BY BRISIBE PEREZ
UMUAJA- BELIEVED to be the deepest inland waterway in Africa, the River Ethiope, unlike sources of other rivers, originated from the foot of a giant silk-cotton tree at Umuaja in Ukwuani Local Government Area, Delta State and by the time it courses to Sapele through Abraka, it has become cavernous enough to harbor ocean-going vessels.
Its center of attraction is the uniqueness and its unnatural purity. At most of the points where the river runs across, one could see the bottom of the water from the bank. This had given some people a false sense of shallowness of the river to their peril.
Fishes are seen swimming enthusiastically in the water, but rapidly spin out of reach on noticing human presence.
Revered location: The main lure of River Ethiope is the uniqueness of its source and the secrecy the river is said to possess. Considered as a sacred location, the river sprouts out from four different locations with two of these locations directly underneath the tree, while the other two from around the tree.
Owing to the spiritual affiliation attached, some areas of the groove surrounding the river source are restricted to visitors with a footpath leading to the grove, which is covered by thick bushes and finally opens into the Onoku shrine. Less than two meters away stands the giant silk-cotton tree wrapped with yards of white and red clothes while different sacrificial objects brought by suppliants are seen around the tree.
Death scare: Flowing through the Delta State University, Abraka, students and visitors of the academic community were said to have drowned mysteriously while swimming in the sprawling banks of the river. It was said that the river goddess strangely drowned non-indigenes of the community, especially males in acceptance of its annual sacrifice.
Oria-Abraka leader, Chief Ighomena Aganbi, however, debunked the claim, saying, “Even though there are spiritual attachments to the river, it does not kill people as sacrifices.”
“Amazed and deceived by the shallow look of the river, students and visitors, who are not good swimmers, dive into such areas and get drowned, thereby giving the notion that they were killed by spiritual forces,” he added.
Taboo: Asked if the river will continue to flow if the tree is cut down, Chief Aganbi said, “That is a taboo we hope would not happen.”
Global flocks: At the shrine, the chief priest, Chief Esinobi David, garbed in red, seats at the entrance in company of one of his aides, Godwin Ezeomo, who is on a daily shift roster with others. He told Niger Delta Voice, “We receive worshippers from all over the world, who visit the shrine to pay homage to Onoku. They come with gifts and sacrifices depending on the nature of their demands as the size of their offerings determine their size of their blessings from Onoku.”
The River currently acts as host to numerous tourist sites and is expected to help with irrigation of the 60,000 hectares of land sited at Abraka for the Federal Government cassava bread and high quality Cassava Flour Development Initiative for a mechanized cassava farm.Tourist to the river source are made to part with either N1, 500 or N2, 000, according to the discretion of the chief priest, to have a view of the river source. Though, a structure aimed at exploiting the tourism potential of the river source was built by the state government, the facility, under lock and key when Niger Delta Voice visited is yet to commence operation.
Challenge:Contacted, Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mr. Richard Mofe-Damijo, said, “Our major challenge as a government in tapping into the tourism potential of the source of the River Ethiope is that owing to the spiritual and religion connotations attached, we have to work within the limits of the community, in doing that, we have built a tourism spot very close to the source and given concession of the facility to an indigene of the area to manage.
“Our duty is just to provide the structure while he improves on it but right now, he is the one delaying the take-off of the spot but soon, the facility would soon commence operation,” he stated.