Inside mysterious Ebonyi salt lake that forbids males, abhors modernisation



Uba Group

There are many salt lakes in different areas of Ebonyi State. One of them is located in Okposiokwu autonomous community in Ohaozara Local Government Area of the state and popularly known as ‘Mmahi lake’. It is one of the largest salt lakes in the state and has more salinity according to natives. Other salt lakes are Okposi, Oshiri and Uburu among others. Little wonder the slogan of the state is ‘Salt of the Nation.’

When The Point’s correspondent visited Mmahi lake, it was a beautiful sight to behold as it is surrounded by trees and beautiful green grass. The lake has some myths, beliefs and sacredness which the natives do not joke with. These myths have formed their custom and tradition which are passed down from generation to generation.

Speaking with one of the lake managers, Mrs Rose Okoronkwouzo, she revealed that the lake forbids the presence of males and women in their menstrual period. The manager further noted that the lake had, over the years, been frustrating efforts to modernise it with the introduction of technology in order to pave the way for industrialisation of the salt solution for the economic good of the state and the country at large.

Okoronkwouzo hinted that the salt solution was also medicinal and could only be fetched with earthen pots by women who take the commodity to their families’ local processing points.

It was further gathered that the salt could not be produced in commercial quantitiesbecause of traditional beliefs.

A filmmaker who is a native of the community, who simply identified himself as Daniel, noted that the lake was still underused as only local women processed it through the local method of boiling.

According to him, an effort to modernise and upgrade the lake with technological facilities during the tenure of the second executive governor of the state, Chief Martin Elechi, through his wife, Josephine, among others, proved abortive.

The lake was said to have also mysteriously rejected efforts made by teams of American miners to move in machines that would make the mining of the salt solution easy into the site.

“They made efforts to install a machine inside the lake and run a pipe from there to this very place (pointing outside the lake), but both the machine and the pipe got damaged in a very mysterious manner. So, from all indications, the goddess of our salt lake doesn’t need technology and the reason is simple; the goddess might be feeling that if upgrading and modernisation happen, it would entirely destroy the tradition, norm and belief that govern the lake. The gods will not allow it to happen. Perhaps, she (the goddess) wants it to remain a source of income to only the rural women,” he explained.

He added, “The economic importance of the Okposi salt industry might be underestimated by outsiders, but the indigenes know that it ranks first among what made Okposi famous in the pre-colonial era. Once a highly valued merchandise, the salt attracted dealers from all parts of former Eastern and some parts of Northern Nigeria to one of the most famous markets at the time, Odenigbo Okposi. When the market lost its pride of place to the Uburu Slave market, Okposi salt still formed the bulk of the supply in that market since Uburu salt production is seasonal, owing to floods.

“Also, Mmahi salt lake located in Okposi community in Ohaozara LGA of the state supplied the entire Eastern Nigeria with salt during the Biafran/Nigerian Civil War.

Biafran scientists, after a series of tests, declared the brine from Okposi salt lakes as having the highest salinity among all lakes in Eastern Nigeria.”

In an interview with the traditional ruler of Okposiokwu autonomous community, His Royal Highness, Onyiba Chukwu-Agwu, he called on government to intensify efforts to boost the economy of the state by establishing a salt refining factory since the lakes are available to provide the raw material.

The monarch explained how the lake was discovered saying, “The history of Mmahi salt lake in Okposiokwu community dates back to over 400 years ago. It was discovered by two hunters, Ekuma Chita and his friend. It was around that time that Okposi people started settling on the land. While traversing the bush, they saw a pond of water and went to have a drink.

“They found out it was so salty, it could not quench their thirst. In those days, there was nothing like Christianity and my people believed in the long juju of Arochukwu. People were sent there to find out exactly why the water was unusually salty. It was there that the oracle told them that the little pond at that time was a big treasure, that it would form the economic power of the community. The oracle told them that before they realised the full potential of the salt lake, human sacrifice was required and Chita offered his only son.

“From that point, they realised it was salt, which could be used to season foods. The processing was and is still very local. Primarily, only women enter the salt lake even till tomorrow. The women who enter it must be those who have reached adulthood, married and not in their monthly periods. If you are on your period and want to fetch, there is a place you will stay and others will fetch and pour into your earthen pot for you. It is likely to be a directive from the goddess. Even government officials, tourists on visitation obey the orders. There is a hut called ‘Ewe’ where the salt is processed into crystal. It goes through many processes of filtration to achieve success.”

“During the Nigerian/Biafra war, research and production units came in to improve the salt. Since then, the methods have continued to evolve. Currently, there are series of visitations by the state government and we are hopeful that, one day, Okposiokwu salt lake will provide the salt, not only for national use but for export,”he added.


Speaking further on the economic importance of the lake and how efforts at modernising it failed, the traditional ruler said, “Government has to take up the refining process with all seriousness. A lot of entrepreneurs had tried without success. The latest, one Kalu from Abia State tried, somewhere along the line, the whole thing backfired and didn’t work again.”

He further noted that women no longer devoted much time and interest in the processing because the local refining methods were so stressful.

“Young men of this age no longer allow their mothers to go through such stressful hardwork of making money,” the monarch said.