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Down Below

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 15:00, views: 2 487


Mangrove trees in a channel of Okoroinyong Creek. The white bird, ata, feeding on the exposed in the low tide muddy bank.Mangrove trees in a channel of Okoroinyong Creek. The white bird, ata, feeding on the exposed in the low tide muddy bank.Below Opobo island lies Queenstown, the Edim Nta of the Ibibio, Ogbologbo of the Obolo, the Kwenlama of the Opobo, populated and named in 1887 after Queen Victoria by Chief Uranta and his people, who left Opobo at the height of Jaja's dispute with Consul Johnston, accepted Christianity and placed themselves under British protection (Jaja, 1977: 53).


Here, the river flows grandiosely into a wide and calm estuary, the water mass opening out to an endless sea horizon, controlled by powerful water mechanisms and weather elements. Heavy storms, high waves and jagged lightening flashes churn the water during the rainy season, while gently ebbing waves and brilliant sun-drenched and cloud-patterned sky caress the seascape in good weather. Dreaded by the Obolo fishermen as a giant sea serpent, which has one end in the ocean and the other in the sky, the violent sea tornado, seen on the ominously calm horizon of water as a brilliant spot of light with a long dark line crossing between sea and sky, is a spectacular and fearful experience, hardly survived by any small fishing craft, which it has overtaken.1 In good weather and at ebb tide, the river sandbar can be clearly seen, gently breaking the ocean waves and providing a perfect spot for recreation.


Small lush-green islands, sheltering tiny fishing communities and isolated sand beaches, dot the sides of the river, while bamboo stick fences map out the borders of the fishing grounds in the estuary. Open dug-out canoes, fishing and farming boats, large and covered cargo boats, transport goods from Port Harcourt, Lagos, Oron or Fernando Po. Sailboats, with or without engine, cast fishing nets and traps in the river.


They harvest the fishing grounds and cross the estuary to land at the Opobo Island beach, at Ikot Abasi, or at one of the tiny fishing ports along the river.


The Imo River estuary, including the creek-crossed and swampy land mass below Opobo Island has been historically referred to by the local inhabitants as Down Below.


To Down Below, on the White Man's Beach opposite Hippopotamus Creek, where hippos and crocodiles are still seen, King Jaja of Opobo restricted by the 1873 treaty the interfering in his inland trade foreign ships, and they had to anchor and wait there until their holds were filled with palm oil and other produce, traded through the Opobo merchants.


Coastal transportIt was there, at Itak Abasi, or Inua Eka Akpan Ibom (Udoma 1987: 256), called by the Europeans Norah Beach, that the first British Consulate, customs post and military base on the Imo River were established after Jaja's removal in 1887, and from there the subjugation of the neighbouring Ibibio areas began. The prefabricated buildings were moved inland as stable rule was established 2 and the site was finally abandoned in 1927 (Webber, 1927).


Around 1900, Chief Cookey Gam, the Native Political Agent for Opobo, rented out land to the Renny Oil Nuts for a factory and to Elder Dempster for a ship-landing place, but their transatlantic ships continued to anchor Down Below, afraid to cross the river bar, even after the European trading companies and government establishments had moved upriver to Edwanga (Eneyo, 1991: 128).


German submarines lurked at the river mouth during World War II, torpedoing and sinking the British commercial vessels, and forcing them to use the traditional canoe route, through the Ogoni channel of the river; to Bonny and Port Harcourt, from where military convoy escorted them to Europe (Udoma,



Down Below is also the coastal area of mud and water, and impregnable mangrove swamps, flooded and drained alternately by innumerable channels, where the brilliantly white egrets skim the water surface or gracefully strut along the black muddy banks in seach of seafood.


Hidden in the vegetation, Eastern Obolo fishing settlements lead a migratory water-dependent existence there, dictated by water tides, moon phases and stars. Ibibio fishermen come down the river on their seasonal expeditions. On the coast, sandy coves of white sand Shelter small Obolo fishing ports and the lonely spots of old ritual shrines. And beyond the coastal sea is the Atlantic ocean, the eternal, powerful water machine, which, driven by the energy of the moon's gravity, wind and sun, perpetually changes the appearance of the coastline - building and destroying, silting and eroding the fragile land mass.




1 Mrs. Adela Nglass, 2/4/96
2 The Consulate building was moved from Norah beach to Egwanga in 1904 and the Custom's bungalow -for a Rest House at Ekparakwa - in 1922 (Egwanga Book; Wauton, 1922).

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Category: Ikot Abasi

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