Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Fish Gods of Gbaota

Almost three hours out of Monrovia, on the highway to Gbarnga, there is a little town with an infamous river running through it. One part of the river is used for bathing and washing clothes, and another part is full of giant catfish that have lived there unmolested since the olden days. They come to the surface in a wild thrashing frenzy if you throw pieces of bread in the water. During the civil war, I am told, when there was no food and people were so hungry that they ate rats, lizards, and even other human beings, no one even considered catching the fish of Gbaota.

Legend has it that long ago, before the war, people used to bring their problems to the fish. After such visits, which were made in consultation with certain gifted people from the town, all sorts of requests would be granted. Even women who went there with infertility problems would finally bear children. But anyone who dared to eat the fish would fall into misfortune and ill health, and die.

Town Chief Harrison Cooper says once a group of people began fishing there, claiming that as Christians, no harm would come to them if they ate the fish. “They saw for themselves,” Cooper added with a shrug, “and they stopped eating the fish."

There are other tales regarding the fish of Gbaota River. For one, they say any other fish that enters their space turns up dead, and that any Gbaota catfish who crosses a certain boundary in the river cannot turn back; it loses its power and becomes safe to eat.

The Town Chief warned that my taking photographs of them would prove useless. “Plenty people try to take their picture,” he said, “but the pictures never come out.” With that in mind, I had an eerie feeling all the way back to Monrovia. Would my digital photos disappear? Paranoid, I kept checking on them. Would we be able to see the fish in the photos? Would my photo of the three young Gbaota girls download as two old women with missing teeth and one with long flat breasts? Would the fish gods of Gbaota let me tell their story??

(Well, here they are! Apparently the fish appreciated the Fanti bread I threw in. However, if the blog starts to act up we'll all know why.)


Kieran said...

I can't actually the see the fish - perhaps it has vanished since you uploaded it (:

Strange, even despite the tales surrounding them, that nobody ate the fish during the civil war.

I was wondering, also, what your thoughts are on the capture and impending trial of Charles Taylor - do you think it will help Liberia or stir things up?

elle* said...

Kieran, look more closely - Those dark bumps on top of the water are the fish!

And on Taylor...we'll just have to wait and see what comes out in his trial. I can tell you though, most of us are not waiting with bated breath. He left for the sake of peace, and we are now concerned with the clear and present dangers that are here with us.

Anonymous said...

It's quite funny that the villagers think the fish embody some mysterious power. Liberian culture (educated or not) are full of myths and superstitions which are mostly unfounded.

As with Charles Taylor, I doubt he will ever walk the earth as a free man again. His arrest and trial definitely sends a powerful message to other African despots that the world is watching their uncivilized behavior and there will be a price to pay. As a man of African heritage, I'm embarrassed by the brutish behavior of African male leaders.

Taylor is an evil guy and he’ll die in prison.

elle* said...

#1 - Some of these "myths and superstitions" are in fact not myths and superstitions. I can say this because I have seen strange things with my own eyes.

#2 - My opinion is that if Taylor is to be tried it should be for things people say he did in Liberia, not for allegedly supporting the Sierra Leone war. I can think of other leaders who right about now are causing havoc in other countries and proving themselves more brutish than any African I know.

coop2007 said...

No matter what, I would not want to eat the catfish from Gbaota River. I was able to see the fish captured on your camera. Great job.

As for Taylor, he ruined our country. I wish he never sees daylight again.

Nico Jah said...

seven years on and this myth persists. it was the first of such stories shown to me on a trip down the same road. they also told me the fotos wouldnt come out, which was pure nonsense. i think the state of liberia's digital cameras might speak to that... lol. as to why they wont eat the fish? i can only imagine somebody died after eating the fish...