Over the years, I kept on imagining the enterprising spirit of the people in those dire days of the war. The people from the riverine areas will bring goods like fish, salt, and other marine-based products to this border market to’ exchange’ for food and other product.
Exchange it was because most of the trade was done by batter system as the currency of exchange was not accepted as a legal tender across both sides of the border; that was long before the soldiers started converging in our villages and fishing camps, burning and destroying everything.
“Though you had a Childhood experience of the war,” he said to me patiently, “your experience could not be compared to those who lived in the epicenter of the war. For out there, it was a living hell,” he concluded, looking at me.
Though I was a little boy then, probably not more than eight years old, there were some incidents that I could still recall and shudder at the remembrance.
“Do you know that this camp is called Ikirika-kiri,” I asked him. “A name I think it derived on account of it being used in those days as a settlement for some people from Okirika; a tribe of Ijaw people that lived in the eastern part of the Niger Delta.
“Across this river over there,” I pointed across the river to where the little canoe with the two persons had come out. “There is a river there. If you look very well, you can see the entrance from here.”
“I am seeing it,” he answered. “I think it is called Sibokubu-bio. It leads to St. Barbara River, coming out at the confluence of juju-point.”
“You are right,” I agreed, looking at him, wondering how he knows about all these things but continued instead.
“Alright, down that St, Barbara River is the estuary to the Atlantic ocean. There are some fishing camps in the area called Angbakiri, Owukubu, Akananga, and others. Angbakiri was some way up from the others.
“As a result of the war, all the fishermen in the camps up in this area have gone south to those settlements to take on any vocation that can sustain a family. Some were producing salt, hewing of the tall mangrove trees as firewood, and others for the traditional fishing.”
“How were you producing salt in a fishing settlement?” he asked,
“Do you want me to explain how we produce salt or you really want to know?” I suckled
“Do you mind telling me that without asking?” he smiled broadly.
“Okay, but that is not what I want to say. I just want to make the point that whether we were at the epicenter of the war or not, we had our fair share of it.”
He did not say anything to that, but just stared at me, so I continued. “It would take one about eight hours of paddling with a canoe to get to Owukubu following the current in an ebbing tide, and passing through Sibokubu-bio.
“It is also possible for one to go down-stream from here to get to the estuary of the Atlantic. It will take almost the same time to get there from here.
“It was in the middle of the war and the soldiers have taken over every camp within this area. We were under constant harassment in the village. My father, therefore, decided to take every member of the family to go to Owukubu to start a salt production business.”
“Did your father know how to produce salt prior to that time?”
“Em…you know that saying, ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’ I think there is nobody that had to have a primary school education to know how to start fishing. We were born here to picking up our net, or hook, a canoe, and you have got a certificate to go into fishing. The rest of the technicality, you will learn on the job.”
I looked up at the sky in the far corner up-river. The night like a velvet curtain was coming very fast, covering the earth. The wind blowing in from the sea was quite refreshing, tinting the air with the smell of fresh fish and sludge.
I looked back at the old man and continued. “What we need for the production of salt at the time of the war was a mere rectangular tin pot measuring about five feet long, three feet in width, and three feet depth. We then prepared a cooking stand with two big mangrove tree logs arranged side by side to make a fire.