Priscilla Ediare, Ado-Ekiti
Erin Ayonigba River in Erinjiyan Ekiti, Ekiti West Local Government Area of Ekiti State, is a river with strange kind of fish. The river is said to heal various ailments.
According to the people of Erinjiyan, the river is the source of the town, the guardian that protects their children wherever they reside on earth and it is capable of solving numerous problems and challenges affecting man. Even the name, Erinjiyan, was coined from the name of the river, “Erin”. Erijiyan translates to “Erin river does not argue,” which is the reason the river is located where it is today.
The river, Daily Sun gathered, has fish and other creatures in it that are believed to be the children of the river goddess, hence, they are not tampered with or killed.
Whenever there a visitor to the town to see the fish, a loaf of bread would be cut in small pieces and thrown into the river and in seconds all the fish would swim up to eat the portions of bread. The townspeople also claim the fish would never eat bread thrown into the river from, let alone be seen by, any visitor whose mind is not clean and whose visit to the river has some elements of suspicion or doubt.
Also, if the water were to be used for prayers and is fetched and given to someone with an unclean mind or evil intentions, the water would not get to the home of that person. The container would crack, burst, or something strange would happen to it so that it leaks or pours away before the person gets home.
An elderly woman, Mrs. Abike Owotuyi, popularly called “Iya Erin,” is the custodian of the river. She is the appeaser of the river goddess and in charge of whatever has to do with the river, the one who renders panegyrics to the fish before they swim up for visitors to see. According to Owotuyi, there are eight quarters that make up Erijiyan town: Inisa, Osasin, Igbeyin, Ilofi, Iwaro, Igemo, Aaye and Oketere. The river, Omi Erin Ayonigba, has its source and is situated in Oketere quarters of Erijiyan Ekiti.
It cures 200 ailments. The river gives children to the barren or those with delayed pregnancy, the person would drink the water and bathe with it. When the river gives a child, the mother is expected to bring the child every seventh month of the year (July) to celebrate with the people of the town; in this month, the people of Erinjiyan, from the king to the chiefs, men and women, young and old, together celebrate the river. The celebration is called “Odun Olokun.” There is no specific date for the celebration.
During the celebration, maidens in their numbers from all quarters of the town decorate their bodies with beads. The beads take the place of their clothing, except for brassieres and shorts, and their hair is beautifully plaited. Beside the river are clusters of palm trees. During the celebrations, in the olden days, only unmarried female virgins moved around the palm trees; any lady who lied about being a virgin would fall on the seventh lap around the tree, and the men at the other side of the river would shout, indicating that she was not a virgin. But today, it is no longer like that, because even a little girl can hardly boast about being a virgin.
Erin Ayonigba River is the only river that all the people of town collectively worship, as people only worship other smaller rivers in the quarters where they are located.
It is a taboo to boil water from the river or dilute it with hot water. Fish in the river, the people believe, are children of the river goddess; nobody kills a fish and takes it home to cook, as the fish would never get cooked. If the person cuts the fish into small pieces and cooks the fish, the water would be boiling above the fish while the pieces would join to become a whole fish in the pot; and strange happenings would befall the person’s home and the neighbourhood where the fish is cooked, such as death of little children, infants and toddlers, because one of the river goddess’s children was killed, hence the revenge on little children.
It is also a taboo to touch the palm trees by the riverbank with a knife or cutlass. During their annual celebration where maidens move around the palm trees, the townspeople say there is a very big snake called “Ere” or “Ejola.” The snake is big enough to swallow human beings or large animals like goats. The snake, the townspeople insist, has been there for decades; Mrs. Owotuyi said she grew up with it and they always walk on the snake during their annual celebration. She explained that if the snake suspects that someone is trying to look at it with keenness, it quickly changes to a rope. The snake (Ejola) comes out from its habitat within the river to the grove of palm trees only when it is nine days to the celebration.
The celebration lasts till dawn and it is said that whoever the river goddess wants to show a sign, she physically manifests herself to the person by increasing her size and sitting on a seat close to the bridge linking the river with the road, breastfeeding her children that surround her.
