We were about to enter Odekpe, one of the towns around the neighbourhood of Onitsha. Odekpe and its neighbouring cities are surrounded by the great River Niger and so a large part of the city is usually overflooded during the rainy season when the river overflows its bank. This was so that before we could gain access into Odekpe, we had to cross its flooded entrance or boundary, without which we couldn’t gain access to the house of the Chief Priest where we were headed. The overflooded area as we came across it is so often overflooded that it could be mistaken for a river and one had to cross it with a canoe. The dry land which led to the river was full of leaves known as brown ferns or what biologists call…. These ferns also floated on the surface of the water close to its boundary with the land; the exact spots where the canoes and the sailors stayed, waiting for passengers to board them. The ferns covered the surface of the water so well that that part of the water itself appeared like dry land covered with dry leaves.
Precious Amarachi Ugo, Alabii our photographer, the driver, another young man, an indigene of the place who was to guide us there and myself, we arrived the overflooded outskirt of Odekpe. And we beheld the arena as I have described. We were doing a documentary about African gods and their shrines and were in Odekpe to see what we could gather about Iyioji, the couple deity of Odekpe.
The sailors were very young boys whose ages shouldn’t be far from the range of twelve to fifteen years old. They were the people who we met with a description where we were headed and boarded two of the canoes to carry us there. And so we hopped in one after the other and balanced ourselves on the parts of the canoe made for the passenger, then the sailor followed and one of the boys assisted us in pushing the canoe inside the water and our sailor began to paddle. One of the experiences of moving into water was the expansiveness of the water terrain one experiences. As we moved from the place where the water was in contact with land to where the it was just water, it seemed, even as we moved that the water grew around us. Our young sailor paddled softly and the canoe swept gently through the water, sometimes, shaking a little, stirring a degree of fright in our photographer. We naturally began a conversation about everything that was around us, the water, the young boys who were our sailors and whether or not we were scared of our present adventure. Soon, we saw a group of young boys in a speedy boat, approaching from an adjacent direction. The speedy boat would later capsize and send the boys swimming out. It would definitely be suicidal for anybody who couldn’t swimm as well as thos e boys to have partaken in such an adventure.
The people of Odekpe had adapted their lifestyles to the flood which usually surrounds them during the rainy seasons. When the flood came, it usually covered many people’s farmlands and even some people’s homes but they have learnt to adapt to it. these we learnt from asking various questions based on what we saw as we sailed. We learnt that after the dry season, the flood dries in many parts with a remarkable speed as the Niger becomes less and less filled up along with the ground water and the waters return home, into the river and down the earth. At this time, when the dry season fully sets in and other lands are dry, the lands at Odekpe have enough moisture to optimally support a vast array of annual crop plants. It is usually an intense period of agriculture in Odekpe. Crops like Green leaves, Cucumber, Cassava and so on are planted at that period, and they grow and are harvested before the onset of the rainy season where the flood is awaited. Many other people whose houses are usually caught in the flood usually vacate their homes with their properties. But cases like the latter are usually not frequent. Houses are not always built within the reach of the flood—houses are only overflooded when the flood gets to extreme levels.
Eventually we arrived the heart of Odekpe. There we saw its vast array of buildings, the tall buildings, flambuoyant one storeys and the colonial style downstair houses which were built in the precolonial times by the first indigenes to build zinc houses. On top such downstair houses, were prescribed the name of the builders and the date in which they were built. The home of the chief priest was one such houses, the name of his grandfather who build the home was inscribed on top it and the date in which the house was built, circa 1959.
We were asked to wait in the house directly across and change whatever we were putting on which was black because the deity forbade it. we got one of the members of the Chief Priest’s household to help us get a message to him inside the house that they were people who wanted to interview him. Eventually, we were told that the Chief priest was not around and we were asked to come the next day. I shall narrate in full in our next blogpost, our experience when next we came back to see the Chief Priest.