By Ishola Balogun
T he spirit of water goddess can be compassionate, so they say. Whether a quid pro quo compassion or not, it is always designed to achieve a purpose, so they say too. A goat and a boa snake as gifts are turning the life of Francis Tubori, a.k.a Koronjo, a 52-year old farmer upside down and inside out. Both the strange goat and weird boa live with him and his family in his 2-room apartment.
All attempts including traditional rituals to liberate him, his wife and three children from the grip of these animals have failed to yield the desired result. The despairingly confused Koronjo, who hails from Okpara Water side, in Ethiope East local government area of Delta State is now teetering between personal breakdown and spiritual breakthrough; between serving the Ogwa shrine and clutching to his Bible.
But how did it begin? It was supposed to be his first church service on that fateful Sunday, a few months ago when he found himself at the bank of a River Weni, also called Olokun for the supposedly initiation and transformation. According to him: “On October 5, Sunday specifically, I decided to go and search for the church where I had been given a bible as a gift.
A quarrel with my wife had dragged me to the place. I never went to church before then. I had quarreled with my wife who refused to prepare my meal and went to church. I was angry. So, I went to the church where she had gone to reprimand her and bring her back. We caused a scene and the church members tried to convert me by offering a bible. Since that time, I kept the Bible. About two years on I felt like going to that church. I wanted to know what it was like. My wife is a christian and goes to church but that had nothing to do with me.
So, on a particular day, I picked the Bible and tried to locate the church that my wife attends. On getting there, I found out that the church had relocated to another place and so, I decided to go to the nearest church. As I tried to locate another church, I mysteriously found myself at the river. That was all I could remember. I pulled my shirt, dropped the Bible and swam in the river.
While swimming, I saw a white saucer plate afloat the river and I decided to pick it. The nearer I went, the further it went until I found myself deep down the river. I saw mysterious things that I can’t narrate. I was given the saucer and later found myself at the river bank. I picked up my shirt and the Bible and ran to the house in my underwear.
“The next day, a goat came to my house. In the village, we don’t allow the rearing of goats because they destroy our farmland. You can hardly see a goat in this village. But after investigation, I was told the goat was seen earlier at the river that day, minutes before it got to my house, which meant it came from the same river. But its body was not wet. Since that day, strange things have been happening in my house.
First, it was the saucer which manifested some weird powers. Between 7 to 8pm, the saucer will glow so much that its incandescence will illuminate the room more than how a candle-light does. So, I was scared and ran out of the house. “Three days later, a big boa snake came into my house. I picked my gun and shot at it, it disappeared and re-appeared at my back. I turned again and aimed at it but it disappeared again. I thought it had gone; I went inside and dropped my gun.
“On turning back from my room, I saw it again at the door blocking my way out of the room. It was at that point I spoke to it: “What do you want from me; Okay, I surrender.” In fact there was a mammoth crowd here. They also attempted to kill it but they couldn’t. It was so big and scary. They tried using guns too but nobody could kill it. My house was like a market place as people gathered to have a glimpse.
“In the presence of everybody, the snake entered the house and went directly to where I kept the saucer; hit the plate with its head living an image on the plate with an inscription.” So, since then, it has been living in the house. I packed my belongings and moved out of the house although some people were encouraging me to stay. It is my father’s house. I come around in the morning, do my business and find somewhere else to sleep with my family. After some consultations and divination, people said I should not run away from home as the animals have not come to do any harm to me and my family.
A nine-day ceremony for a snake?
According to Koronjo, the episode has gone beyond the family matter. He stated that a nine-day ceremony was held for the boa with people coming from far and near to be part of the ritual. “The community organized a nine-day ritual ceremony (Igbe dance) for the animals. People came from Agbaro, Obiaroko, Ughelli, Igun, Ekpan, Warri, Benin and other areas. Over three hundred chairs were hired and all were occupied .
