Is it a myth?
Where is the Bible?
Did the British missionary steal it?
Did he keep it in his home church before he died?
Can it be retrieved from Britain?

By Sam Eyoboka, who was at the Bible Site in Araya

ON January 1, 1914, the British  government, in a deft political manoeuvre,  proclaimed the amalgamation of the then Northern and Southern Protectorates and changed the political destiny of the geographical entity known today  as Nigeria.

Eight months after that event, in the summer of the same year, another milestone event took place in the fresh water rain agrarian forest within the flood plains of the River Niger, some six kilometres north west of the confluence of the Ase and Niger rivers, that would alter the spiritual landscape of the country forever.

An unlettered aging woman, Mrs. Ofuonwaikie Esievo, with fellow farmers, was in a hurry to ferry her farm yield, mainly yams, across the Aya  lake just before the pending floods when, like the biblical story of the Virgin conception, she became the bearer of a tale that would  remain indelible in the history of the country.

The woman, who has  since died unsung, had the onerous responsibility of carrying a Holy Bible that was said to have fallen from the fading sky blue heaven. That was in August of 1914 and the place was Araya in Isoko South Local Government Area of Delta State. That, in a nutshell, is the  bizzare story of the Fallen Bible which has put the sleepy hometown of the former  managing  director of the Guinness Nigeria Plc, Dr. Abel Ubeku, in the world map.

Questions! Questions!! Questions!!! Fallen Bible? A swampy rain forest dominated by water spirits? Across the Christian world, it is not  uncommon to see historical monuments depicting the entry of the missionaries into such places.

Apart from several camps known as Ori Okes (Mountaintops) reserved for spiritual retreats and solemn prayers in different parts of the western parts of the country which were mostly used by early Christian leaders like Apostle Babalola, it is difficult to point to any monument marking the spread of the Christian faith in other parts. Aya was reputed to be dominated by visible water spirits such that  Okolobe hillock and the Ihwerhe spirits were  numerous  they tormented  people in the day time and much more at night time.

The Bible on yams in Araya.

The Ohwolo spirits were so evidently evil, being insatiable killers, and during floods they  were known to help, hinder, misdirect, attack, strike people dumb and sometimes with insanity. They held fishermen captives for days and often made their fishing wooden canoes to capsize.

In addition, there were community shrines including Oriorie, the marital harmony juju, and Osako, the annual town-cleansing juju. But the greatest of the shrines  worshipped by the people was the Aya cult. It was therefore perplexing to accept the fact that a Holy Bible could descend from Heaven and land in a predominantly pagan village founded by a diviner known simply as Aya, who, like biblical Jacob, did everything humanly possible to outwit his brethren in order to dominate the fabulous fishing grounds he just discovered a little under six kilometres from Aviara, his birth place. For the avoidance of doubt, Aya is still regarded as the brain behind the Aya  cult.

The intriguing story of the Araya Bible Site is that before 1911, there were no reports of any Christian activity in any of the Isoko towns. It was Reverend J.D. Atkins and his counterpart, Reverend H. Proctor, who took the first known  gospel of Christ to Oleh, the headquarters of Isoko land and thereafter to other parts of the land.

History records that the twosome urged the Church Missionary Society, CMS, to take steps to open up the Isoko axis through missionary work and that effort paid off and, by July 1914, Aitken had established a missionary district in Oleh   with him as the initial pastor in charge. One of the first fruits of that endeavor was Mr. Isara Ewhoboh of Araya, who though was a stack illiterate bought an English Bible which they put under their pillows. This reporter was told that whenever  Aitken visited Araya then, he stayed in the house of Mr. Ewhoboh where a room was reserved for him perpetually.

Ewhoboh, who later became an inveterate soul winner and several new converts to the Christian faith, received revelations, just before the rainy season of 1914, to expect a wonderful blessing/miracle from God to Araya but the form of the miracle/blessing was not disclosed.  In those days, farmers moved their harvests by head from their farms to the creek which linked lake Aya to the Ekregbesi  creek, which emptied into the Ase River and the River Niger.

