25/01/2022

GbaramatuVoice Newspaper

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Women Who Are The Men At Home: The Stories Of The Neglected Ijaw “Amazons” Of Warri Corner

6 min read

Madam Rita

The daily toiling of the Ijaw women that flocks to the ocean front area called Sand Fill Two, popularly called ‘Warri Corner’ in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta state, where they eke out agonizing living, aptly underscores the over-used cliché, “What a man can do, a woman can do even better”.

The setting in the treacherous terrain of the area makes the “super women”, whose exploits can favourably match that of the fabled Amazons who dominated the Brazilian jungle in the pre-civilization era in the popular South American country.

A community in the Warri South West Local Government Area, called Sand Fill Two, Ogbe-Ijoh community, throws up an unusual setting, whereby the tough talking women of the community takes charge of business, in the hard industry of moving goods and services across the treacherous and difficult riverine area.

The community which has the industrious Ijaws as its major residents is synonymous with marine-based cottage industries, with people engaged in canoe transport or ‘hand pulling’, as the locals call it, as a means of sustenance.

However, instead of muscular and fierce-looking men, it is the weaker sex that dominates the back breaking trade, which they master, to feed their families.

Naturally, the Niger Delta premium online newspaper, GbaramatuVoice, got curious of these settings and went to the area to speak with some of the women, on their unusual vocation, challenges and station in life.

The result is a mind-boggling, exposé of potti-pouri of experience as related by the ‘drivers’ of the economy of the Ogbe-Ijoh community.

A mother of five, simply identified as Madam Elizabeth, one of the women actively involved in ‘hand pulling’ for a living, lives at Sand Fill Two, Ogbe-Ijoh, with her children and labours hard at being a good mother, by giving her children the education she never had and providing constantly for their needs.

She hasn’t always been in this business and she’s only been in it for a little over two years now.

Needless to say, she has had some bitter experience prior to this time and in her current station in life.

According to the doting mother, she was involved in petty trading before, and she was engaged in buying and selling of toiletries and provisions at Ogbe-Ijoh market.

Sadly, her business took a down turn and she could no longer sustain herself and her family. She decided to wound up her lucrative business and went in search of alternative means of livelihood.

Her husband, who was supposed to step in and take charge of the situation, for no just cause, bolted away one day, leaving her and their five children in misery.

“We just woke up one day to discover he has run away. There was no notice and since then, we have been left on our own.”

Rather than being discouraged, she picked up herself and became the man of the house.

She immediately decided to try her hands in the hand pulling/canoeing business. The canoeing business basically involves transporting people and goods, to and from the river.

“There was not much in the way of jobs in the area and it is only the canoe business that was available. Even though I was dejected, I had to think about my children. So I decided to join the canoe transport business.”

With gritty determination, she learnt how to paddle a boat, including how to handle a boat during stormy weather and in dangerous terrains, especially when travelling opposite speed boats, that splashes huge waves in her way.

She also learnt the most important aspect of her new found trade – the safety of her passengers, and to also ensure that they get to their destinations, any which way possible, not only safe, but dry.

After her tutelage, she ran into another road block in her efforts to feed her family.
She said, “After, I have learnt the ropes, and I had the requisite skills to operate a boat. I discovered that I had another battle on my hand.”

 

Since she cannot buy a boat, she has to hire one for N400, per pulling (trip).  She still has to pay a compulsory fee to the ‘jetty owners’ too. So even after working hard both day and night, she still always comes up short of the little she needs to feed her family, because almost half of her income for the day would have been expended on taxes and dues.

This is even worse when the weather is not favourable, especially during the rainy seasons. There are times, when she endures the beating of the weather, while covering her passengers with her raincoat, since she cannot allow her vision to be impeded while she paddles her canoe.

“I have been doing this hand pulling for over two years and some months now and it is not easy. I use it to feed my family but it isn’t enough, the expenses are just too much; like my children’s daily expenses in school, amongst other things.

“I have five children and it’s only me that is taking care and sponsoring them, no one is helping me. One of the challenges I am facing now, is that the canoe I am using is not mine as a result I have to rent a canoe every day, with the sum of N400 per pulling.

“You see, I don’t have the money to get my own canoe and the bill of the boat and the jetty is really taking a toll on me, most times leaving me with little to take back home. But I don’t allow these to weigh me down, as I must do it to provide for my children.

“Even when it rains I would still transport people so that I can make money to take home. I don’t let this stop me and as God gives me the strength, I am still strong doing it. There are times when huge waves come from speeding boats which often get me wet but I wouldn’t say because of cold my children will not eat or they will not go to school, so I keep on paddling.”

Another ‘woman of substance’, in the community, who also share similar experience, was Madam Rita.

She also related how she daily struggles in the canoe business to sustain her family.
According to her, it is a stressful business, but she has to keep on with it in order to take care of her family.

“This work I am doing is called pulling or canoe transport and you see, it is not easy, as it involves a lot of stress. I have been doing it for five years now and it is what I use to feed and send my children to school.

“Sometimes when I finish work for the day and I go home to rest, I begin to feel pain all over my body, just as if two men are beating me.

“Other times, I cannot move my body, I would oversleep and when day breaks, I wouldn’t even know. But what would I do? Nothing else here to use and manage. So I would still force myself to get up and go to the river to commence business.”

Madam Rita disclosed that she has four children whom she struggles to care for. In her canoe, she carries five people and each of them pay the sum of N30. Even with the sum amount charged, when she arrives the destination of her passengers and want to collect money for her services, some of them usually run away with the money. Hence, instead of N150 she may go home with N60, leaving her with losses. Added to these, are the exorbitant amount she pays for both boat and jetty levies.

Sometimes, her boat capsizes as a result of the activities of speed boats and big boat. They don’t slow down and even when she and others try to draw their attention to this, they usually heap insults on them, while speeding way. But this brave woman still pushes on.

These stories, as scary and inhuman as they may sound, are the true situations of things in the area.

These are the people who also labour in the sun to vote in our three tiers of governments, but they are ignored and always left at the mercies of the unfavourable elements and environment to pound them into submission at various stages of their lives.

They only need little things that our leaders can provide easily. For how long will these mothers continue to suffer, before their voices are heard?

Few thousands of naira will buy them better boats, financial independence, and better more, educate their children.

By Shina Badmus, Enaibo Asiaye & Godbless Motiola

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