without
further much ado.
THE FULL LIST OF REFERENCES FOR THIS ESSAY IS AVAILABLE
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