I really did not invite anybody; I was surprised to see the level of arrangement. I am a poor farmer, I don’t have the means to invite and entertain over three hundred people. But interestingly, the event was sponsored by some people who apparently believed in it. Again, during the ceremony, the boa came out to show itself three times. On each occasion, people ran away.
“I believe there is a link between these animals, myself and the water. My mother had told me to go serve the water goddess. (Igbe and Olokun water) But that wasn’t my interest. Koronjo, however, instead of becoming the ‘Olokun’ priest, maintained that he was interested in worshiping God and would not mind if there was any kind of exorcism and deliverance from the grip of this strange phenomenon.
“Everybody was insisting that I should serve the god of Olokun to ameliorate these strange happenings, but my interest lies in the church. My father who died several years ago served Olokun and danced to the Igbe Ogwa shrine. “In the next few months, another ceremony will be held for the boa where it will make some appearances for the public to see. You will be invited to see it,” Koronjo told this reporter.
Since it came into this house, it has continued to exhibit strange habit. It does not eat from the floor; rather, it likes to be fed from a plate or something nearer to a plate. It does not eat grass or cassava plants or tubers like other ordinary goats. It eats bread, rice, fish, and pounded yam garri with soup. It does not sleep on the floor. You will never see it on the floor. In fact, you saw it on a car.
It welcomes any visitor it is familiar with some gesticulation and dances. I have never trained a goat before but it understands me and responds to my feelings. If I get angry with anyone, the goat will attack that person. An incident occurred recently when I had a quarrel with somebody; the goat went into the room of that person and hit its horn on the man’s knee. At a time I was pushed to sell it out for N12,000 but the buyer after a few days, returned the goat begging he did not want to buy again. I had to return his money.
Again, I gave it to my brother to take to Kokori, the goat caused an accident on the road and it returned home unaided. It follows me all around. Sometimes people who know the goat spray money on it as gift. There was a time; I got over N500 sprayed on it by people. Besides, if I refused to go out with it, it would locate me wherever I went and come after me.
The village and reaction of neighbours
Most of those who spoke with Saturday Vanguard confirmed the weirdness of the goat and boa. They maintained that strange things might continue to happen to the family unless the tradition is respected. Christopher Awotor, a farmer who resides in the area said the issue had made the village more popular as many people keep asking questions about the strange animals.
“I was one of those who did not believe it initially. But after seeing the snake myself, I drew a conclusion that it was another strange event of life. I saw it as it was about to enter the room. At another time, I saw it when Koronjo was drawing its tail with all the power he could muster but to no avail. It was then I knew it was not meant to harm him or anybody. For me, I consider it as a blessing to him and the family. It has made the village popular. People talk about it here and there. But again, he has to accept it as tradition,” he stated.
Victor Lucky, also a farmer in the village claimed he was one of those who saw the boa the very first day it came to Koronjo’s house. “This is something I have never seen before in this neighbourhood. I was around that day, we were playing a drought-game and we just heard a shout by another neighbour calling our attention to a boa. We immediately ran to the scene and behold, we saw the boa crawling straight to Koronjo’s house.”
Lucky said that in the beginning people rushed out to assist with their guns attempting to kill it but they couldn’t. “People shot at it thinking it was an ordinary boa but to no avail. He (Koronjo) performed some rituals in Urhobo tradition but this boa snake did not go. Since then, it has been living in the house. It used to go out, look for food and return at will. People came from Ughelli, Warri to see. I witnessed it and I am still surprised,” Lucky said.
For Smart Osagbeje, an artisan in the neighbourhood, “It is the family’s heritage. Their forefathers bequeathed it on them. This is because when the incident happened, Koronjo’s mother and the sister came and they performed certain rituals. In fact a big ceremony was held for nine days for the boa and the goat and people came from far and near to observe these rituals. As a friend, I advised him that it is clear that the development is his own line which he must tow but he insisted that he would be going to church.
“In this community, we all know that his late father was a custodian of this deity, he danced to this Olokun river goddess. So, it follows that it is on the lineage. The son has to follow. It does not matter whether you are the first or last son, the deity selects the person who will take care of the tradition and to my understanding of this whole thing, Koronjo has been selected. He has to follow that line. If he refuses, it might not be in the interest of the family.”
