While in primary four or basic four (or you could say fourth grader), I saw this in my text for the very first time in my young life. One of the reasons it stuck asides from the emotional story, was how strong the name sounded. “Jaja”, it sounded like the name of a hero in a war movie.
The story of King Jaja of Opobo (pronounced Opopo), a part of the Niger Deltan Part of Nigeria, who resisted the colonial masters before he was forced into slavery, is one that is embedded to anyone in the southern part of the nation. Especially the part where he became a very wealthy merchant in Britain and sought to return but wasn’t allowed, after forcing his way, he was poisoned by a cup of tea which he took before alighting the ship to meet his people of Opobo.
Well, I had always longed to visit this island called Opobo. Never got the chance till this funeral of this Opobo lady. For starters, there has been construction of bridges to take you to the community by land. But everyone except the king and some political rulers have to park their vehicle at a general car park, so people can see space to move about. The community is a small one that promotes inter personal relationship, especially as people move about on feet.
Another thing I noticed was, the people of Opobo had little or no land, hence their primary source of livelihood was fishing. In housing, with the amount of land space in Opobo, different people have to come together to agree to build a storey building. One family would own a floor, while the family above, would be a different family. Same as the one above that.
The palace of King Jaja
As peaceful as it seem, the Opobo people do have a culture that seems rather odd to me. Members of the community are not buried in the village; unless as a male, you are a chief, or as a female, you have tied wrapper (a celebration that is very symbolic in the life of every Opobo woman). I had attended the funeral of a woman, who unknown to me, had not tied wrapper. After all tributes and memoirs, I saw her corpse being taken in an ambulance away. I wondered if they had thrown her into the sea or taken her back to the mortuary. It was later, I was told that a piece of land outside the village, just opposite the general parking lot, was a general cemetery, where these set of persons (who were not chief or who had not tied wrapper) were buried.
On leaving the community, a swamp located just at the outskirts with hydrophytes growing in it, was said to be a place where those who got drowned, were buried. (laughs) I remember how scared I felt at the moment, it seemed like the leaves where the hands of those people who drowned still seeking for help.
I was really glad I finally visited the great kingdom of Opobo, where the renowned KING JAJA OF OPOBO hailed from.
Paul Chikaike Kalu alias Paul Kay is a prolific writer of prose, poetry, and articles; a content creator, a guest columnist on magazines and blogs, a copywriter with huge experience in ghost writing. A member of Association of Nigerian Authors. Author of THE VISIT, (his first published work on paperback) now on Amazon and on Okadabooks. You can reach out to him on firstname.lastname@example.org