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Return to Asaba, May 2012

May 2, 2012

From Liz Bird:

Returning to Asaba for our fourth visit,  we’re bringing something tangible for our community partners. Since our last visit in October, we have not only published an article about the massacres, but have also been developing the 10-panel exhibit that seeks to tell the story in a clear and dramatic way, using images and the words of the survivors. We have brought proofs of the panels, which we will share with people here to get their feedback. Once everyone is happy, and any errors are fixed, we’ll have the final, 5 X 3 foot panels made, and plan to return in October to install it here.

Meanwhile, we’ll be meeting old friends, and enjoying the familiar Asaba sights. Today, I decided to write a little about the Niger River, which has always been a major presence in the town.  The Niger is one of Africa’s great rivers, third in size after the Nile and the Congo, and it flows through three countries: Mail, Niger, and Nigeria. Asaba grew up on the west bank of the river, in a strategic location on a hill. Tradition tells of how Nnebisi, the founder of Asaba, set out on a quest to find his true home. He travelled in a longboat, and had with him a magical medicine pot that would keep him safe until he reached his home, where it would fall from his head and mark the site. The town’s original Igbo name, Ahaba, derives from “Ahabagom,” which means “I have chosen well,” the words spoken by Nnebisi.

Longboats still work on the river in search of fish, though now usually powered by motors, and the town’s main street, running parallel to the river, is Nnebisi Road.  The landmark Niger bridge, built just before the Civil War, links Asaba to the much larger market city of Onitsha. Before the bridge was built, the only way across the river was by ferry, which many people in the town still remember well.
We have seen the river in several seasons – deep and fast-flowing, or shallow, dry, and sluggish. No matter how it looks, it’s fascinating to watch the traffic on the river, and look across to the rooftops of Onitsha on the other side. 

The river of course played a key role in the civil war and the killings at Asaba – the retreating Biafran army had blown up the final span of the bridge, leaving the Federal troops unable to cross. Their frustration contributed to the mood of anger that resulted in so many brutal civilian deaths.Asaba in 1960, showing the ferry This photo shows the riverbanks and ferry in 1960, while the second photo shows the river today.



 The River Niger, from Asaba

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