Some facts about Eastern Obolo

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The history of the Eastern Obolo (Andoni), whose little settlements are scattered among the mangrove swamps along the coast – from the left bank of the Imo River to the Qua Iboe River estuary and beyond – is full of myth, voyage and mystery. Their traditions contain elements of Bonny, Opobo and Ibibio culture. Living off the water and subsisting on seafood and its exchange with agricultural produce inland, they developed a good understanding of the interdependence of the elements in their ecosystem- the (male) soul of the great mangrove trees, which is linked to the (female) soul of the ever shifting water, to produce and hold, against the devastating elements, their offspring – the mud. On the harmony among these three, depended the survival of all aquatic life and the human existence (Talbot, 1926: 1).

At the creek’s landing in the mangrove shrub is the fresh water spring of the village – just a few short steps away from the salty swamp water and black mud. A picturesque, long and narrow walk-over wooden bridge, precariously propped on long sticks over the deep ravine, connects Amanglass with Ayama, where the Aman Obolo (Voice of Obolo) women’s shrine is kept by its priestess. Almost in the centre of the cluster of nine Obolo villages, on a strip of cultivable land, south of Ete, is located a lone Ibibio village, Ikot Akpan Udo, a long established centre of Obolo/Ibibio trade and a renowned area market, called by the Ibibio urua Obodom (from Obolom). Ikot Abasi traders come from far distances to exchange there fresh vegetables for dry fish and other seafoods. The specialised Obolo markets prospered from the dried fish trade during the war years, when stock-fish imports ceased (Ann. Rep. 1914).
The Obolo dug-out canoes and house boats, equipped with all necessities for on-board living and fitted, nowadays, with out-board engines, dominate the coastal fishing waters of the Bight. Small camps, okorombom, huddled on the sandy lagoon or estuary beaches, serve temporary shelter and fishing camps, while they follow the fish schools for months on end. Smaller boats, paddled by women and children, traverse the inner creeks and channels, engaged in shell-fish gathering and clam-breeding to supplement the men’s catch during the off-season. Women also cure and smoke the fish, on made by them cane frames and take it to the market. The trade with dry fish and sea food in the Opobo and Bonny-controlled markets in the region sustained Eastern Obolo prosperity in the 18th and 19th Century. Obolo tradition maintains, that Obolo boats controlled the trade to the inland Moco (Ibibio) and Ngwa (Igbo) country upriver for the past three centuries,2 also engaging coastal piracy. During the 18th century wars with the Ogoni and Bonny for dominion of the hinterland trade routes, the Obolo blocked the markets and stopped all trade on the rivers. Both Jaja, who took a solemn oath of brotherhood at the Yok Obolo shrine to be allowed to pass and settle at the Okoloba (Opobo) Island, and his European partners who came to the river to trade, acknowledged their decisive presence.
The largest and oldest settlement and administrative centre of the Eastern Obolo is Okoroete, established by the prominent Unyangala trader, Okurube, who fled from the legendary Nnah Biget’s incessant military campaigns.3 By 1900 the Qua Iboe Mission opened a chapel at Iko and in 1916 the Church Missionary Society, expanding from Opobo Town, established itself at Okoroete, followed by the Christ Army Church (attractive with its healing sessions) and the Lutheran Mission (popular with their vernacular church services). There were well established Anglican Churches in several Okoroete settlements by 1910, connected with the Ikuru Town missionary headquarters, which was known for its militant approach to traditional religion and its association with the Garrick Braide movement. The first native court, established in 1935 at Okoroete, became a centre of intense nationalistic propaganda and tribal development, which culminated in the formation of the Obolo State Union and a series of land court cases with the Opobo, Ogoni, Bonny, Ibibio and Okrika people.
At the creek’s landing in the mangrove shrub is the fresh water spring of the village – just a few short steps away from the salty swamp water and black mud. A picturesque, long and narrow walk-over wooden bridge, precariously propped on long sticks over the deep ravine, connects Amanglass with Ayama, where the Aman Obolo (Voice of Obolo) women’s shrine is kept by its priestess. Almost in the centre of the cluster of nine Obolo villages, on a strip of cultivable land, south of Ete, is located a lone Ibibio village, Ikot Akpan Udo, a long established centre of Obolo/Ibibio trade and a renowned area market, called by the Ibibio urua Obodom (from Obolom). Ikot Abasi traders come from far distances to exchange there fresh vegetables for dry fish and other seafoods. The specialised Obolo markets prospered from the dried fish trade during the war years, when stock-fish imports ceased (Ann. Rep. 1914).
Modern oil-concession maps mark the Eastern Obolo area as a rich mineral oil field, currently explored, as is the whole of the Ikot Abasi hinterland, by the blue-and-yellow clad crews of the Western Geophysical company. The oil wealth is expected to improve the lot of the Obolo people, who through a strong co-operative tradition and sea-faring entrepreneurship, have tried to earn a comfortable existence from their God-given environment.

Okoroinyong Creek, was used as a base for the oil exploration team in Eastern Obolo II From the equally small Amanglass village, an Okoroinyong colony, consisting of a handful of native houses, where 75 % of the inhabitants are reportedly literate, comes the first graduate and Anglican bishop from the area, Rt. Rev. Emmanuel E. Nglass.
A strong women’s association at Iko supported communal work, road repair and domestic classes for women, conducted by Mma Brazier of the Methodist Mission at Ibekwe. Eastern Obolo I was then supplied with modern amenities – health centres, schools, roads, potable water and electricity, in return for the oil exploitation, gas-flaring and pollution from the nearby Shell floating station at Utapate (Utibiete) near Iko.

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