It was at such period in 1914 when Mrs. Esievo and other women were hurrying up to ferry their yield  when suddenly the woman discovered a large Bible and a supposedly  letter on the tubers of yams spread on the sandy beach. The yams and everything else were soaked and dripping with water but the open Bible and the accompanying letter were dry.

Wonders? The illiterate women, who were pagans, shouted and hollered just in case anybody had forgotten the book in a rainy forest and, when nobody showed up, they decided to protect the mysterious find as best as they could and carried it home along with their yams. Back home, Mrs. Esievo, still dripping  wet, hurriedly, in fear, perhaps, took the Bible to the only known Christian convert in the community,  Ewhoboh, to find out if he was the owner of the Bible; but no.

The mystery continued and unfortunately at the time, Aitken, a friend of  Ewhoboh and the only man perceived to be in the position to  unravel the mystery of a ‘Fallen Bible’ was on vacation in Europe. That left the bewildered community with no choice, after a protracted debate over what to do, than to take the mysterious Holy Bible to Patani where Rev. Henry Proctor was in charge.

They therefore dispatched a delegation made up of  Ewhoboh, Mr. Esievo whose wife found the Bible, one of his cousins, Mr. Emeriovo, and two other new converts, Messrs Akanabia and Ekriama, to visit Patani with the strange find. On getting to Patani, only Ewhoboh was allowed to climb up to see  Proctor while the  rest of the delegation waited downstairs. When Ewhoboh   eventually returned, told the other members of  the delegation that the white man asked the team to return in another forthnight for a solution to the nagging question.

Not satisfied, the others asked  Ewhoboh to go back to the white man to get the Bible, arguing that if he wanted them to return in two weeks, they must go back with the Bible and come with it on their second voyage. Valid argument! But the Oyibo will not have any of that effrontery and ordered the locals to get out of his home or be shown the way out; so they returned dejected. The delegation returned two weeks later to Patani only to be told that  Proctor had proceeded on his own vacation to Britain. It was later learnt that the reverend could not make it to Britain as he  reportedly  died during the voyage. Efforts by the locals, especially, Ewhoboh, to get Aitken to intervene proved abortive because,  Sunday Vanguard gathered that, Proctor was superior to Aitken and therefore had no moral authority to question what his boss had done in his absence.

One remarkable feature as Sunday Vanguard reporter waltzed through relatively good roads in the heart of Isoko land  was the fact that the people  may have embraced the Christian faith totally and their commitment is unshakeable. From Oleh to Irri (you cannot forget Irri in a hurry; it was a theatre of sectarian war too long ago), to Aviara where there is a bold signpost welcoming the visitor to: “The Holy Land” (Ewho Oreri) and then on to Araya, the host community of the Bible Site, as  you turn at Aviara to Araya, one finds a signpost directing a first timer to a town called Bethel. If you wonder why Bethel in an Isoko community, we will feed you with the mystery surrounding that name some other time. Not  far away is another town called Uzere which has also played significant role in the expansion of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some distance  from the third signpost directing strangers to the Araya Bible Site, the reporter was advised to disembark from  a  motorcycle carrying him  and do the remaining kilometer or so, on a  marshy clay surface with outgrowths on both sides of the narrow foot path. There were women and men along the way who easily recognized the reporter and his tour guide, Mr. Solomon Umukoro, as visitors and offered their courtesies.

While the reporter, who had no premonition that he was going to be sailing on the Aya  lake in a small earthen canoe leaking profusely from two points, was sympathizing with the female farmers with heavy cassava sacks on their heads and their backs.  Lesson number one: You don’t wear shoes sailing in lake with so much negative reputation. Lesson two: You don’t wear a jacket for voyages on water. Lesson three: All forms of electronic gadgets like laptops are better kept in a safe place far removed from the harbor. Lesson  four: If you are lily-livered or scared, don’t let your guide and the small boy paddling the canoe to know that you cannot swim.

Except you are made of stone, your heart, like mine, would be in your mouth as the canoe meandered mysteriously through heavy seaweed from the lake and on to the tiny tributary leading to the River Niger, especially if that canoe was ‘captained’ by a very courageous 18-year old Sunday Itimi, an SSC II student of the only secondary School in Araya, the Adam Memorial Secondary School.

