Obio/Akpor—Suspected hoodlums have broken into a collection of over 500 ancestral fishponds belonging to natives of Alakahia community, Akpor Kingdom Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, Rivers State, and carted away fishes worth millions of naira.
Vanguard reports that the invasion, which left the people in tears, caused the community to call off their 2023 fishing festival, known as Okwo Onwo Aruma, bequeathed by their forebears many years ago.
NDV learned that residents of the four villages that make up the Alakahia community, namely: Rumudike, Rumuosogu, Olugbuo, and the Rumuodumanya, on penultimate Saturday, filed out en masse at about 6.00 am to take part in the fishing festival.
Until a declared harvest year, custom forbids indigenes from going to the fishing ponds after a particular year, and they make huge harvests at every celebration.
Clutching their bailing bowls, cutlasses, basins and bags to carry their harvests, they marched to the location of the fishing ponds owned by different families in the wooded area, but they have been wailing ever since.
The 2023 festival was bizarre, as the people trooped to the ponds, only to discover to their chagrin that unknown persons had harvested their fish.
Speaking to NDV, an indigene, Vera ThankGod, said: “We hate what has happened to us this year. They finished our fish; we went to our fish ponds and harvested nothing.
“In previous years, we usually make a good catch that we sell and give some to our relatives and visitors who visit us during the festival. However, this year, there was no fish at all. We prepared our ponds years back, yet we did not get fish today.”
Her sibling, Susan ThankGod, added: “We used to stay two years before we came for this festival, but this time, it took three years. We were supposed to come January ending, then we would have seen fish to catch. This year, we saw nothing. It is as if all the fish have died. It is disheartening.”
On why her father was not physically present, she responded: “My father is not that strong physically, so he did not come. We, the female children, have to come and represent the family in this festival.
“Our first son is 11 years old. He doesn’t have the experience; therefore, we had to do it.
“There is no law forbidding females from harvesting our family’s pond. If there is no male in the family, none married or have a male friend, the females carry on. You can also ask people to help the family, but we do not want to beg anybody, we do it ourselves.”
An inhabitant, Mr. Achinike Chukwu said: “The people of Alakahia use this festival to show the universe these vast fishing ponds here are owned by us. Sometimes, it is difficult to locate your own pond, except you know those who share boundaries with your family.
“When you know the family that has a pond close to your family’s own, you can then locate your own. My father has three ponds, and I have located all of them. If your father died when you were small, when you grow, you ask questions about your father’s pond. People who know it will take you there.
The Nyewe Ali Alakahia, HRH, Eze (Amb.) Daniel Ogbonnaya Dodo said: “The festival is a very important occasion for the Alakahia people. From time immemorial, we saw this occasion; we were young and followed our parents to their ponds. Now that we are old, we have to make sure the festival continues.
“Any day we are going for this festival, we send a town crier to announce round the community that we are going to harvest our ponds. We do this every two to three years depending on the year. We were supposed to do the festival last year, but the rains were much, so we could not enter there.
“On the day of this festival, our daughters that are married outside Alakahia will come with their husbands. Those married here, who do not have ponds will go to their in-laws’ places.
“Every hardworking male in Alakahia has a pond, some have up to five ponds, but the tradition is that we harvest in one day. After that day, you close your pond, and nobody goes there again. In the event of somebody going there behind, and we catch him, we will impose a fine on the person.
“We have taken people to the police because of going there to fish when it is not the time. This year was not favourable. People caught many fishes in the last two years. If today were favourable, people would have been coming to the palace with fish.
“They will divide the fish, keep some for the council of chiefs, and take their own home. Those who have enough will sell. We host our neighbouring communities. It helps us economically. After this festival, most of our people do not buy fish for up to a month.
“This has been our tradition, it has been there and now, it is our turn to keep it going. The problem we have there now is that people go there to steal our fish.
“If you look at the pond area, we did not fence it. People can easily enter there to steal because there is development around the area now.
“We have the intention of protecting that place, by fencing it so that nobody goes there to steal. We also intend to see how, with the help of the government, we can develop the place into a tourist centre.
“At night, people use lamps and torches to go there to harvest our ponds and steal our fish. It is bad. The community has over 500 ponds, and some families have over 10 fishponds.”
He regretted that many of the fishes they had before are no more. “When we grew up, there was what we call Orumini, this fish that has blood like human beings.
It is very rich but it is no more. There is another one we call Opala, and another that looks like a snake, we do not see them anymore. We are worried about this development, which is why we want to protect the place.
“Before now, people used to set fire to the place so we constructed a canal around it so that fire cannot enter again,” Dodo said.