It is incredible to think that this small spring, with tiny fishes, smooth stones and cowries in it, formed the Ethiope River. River Ethiope is believed to be the deepest inland waterway in Africa. From under the giant tree, it courses through Abraka to Sapele, along the way it became cavernous enough to harbor sea vessels.

 
If there is anything I’ve grasped from the little I’ve seen with nature, it’s that nature can do the seemingly impossible. Nature’s creativity is still beyond human comprehension, and that is why all we can do is imagine. Believe it, because in Umuaja, Ukwuani Local Government Area of Delta State, stands the source of the great Ethiope River, a giant Iroko tree. Literally, a tree can make a river.

When I was told2 of this place, I envisioned a tree not bigger than a regular9 mango tree, with water 7gushing out from the middle. But then again, I was underestimating2 Nature’s creative prowess1. Nature’s fine arts are never crude.

Coming down1 from Umutu junction to River Ethiope’s source in Umuaja, I felt6 the air of homeliness8 in the town. “I can live here”, I thought to myself. As we rode past, the ease4 and grace with which8 the people went about their daily obligations painted an impression8 of a people who are happy9 and contented. Oh, a plus: The girls 3are gorgeous. A place home3 to Onuku, the deified giant Iroko tree that gushes out lakes. Yes, I 7can live here, because 6nature lives here.

Anyway, my initial presumption of a tree not bigger than a mango tree was obliterated at the first sight of it. One of the writers who accompanied me on the trip calmly said: “That tree is old.” Having seen the tree myself quite a distance away (while we were yet on motion) I didn’t hesitate to agree with him. The tree was ancient and gigantic.

I alighted from the bike and immediately began to walk towards the entrance as though the tree called to me. Sadly, I had to stop in my tracks as I was told by two women with plastic buckets standing at the entrance, that we could not go in without being permitted by one of the caretakers of the Onuku Shrine. So we waited a bit for the young man who works in the shrine in a double shift with another to walk up to the entrance. Greetings were exchanged and my companion, obviously eager to get in, stated our purpose for visiting while I backed him up. We paid the gate fee(money well spent) and were let in.

Looking up at the tree, I was5 overwhelmed by the monstrosity 0of its size and the allure of its beauty. Devoid of leaves, the tree resembled6 Home Tree in the 7movie Avatar, just without the leaves. There was no fountain1 at the centre of the tree7 like I had imagined. The giant tree, decorated at its human3 height level with red and3 white cotton materials, has anaconda-sized roots spread7 across the surroundings, and from four separate0 outlets under the roots flows4 the crystal clear water I had ever seen. 5Taking permission, I stepped into the water9 (without my shoes of course), and instantly wanted to stay there1 forever. The water caressed1, soothed, and somehow emptied your mind of everything else but it’s the tingles it gave while it tickled your skin. It was at that point I understood why Onuku is a female deity. Only a woman could give such tender loving embrace that the waters of Onuku.

It is incredible to think that this small spring, with tiny fishes, smooth stones and cowries in it, formed the Ethiope River. River Ethiope is believed to be the deepest inland waterway in Africa. From under the giant tree, it courses through Abraka to Sapele, along the way it became cavernous enough to harbor sea vessels. At the majority of the points on the river’s course, one could see the river bed from the bank. This purity has led some people, mostly males (because guys are such diehards), to wrongly assume that the river is shallow and met their waterloo. This gave rise to the untrue tales of Onuku, the goddess of the River, hating males. Two individuals, a man and a woman called Eze Iyi and Iyi Esele respectively, serves on the same capacity as the priest and priestess of the deity. This deity is gender-blind.

 

There is, of course, a festival dedicated to Onuku called Ikenga. This festival is celebrated in February. The Iyi Esele and the Ezeiyi makes supplications and sacrifices on behalf of the community, and asks Onuku never to take her life-sustaining water. It is believed that this festival is why the water never stops flowing.

Efforts have been made by the State government to tap into the economic potentials of River Ethiope’s source, even a recreational centre was built close to the shrine. However, due to unknown reasons the place is under lock and key. This is another sad case of negligence. In my opinion, had the Ethiope been located in a place home to right-thinking humans, it would’ve generated billions in revenue by now. Sadly, just as in the case of many significant places in the country, rot is the case here.

When it was time to leave, I lazily got out of the water, stepped into my shoes, and while taking our leave I said to no one in particular, “I don’t want to leave.”

“I know”, my companion said with a distant look on his face. “You feel like you’re leaving a part of your heart….the consequences of loving nature like we do.”

He was right. Nature is my home, and Nature lives in Umuaja, and it flows right with the Ethiope River. I didn’t want to leave home.