Ikot Abasi, also called Opobo, formerly Egwanga, port town, Akwa Ibom state, southern Nigeria. The town lies near the mouth of the Imo (Opobo) River. Situated at a break in the mangrove swamps and rain forest of the eastern Niger River delta, it served in the 19th century as a collecting point for slaves. In 1870 Jubo Jubogha, a former Igbo (Ibo) slave and ruler of the Anna Pepple house of Bonny (28 miles [45 km] west-southwest), came to Ikot Abasi and founded the kingdom of Opobo, which he named for Opobo the Great, a Pepple king (reigned 1792–1830). Also called Chief Jaja by Europeans, he destroyed the economic power of Bonny and made Opobo the leading power of the eastern Niger delta oil-palm trade until he was deported in 1887 by the British, who established a trading post at Opobo Town, 4 miles (6 km) southwest, on the west bank of the Imo River. Modern Ikot Abasi serves as a trading centre for the yams, cassava (manioc), fish, palm produce, corn (maize), and taro produced by the Ibibio people of the area; it also is known for boatbuilding, although a sandbar partially blocks the entrance to its port from the Gulf of Guinea. The town is linked by highway to Aba and Port Harcourt. Pop. (2006) local government area, 132,023.
It was in Cross River state (Akwa Ibom was later carved from Cross River) when I was there, back in 1990, visiting my then girlfriend who was doing her post-University National Youth Service. We took a Toyota taxi van from The University of Port Harcourt, where I was living with my lecturer Dad. For a variety of reasons the trip lives lushly in my memory, not least because of the gorgeous tropical setting (We were in the rural part of Ikot Abasi). I was also aware of the area's rich history, centered on Opobo, where "King Jaja" went from captured Igbo slave to local leader, undertook an extended campaign of defiance against the British, was eventually captured through deceit and sent into exile.
In a few days there I read a lot and wrote a few poems, including one about Ikot Abasi itself. This week YB Poetry published my poem, Ikot Abasi Redux, written a couple of years ago as a sort of echo of that poem I wrote in 1990. That earlier poem, written when I was still a teenager, isn't really publishable in any proper journal, but I thought this a good time to post it in this informal setting as a sort of bookend to the "Redux." You can see the themes I carried into the more recent poem.
(Thoughts from the World's Navel)
In the wake of age-old night,
A downy, dewy new born baby
Ourang-outan hangs face downwards,
Legs in mother's knowing grip,
Wide-eyed at the brown, the chlorophyll.
Apprentice to the simple art of gestures,
It takes, in breath, the dizzy scene,
The trailing vines and sea-green herbs,
The brown dehiscent pods,
The endless symbiosis (breathe)
The roiling food chains (breathe again);
In mother's knowing grip,
It learns that which the eye can't see
In this plush romp of deity,
This nursery of being...
The primate urge that shaped our shrilling tongues to trope
Shows roots here like the ageless, sprawling tree in shallow soil.
A tree is not a poem, but a poem might be tree:
A poem that is not a tree is grass or birophyte.
A poem, tree through hardened truth or old acuity
Is ringed by lesser stalks and shoots that struggle to the light.
Knowing truth in things unseen and rarely comprehensible,
A poem's tree by virtue of compression (heed the lesson)
Images, insisted Pound, are acorns—hard, inedible
The poet's business lies in rearing oaks to dine the mind on.
These centuries of prosody and rhetoric are latent here,
And have been since our times before imagining,
Flowing through the veins of leaves.
There are no hamadryads here,
No wooded tabernacles,
No slave moods in the elder's stool,
The hoe, the hollow ikolo.
Wisdom is never exercise
At the world's damp navel,
But an endless dance to soundless measure,
Answering to none at all
unless the simple seasons.
27 March 1990
© Uche Ogbuji
at Ikot Abasi, Nigeria