BY Osa Okhomina,Yenagoa
ETIAMA community, unlike most of the 112 closely located communities, farming and fishing settlements that made up the Nembe clan in Nembe Local Government Areas of Bayelsa State, is a relatively quiet community until 2000 when massive oil spill occurred from a breach in the oil facility owned by the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).
The oil spillage, which devastated the riverine terrain, with several rivulets, islands, and mangrove forest affected occurred a few kilometres from Etiama Nembe and was repaired after a few days, but not before an estimated 2,500 barrels of crude oil had been spilled into the surrounding water bodies, forest and farms; seriously contaminating an area of about 20 hectares.
LEADERSHIP gathered that despite the wrangling over the clean-up of the oil spillage, the forest animal population particularly the gorillas refused to be coaxed and pushed away.
Although studies showed that gorillas, with a life span of 35 to 40 years and height of 1.6metre are considered highly intelligent, in the forest of Etiama community in the Nembe kingdom of Bayelsa State, these prelates have displayed exceptional shyness and neighbourliness to hunters and indigenes.
LEADERSHIP gathered from Eitiama indigenes that though the heavy forest in which this particular specie of gorillas are located was designated as a forest reserve known as Edumanon Game Reserve by the Federal Government, the facility was abandoned due to years of lack of access road until the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) constructed and commissioned the Ogbia-Nembe road project.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP on the existence of the friendly gorilla population in Bayelsa, 64 years old popular hunter from Nembe, Angadigha Angadigha said in his 13 years hunting experience in the thick forest of Etiama community, he has discovered that the gorilla population moves in groups (troops) led by an alpha male with many females, a couple of young males and kids.
He continued: “You need to see them when they are resting after breakfast. The young ones will pluck leaves and lay on the ground for the leader to sleep. While he is resting, the babies will be climbing him, running up and down but he doesn’t allow them touch his wrist. Though, I don’t know why. If any of the babies touch his wrist, he will fling that baby away with his powerful arm. They are in large numbers in the Etiema bush.”
Though he confirmed that he had killed two gorillas for food during his hunting, he said. “I have met troops as many as hundred gorillas. They are shy and neighbourly. I used to take some white people to the bush to look at them. They come from different countries to study the animals and birds. They actually wanted me to stop hunting, because they believe that the animal population is reducing.”
Angadigha who is a very popular hunter in Nembe said, “It is expensive to kill gorilla if you want to do the right things. There are sacrifices to make when you kill a gorilla. When you kill a gorilla, you will first cut fresh palm fronts and create a fence round the gorilla. You will then go and inform your community and come along with things like (hot drinks, fresh plantains cut into small pieces in a saucer etc.) to do incantation and sacrifice.
“People will go with you to the forest to perform the sacrifice and assist carry the kill to the community. In the community you will sponsor warriors’ dance known in Nembe language as Peri-toi. It is after the dance that the gorilla will be butchered. So killing a gorilla is an expensive feast.”
He explained that using the fresh palm front to create a fence around an animal that is dead is spiritual cleansing. “Even when people die, it is tied on the boat, canoe or vehicle conveying the corpse to keep bad spirits away. But for the gorillas, they are scared of it. I don’t know why, but if you don’t do that, by the time you go and bring people and the things to do sacrifice other gorillas would have carried the dead gorilla away.”
But speaking with LEADERSHIP, Comrade Tare Akono, a one-time state chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and a prominent indigene of Okpoama in Brass Local Government, said the illegal activities of deforestation had driven the population of gorillas from Etiama to Idema in Ogbia Local Government area of the State.
Akono told LEADERSHIP that the federal and state governments should have sustained the planned game reserve and saved the gorillas from extinction as “illegal logging in the forest is driving away the friendly gorillas. These are animals that are shy when they come in contact with humans and are neighbourly.”
Another hunter that shared his experience of gorilla with LEADERSHIP is Ogan Angadigha.
He said he had been hunting since 2005 and that he had encountered the gorillas many times.
He said, “I have been hunting in the forest since 2005. I was at the forest in December 2020 and I came across about nine of the gorillas with their kids. They don’t attack. They would only move away from you and be jumping in excitement at your presence. But we are also careful not to over stretch their friendliness.”
On whether the people of the community visit the forest or not, he said the forest is thick and usually meant for hunting expedition.
A study by a United States based BBC Earth’s feature writer, Melissa Hogenboom showed that gorillas were once depicted as violent brutes who would kill a human at any chance encounter. It is not a coincidence that the monstrous giant ape King Kong was portrayed as a gorilla. In different circumstances, gorillas can be truly dangerous.
However, from the 1970s onwards the primatologist, Dian Fossey, transformed gorillas’ reputation with her pioneering studies of wild mountain gorillas. These are a different species to Harambe, but the differences are subtle. Fossey found that the gorillas were hardly ever violent. For the most part they were peaceful.
David Attenborough was filmed with some of Fossey’s gorillas for the 1979 television series “Life on Earth.” The encounter has gone down in television history, because some of the young gorillas started playing with Attenborough.
Clearly, it is possible to meet a gorilla and come away entirely unharmed. But the gorillas Attenborough met had been carefully habituated to humans over many years, and everyone involved knew how to treat them with respect. In different circumstances, gorillas can be truly dangerous. Most gorilla violence is directed towards other gorillas. There have been cases where gorillas attacked and even killed humans, but such incidents are rare.
They live in groups, in which one dominant male silverback controls several females and youngsters. If another male approaches, the silverback will try to drive him off. He begins by making threatening displays such as grunting, hooting and chest pounding. If that does not work, he may attack.
Many silverbacks have tell-tale scars from such encounters. The losers sometimes do not survive. Gorilla attacks on humans follow a similar pattern: the gorilla has to be provoked first.