If she wants to give way for anyone while sitting close to the river, no one would see her when leaving, and if she wants to scold any of her children, that is, any of the sons or daughters of the town, she (the goddess) would not leave her sitting position and whoever is coming close to the river would see her, for instance, someone who had stayed out late and was returning home. With this sign, the person would know he or she has done something wrong. Oftentimes she would come out in the night and whenever she wants to come out during the day, she would appear as a fat woman, change to a girl or an elderly woman and she would walk straight to the palace to greet the king. Whenever she appears in this form, she is not always noticed, but people like the river custodian (Owotuyi) and a few others who are not ordinary people would recognise her and they would exchange greetings.
During the town’s celebrations, akara (bean cake) is fried in households and whoever cannot afford this can bring groundnuts, kola, salt or any other thing, depending on their purse. Balls of akara, firewood butts and some of the pans used for frying are used to offer prayers for the town and their children wherever they may be. Some of akara balls, firewood and frying pans are thrown into the river after the prayers and they find their way to the shores of the sea in cities like Lagos and any of their children who visits the sea at this point would know that their celebration has taken place and they would inform others.
The goddess does not like being disturbed. During the last dry season, some people were at the river to clear it and remove some rubbish, those to do the work had been paid three days before the date, but she (river goddess) went straight to the king of the town, asked him if he wanted to kill her children, and the king immediately stopped the work.
The location of the river has cut the town into two equal parts. The source of the river is a dry ground with two trees on it called “Igi Odan,” with thick roots on the surface, a short distance from the river. Before now, the traditional tree that was planted there was “Igi Agbagba”. Some time ago, the Agbagba tree was uprooted and later replaced with “Igi Odan”, in the process of erecting poles to bring electricity into the town.
During the dry season, the goddess returns all the fishes in the river to the source and keeps them there and, by 1pm, whoever sits under the tree would hear sounds of fish swimming.
Apart from the town celebrating the river goddess, the day she wants to celebrate herself, she increases her size and she starts shaking on the surface of the river so that whoever stands by the bank of the river at that time would hear drumbeats emanating from inside the river.
When the river goddess gives anyone a child, hot water must not be used on the child. Whenever there is a pronouncement that no child should bathe in the river, after three days, the colour of the water would change to red and she would go straight to the palace to challenge the king and ask him if it is right for a mother not to see her child daily. This river loves it when children bathe in it and it doesn’t harm or drown people.
The town uses a cow to appease the goddess of the river whenever the occasion calls for it. The river forbids someone to a make a pledge and not redeem it after his prayers are answered. It is better not to a make pledge, but just say that they would do whatever they can afford when their prayers are answered.
The river does not disturb the non-indigenes living in the town, as they also drink and bathe with it, but they are not to travel to their villages taking the water with them without informing a son or daughter of the land. All that must be done is that anybody, small or big, from the town should be informed before they take the water outside the town.
The COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world, Erinjiyan people claim, cannot affect any of their children as they often send the goddess to every part of the world to protect their sons and daughters from sicknesses and diseases. If a child from the town dies within this period of COVID-19, the death cannot be linked to coronavirus; something he or she has been struggling with is responsible for the person’s death.
They believe no child of the town ever suffers from affliction, except when that child has overstepped his or her boundaries, and believes he is an island and knows it all.
The river used to gift people fowls, ducks and pigeons but has stopped doing so when the people (receivers) started to use the gifts for evil deeds. The person gifted would know from the river bank when the animal followed him or her to their house and would refuse to go back even after being chased severally.
Such a chicken would hatch all the eggs it laid. The person, after it has hatched the eggs, would take the animal and all its young back to the river, whichever swims away belongs to the river, while the remaining are taken back home.
Mrs. Blessing, from Benue State, resides in Erinjiyan with her husband and children; she said the river is not harmful. The people are peaceful and do not discriminate. They (visitors) also drink, bathe and wash with the water.