By Victor Isereke
My entire childhood was spent in my Ijaw native land. The period was spent oscillating homes between my paternal Ogulagha and my maternal Tuomo hometown both in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State.
I was barely 6 years old when my mother left her husband’s house at Ogulagha for her native home, Tuomo taking me and my younger siblings Pereke and Ebi along with her while my elder brother, Roland came under the care of my maternal uncle, Okoro. A voyage with my mum that made me spend about 9 years of my childhood at my maternal Tuomo Town.
The reason why we changed location according to Roland was a mutual agreement between our parents for my dad, Robert a soft spoken lanky and exceptionally handsome man to sojourn to Portharcourt to work and make ends meet for the family and my mum to relocate with us to stay with her parents until fortune would smile at us again. A decision that has deprived us the opportunity to live under thesame roof as a family till date.
Perhaps you will learn more about the struggles of my parents to make ends meet in my subsequent editions; as I promise to share with you more stories of my life as often as possible.
Today, I am simply thrilled, with nostalgia when I remember how we travelled on a local boat for several hours on our way to Warri thereafter took a land trip to Tuomo. In this piece, I have chosen to write about a special delicacy of my native land. It is probably unique to the Ijaws of Nigeria and most of our coastal dwellers.
Life in Tuomo was full of adventures for me. I intend to share with you from time to time, stories of such escapades that were the very essence of any rural community life, as much as my memory can recall. The story I have chosen to share with you, about my life is that of a special meal made with ‘’decaying’’ fish.
Yes, you may be right if you are apprehensive and wonder why one should feast on decaying fish: To consume such an odoriferous meal can only be driven by poverty. In Tuomo, we were poor even though we almost always had enough food to eat; even in poverty at the time, I can boldly say the craving for the special fish meal was not entirely actuated by poverty, as my grandmother, Miyenbranimugha; Nuanua as she is popularly called was one of the luckiest and biggest fish farmers in Tuomo at the time. She was a traditional worshipper. Her level of success in fish farming tempted me to think that she might have had an unwritten pact with water goddesses which she worshipped with passion and devotion. She was usually blessed with catch of fishes. With the passage of time and as I grew older, I came to realize that she had no pact with any water goddess. Rather, she was just a skilled fish farmer who understood water seasons and the fish harvest that came with them. She was dedicated and successful. In due course, the story of my grandmother and her astonishing and remarkable career in fishing, and fishing trade shall be narrated in fuller details.
We lived in a large house, built in the best tradition of rural architecture of the time. It was a priced-possession of my adventurous maternal grandfather- Ogbodane (papa Donia). He had a liking for christening or naming his children with the names of towns where they were born. They were towns he visited or lived in during his many travels and sojourns across Nigeria and beyond. That is why my mother, Edith is also called Accra-ere, that is, the woman from Accra; perhaps as a reminder of his journey to Acrra. In the course of time, however, Akara-ere became the local adaptation of her name.
Papa Donia’s house was big with several rooms. Some of his wives and their children lived in some of them, and his grown up children, cousins and their families, amongst several other relatives, lived in others. We were a very large family. Whenever my grandmother or the other women had a major catch in their fish business, they ensured that they shared to everyone to prepare meals for their children.
My first lessons in business were on the streets of Tuomo. With a big tray full variety of fish which were arranged in equal quantity, were offered for fixed prices. I often went about in town chanting ‘’endi bo de’’ which means ‘’fish has come’’ or ‘’abo endi fe o’’, meaning come and buy fish. Usually and in no time, I quickly ended up selling out my stock, and at other times it could take several hours to exhaust my stock. It sometimes happen that as I was gripped with celebratory excitement after a successful run of sales, I would lose the entire proceeds and I would run to my grandmother to seek refuge from the fury of my mother. In the alternative, I could go to my grand uncle, Isaiah Okpokunou to take refuge in his home.
Uncle Isaiah was a former military personnel who turned a pig and plant farmer upon his retirement from the force. He was famous amongst my age grade as a brave soldier. He always provided refuge for my cousins and I whenever we did anything wrong and terrible and were too scared to return home: Even, it could also be whenever we wanted some time to explore the rivers and bushes freely without any serious restrictions. I remember on one occasion I had to stay with him and his family for over a month after I escaped from my mother’s fury. He had an equally adventurous son, Odinna (now Jackson). I was very fond of him probably because he was often at the frontline of creating adventures like swimming, wrestling, playing football, bird hunting with catapult, group battles with sticks forest trips, bolingo, etc.
Yes, fish was never a problem, as my grandmother and other women made sure we had well-crafted native baskets called “gide” filled with smoked fish. There were also several plastic drums often filled with fresh fish to stock, to cushion the out-of-season scarcity. Sometimes, such stock reserve of fish could last up to four months if properly managed.
In Tuomo at that time, no fish was wasted no matter its condition, decaying fish was not spared. It is usually used to prepare a special delicacy I have chosen to refer to as “obroma” in this piece.
It is usually prepared by putting the decayed fish in a pot with very little or no water to which are added large quantity of pepper, some seasoning cubes and salt. The pot is thereafter closed and placed on fire until it is very dry. The combination is stirred with a spoon until the only thing that was left, though looked like fish, but in reality were mere bones. The flesh turns into a porridge-like blend, releasing a unique aroma to the delight of the cook, and making many others to salivate while awaiting their shares from the dish. For maximum satisfaction, this is eaten with well-prepared kobu-geri that is an heated blend of garri mixed with palm oil.
This was the preferred meal of the many adults in the Igede, that is, the extended family quarter. Sometimes, they ate directly from the pot, each person focusing on the taste and oblivious of the stench that occasionally oozed from the pot. They licked their fingers as though they just had the best meal in the entire world.
I had my fair share of such moments when I also enjoyed the special delicacy. Till date, I still crave for Obroma delicacy with Kobu-geri. That is the magnetism in Obroma of the Ijaw people.
In life, we must never discount the utility of anything. What might otherwise be seen as beyond redemption could turn out to be useful if only an imaginative value is added to make it beneficial to mankind.
While in Tuomo, I learnt that whenever circumstances are in the hand of the right person to determine, everything can turn beautiful. Whatever is old in your hands today may be new in the hands of those who had never had the opportunity to have it. A relationship which you think has nothing to offer might be the craving of many others, who may be ready go through the fire to make it work if only they had your partner as theirs.
There is good in everything if only we apply the right perspectives to make it to meet our tastes and quench our cravings.
Obroma delicacy may be from a decaying fish, it was nevertheless the only dish we had to cling unto for survival at some very critical period while growing up.
Isereke writes from Ogulagha, Delta state
The Ogulagha Boy
Writing From Obuguru Community in Delta State