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.)