By Ugochukwu Ubah
The River Niger has some attributes which mark it out among other rivers in Nigeria.
It is known to be the biggest river in the Eastern part of Nigeria, a river that is located at the commercial heart of the Eastern Region, no doubt it is surrounded by other rivers in the state but the outstanding nature of the River make it “More Than Just A River”.
The River which the country was named after is indeed more than a River; it was made known when “Flora Shaw” named our dear country “Nigeria” (from Niger area) after the River known as the “River Niger”.
Before the coming of the colonial masters, Africa had its norms, values and beliefs. But the arrival of the white man made some Africans to believe that their customs were valueless.
The River Niger has many stories and functions attached to it. Many see it as the biggest River in the Eastern Region. Some see it as a means of transportation to convey agricultural products to the commercial city of Onitsha, but some others hold it so scared as a place it worship.
In cause of knowing more about this extra-ordinary river, Igbolive24-7 took a trip to the city of Onitsha to know more about the River Niger and its surroundings.
A titled chief, Ubaka L. G. Odukwe (Agbogidi I), in an interview with Igbolive24-7 in his place, said that the Onitsha people take the River to a high esteem saying that the people of the community perform some practices in the river.
Orummili is what the people of the area call the river as they believe that growth, prosperity; fertility, protection comes from the river. Agbogidi also made it known that the river belongs to the Onitsha people and went ahead to say that in the River Niger that there is a place of worship called “Ani Onitsha”.
Chief Odukwe explained that sacrifices that are done in the river depend on the nature of a problem. Some come to sacrifice with cows, rams, goats, and many other items but he made it known that human beings are not sacrificed to the river.
The Igbolive24-7 reporters went further to meet an indigene of Onitsha, Mr. Ifeanyi Ibuzor, a teacher at Community Secondary School, Igbedo, to know more about the river. He hails from the royal family of the Late Obi of Umunya and also a member of the Onitsha royal family.
Mr. Ibuzor said that the Orummili is venerated and not worshipped. He believes that the River Niger is a natural gift from God the creator of heaven and earth, and they believe that the river is undiluted that is while people tap force from the River Niger. He made an illustration saying that no matter how the River might rise during the rainy season that it doesn’t overflow the banks and no one knows how it gets dry during dry season.
The teacher further said that the River Niger serves as an intermediary between the venerators and the creator, believing that the river washes away their sins. He also said that some people worship the river to prospr in their businesses.
Mr. Ibuzor made said that some ceremonies are very mandatory according to the tradition of Onitsha. Ceremonies such as when a king is coroneted he goes and deeps his feet in the river. This also happens when a man is given the title of red cap chief he goes and deeps his feet in the river and when he dies, his first son goes and deeps his feet in the river to symbolize that an indigene has joined his ancestor.
The Umuikem (women) go on a yearly basis to sacrifice to the Orummili even in the Ofala Festival period. It is done to make the river to celebrate with the king.
He also stated that the river is not visited often, that it is always visited only on major market days in the Igbo tradition, especially the “Nkwo and Eke” because people believe that the spirit comes to the market on these days and blesses the trade of these market days.
Also, he stated that not every part of the river that sacrifice are made that it mainly takes place at the “Ani-Onitsha”, but majority of the sacrifices are done at a spot in the river known as the “Ite Ofe” because they believe the spirit of the ancestors lives there, and also this place has no high priest that performs the rites. Just at the River Niger takes every sacrifice, the nearby river known as Nkisi River in Onitsha is known for purity. It is only visited with white cloth, white ram, and white cock to symbolize purity.
In Onitsha the “Ichu aja” is done in January by the women in the early hours of the morning and is done at the River Niger. It is done to purify the year.
In Onitsha the “Ite Ofe” symbolizes a lot because it is where the “Omabala and Nkisi” river joined and it boils. While going to the Ite Ofe you must go alongside “Nne Imano” who will perform the ritual. Also speaking, Mr. Ibuzor said that shoes are not allowed at the places of sacrifices so as to make you believe that your feet placed on the ground makes you equal with your ancestors.
He believes that African culture is dynamic and believes that the Western World have their own tradition. He urged the youth to believe in their tradition and go back to their roots. He said the youth should look for those good traditions in their land and believe in it. They should promote it in that way the tradition will be held in a high esteem.