He does similar trips on a regular basis to help pay his way through school and therefore he is not afraid to go again and, besides, the lake is now regarded by the locals as a Holy Lake that cannot be harmful to, wait for it, indigenes. Everything about the trip was out of the world; right from the harbor where the lake water is cold to the fast running tributary warm water and the entry point to the Bible Site where a female farmer was taking her bath in the open after a hard day at her farm up to the sandy site where all one hears is the sound of wood peckers and other birds. If you are familiar with village setting, you might perceive the presence of fishes in the very murky waters.

The voyage took about 45 minutes that looked like eternity, but eventually we arrived at the Bible Site, the only thing of public interest in Araya. Araya, by the way, a small fishing village with a population of about 6,000 (1991 Census), is one of the four quarters belonging to the Aviara  clan namely: Araya, Ezietuhro, Iyebiou and Ohrode. At the site stands a small white cathedral with about 31 pew capable of accommodating about 120 worshippers.

The monument, cordoned off by two lines of chains, stands in the very spot where the Bible was said to have dropped from  heaven some 97 years ago. The monument stands about seven feet above the ground carrying a pulpit upraised in the form of an altar. Three objects stand on top of the altar; a cross, an open book depicting the Fallen Holy Bible standing atop 12 tubers of yam. At the middle of the altar  is written: ‘The Miracle of the Araya Holy Bible August 1914’.

On the wall of the cathedral is a tablet containing the 14 dos and the don’ts for every pilgrim to the site. They include that there should be no form  of trading or any form of business while at the site; no cooking or any form of  fire; no wearing of ornaments in the form  of consecration; no entry into the monument proper; no crusade; must be tidy; and above all only three days can be spent in the place and pilgrims must maintain absolute quietness.

There is light in Araya, but the only semblance of light at the Bible Site is a blue kerosene lantern standing at the corner of the monument. At the back of the small cathedral is a small house apparently, for conveniences. The place itself is surrounded by not too large trees at the confluence of the Aya  lake and the fast running waters that empty into the Ase River which in turn flows into the River Niger. For the almost 39 minutes Sunday Vanguard spent on the sandy soil of the Bible Site, no creature of any kind was sighted beyond the birds that occasionally flapped  their wings and reminded one of their unperturbed presence by their sonorous songs perhaps to attract preys.

Inside the cathedral  is every paraphernalia of a church complete with two altars, a wooden box at the centre with two holes—one for vows and the other  for offerings. Further down the altar is another simple table for ministers. There  are no public address systems neither  are musical instruments even though there is a choir stand  at a  corner of the church building. It is, however, worthy of note that Isoko Christians can make rancorous, wonderful and melodious music with their hand claps only (Abo Abo).

In an address during the unveiling of the monument in 1988,  the late Mr. Osima had called on the authorities to do everything within their powers to bring back the Holy Bible. “This little story will one day pose a lot of challenges to Christians and scholars and this means different things to different people, depending on how they look at it and their faith. If the Bible is still around as I strongly believe, it will one day come back to  Araya. All that is left for us is to praise and glorify God’s name, in Araya”. According to a statement by Osima, there had been all manner of miracles during the construction of the monument.

A patron of the community and one time  managing director of Guinness Nigeria Plc, Dr. Abel Ubeku, who actually did the unveiling of the monument, said: “After the prayers were said, I proceeded to unveil the monument. As soon as I finished removing the cloth that covered the monument, a whirlwind suddenly started at the base of the monument. As the crowd stared in amazement, it moved slowly over the arena, then gently across the Ara  lake and over the village of Araya.

Those who were in the village at the time described the breeze of the whirlwind as ‘cool and soothing’. While a whirlwind is a natural phenomenon, the way it started that day, its movement and impact on those present at the ceremony clearly showed that this was a whirlwind with a difference. Was it a sign?”

To speak on the mystery surrounding the said Fallen Bible, we decided to return to Araya the following day to parley with the curator of the Bible Site and the presiding pastor of National Apostolic Church, Araya, which is situated at the gateway to the site, Pastor Lawson Odeh Eghagha, 62, who was given the mandate a few months ago to oversee to the place, not just because he hailed from community, but essentially because he had received a divine revelation on how best to put the place to use in 1986 and he articulated his revelation to the community in writing.

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