The Oji-Agana river which is home to the Oji-Agana deity is located in a town known as Amaigbo Akaegbe-Ugwu in Enugu state. The people of the town have been the worshipping the crocodiles which are symbolic of the deity for close to two centuries, long before the advent of colonialism. According to the chief priest, the origin of the Shrine is unknown to him because it began long before he was born. But his father had told him that it began when long ago, the people of the land started coming to the river to pray for favours and found answers to their prayer and they would return to the deity with a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Before long into this practice, the deity began to choose priests to tend to him. The deity chooses a priest and a priestess, the priesthood is not gender restricted.
The deity is best known for its symbolic riverine presence and peaceful nature. When we visited the chief Priest, Agwa Oko whom we interviewed, we noticed that in the shrine which was a mud house made of clay, there was no moulded or carved image used as a memorabilia of the deity. Cartons of empty schnapp bottles were inclined to the wall, red and white linens tied in different places, and the many other decorations put in place to make it clear to a visitor that it was a shrine. The river which is home to the deity is a not very long distance through a bushy path behind the compound of the chief priest. It is the place where people go to pray and offer sacrifice to the deity after fulfilling the prerequisites for being in a worthy state. We learnt that in order to be worthy to visit the Oji-Agana deity, one must come with a clean heart, not having evil thoughts towards anyone, the visitor must not have had sex on that day, a woman must not be in her menstrual period when she comes to the shrine. If all these conditions are fulfilled, then the deity would reveal itself in the form of a crocodile to the people who have come to seek it and accept their sacrifice. This relationship of prayer, sacrifice and thanksgiving is the mode through which the people communicate with the deity who in turn has impacted the lives of its worshippers by answering their prayers. From our interview session with the chief priest we learnt that the deity had no special blessings that it gives but gives all forms of blessings from money to children, helping young people secure their visas from international embassies, also a kind of protection he called Ochoro i gbum gbue onwe ya which roughly translates to “let he who wants to kill me kill himself.”
The river was relatively calm when the chief priest led us there with sacrifice of cock, a cup of palm wine and kolanut to perform the invocation ritual. After a brief prayer and praise session to the deity from a distance, he broke the kolanut, took a drink from the wine and went closer to the river with the cock and began to call on the deity. After a while of doing this, he broke the limbs of the cock and threw it to the bank of the river. Then the crocodile came out, took it in its mouth and swam back into the river. A sign that it had accepted the sacrifice of its priest. Every first week of November, a ceremony is held which lasts three to four days to mark the Oji-Agana festival. Men and women, sons and daughters of the land from far and wide return home to mark this festival. The whole village is usually in a festive mood and in different houses, exquisite cuisines are usually prepared from which a sacrifice of food would also be offered to the deity. There is usually a ceremonial display in the whole of the village and a very long queue which according to the chief priest, sometimes reaches 300 people, filing along to the river to offer their sacrifice.
The Chief Priest explained that he has had several spiritual encounters, saying he is always forewarned of an impending danger by the deity who comes to visit him at night. These include times when he is to travel and there was an accident waiting to happen or times when dangerous things were about to happen. “There was a time a certain friend of mine was to get married” he said, “and I had been invited because my presence was of utmost importance. Oji-Agana revealed to me that it was not in support of me attending the wedding. But I had to go and it would definitely be somehow if I didn’t go. So the day I was to travel, I went and explained everything to him and told him why I couldn’t miss the wedding. On the way travelling, we had an accident and our bus tumbled several times but nobody sustained any injuries. There was another case too when he revealed to me that somebody was going to die from the mango tree in the compound if I left the house. So I did not leave the house that day. We had already issued warnings in the past to warn people from climbing the trees in the compound. But on that day some children had come and one of them climbed the tree and almost fell down from such a height that he may not have survived it. But due to the forewarning I had gotten, I had stayed at home and saved him.”
The Oji-Agana river which is usually quiet, usually becomes disturbed when the deity is offended and, the crocodiles are usually heard crying. Other times, it seemed there was no longer any river there. This, according to the chief priest is when the deity has been offended by people who have come unworthy to dishonor its presence. But he explained that the deity even in its time for anger does not kill anybody. It does not heed to the call of the unworthy but sometimes scares them off. There was a time according to him when some children who fell into the river was rescued and brought out of the river by the crocodile. When the deity has been offended, it can be appeased through sacrifice.
Asked what he thought was the reason for people abandoning the traditional religion for Christianity, the chief priest explained that it was because the sins that are unconditionally forgiven in the church are usually not forgiven without punishment in the traditional religion. “In Christianity,” he said, “once you confess, not even to God but to the priest, you are free to take even a front seat in church. So people keep running away from the religion of their forefathers because it is very difficult for them to keep the conditions of the deity. But the deity does not kill anyone whose hands is clean.” The interview ended with the chief priest advising that people should not keep running away from the deities because the deities are not evil as they were made to believe and as long as one’s hands were clean, they had nothing to be scared of. Meanwhile, he laid emphasis on the peaceful nature of the deity being the reason why it had survived the advent of colonialism and Christianity and because it isn’t troublesome, it is not facing any threats from people who destroy shrines.