Edema Emmanuel, a serving Police officer in Sapele said: “Koronjo called me when it happened and I saw the boa. The following day I came again because I was very surprised, I saw it again. So, I believe he has to do something in line with the tradition. I know the story has a link with the river from which he got the plate and the animals. River Weni is a powerful river, those who sail on it know that when they get to the Olokun part when coming from Sapele, they slow down speed and also switch off the boat engine lest the boat capsizes.”
Edera Enawerho, a family relative said: “He is my brother, I first saw what happened in a dream and I related it to him but he did not believe it. In fact I was overwhelmed by this development. To have a strange goat and snake living with you at home is a strange thing and it must be seen as so.
What I saw on my journey to Okpara Waterside
Okpara Water side is one of the villages in the Ethiope East local government area of Delta State; about 30 kilometers from the Amupke Okpe junction when going to Warri and less than 20 kilometers from Abraka along Iku road. The lonely road was notorious for armed robbery attacks with bad spots here and there. Cases of armed robbery attacks occur daily. From 6pm daily, commercial drivers shun all incentives to ply the road while motorists who had no alternative pray with utter fear and anxiety amid top speed while driving through the area.
In contrast to the steep rise of robbery attacks on the road are hardworking farmers, artisans, fishermen who not only shun luxury of life to live in huts, thatched roof building but also cherish their culture and tradition.
Veering off the highway to the unpaved road on a motorbike, Koronjo’s house is located on 21, Ufoma street, in the village. The walls and roof were rough and old, standing alone with a couple of huts and mud houses both sides away. It was a two-room and a parlour apartment bequeathed to him by his late father, a popular native doctor.
As we were led into the compound, a goat sitting atop of an abandoned vehicle rose on its two legs, yelling and making a strange noise. The woman who led the way said: “that is the strange goat. It welcomes and greets visitors in this manner.” She moved closer to it, responding to the ‘noise’ as I click away my camera. I gathered that a few weeks back, a camera froze while trying to photograph the animal until a sacrifice was made by Koronjo’s mother, a 130-year-old woman.
The compound was like a garri-processing factory with a couple of women and children doing different activities on the same job. Where is the boa? I asked with a little uneasiness.
“It has just left to find food.” Koronjo said. “My mother who feeds it had gone back to her house in Orogun. She is related to (names, a popular politician and Delta gubernatorial candidate in the December 8 primary). And anytime she comes around, she feeds it with native eggs.”
Asked how a 130-year-old woman would be subjected to such rigours. He said: “My mother is so strong that she does not use a walking-stick and even fries garri for me whenever she comes around.” Koronjo maintained that several attempts have been made to photograph the boa but to no avail, adding that unless his mother performs the same ritual on the boa, it was not possible to photograph it.
I was led into a dark room where they said the boa lives. Just by the door of the room, there was a couch on which the strange goat sleeps. “The goat sleeps on the couch, it does not sleep outside neither does it sit on the bare floor. Both animals were said to have never obstructed the movement of each other living peacefully in the house,” Koronjo said.
After several attempts to see the boa failed, I had to observe from a vantage position, early the following day, the sight of a snake crawling fast into the bushy path from the Koronjo’s house to the next uncompleted building was scary. Its size could not be ascertained. At that moment, Koronjo who does not sleep in the house any more was not available to give a guide.
Besides, the saucer he claimed he got from the river was another strange object in the house. The glowing white plate is about 10-inch circumference, well decorated with about 101 perforations, trimmed with gold ribbon on its edge. In it was an image of a queen depicting elegance and royalty. Same way, Koronjo warned that the plate must not be photographed following the instruction of his aged mother.
As it is, Koronjo’s dilemma hangs between becoming the ‘Olokun’ priest, a status believed to have been bequeathed on him by his late father or becoming a church priest and damn the consequence, even as his kith and kin have resolved to continue to celebrate these strange phenomena.