Niger Delta Ecosystems: the ERA Handbook/The Human Ecosystems: The Anyama District

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  • Location
  • Topography
  • Soils
  • The Natural Ecosystem
  • Natural and Viable Society
  • Modern Society
  • The Economy
  • The Environment as Seen by Local People
  • Social and Political Status


Anyama (pronounced Ay-ama as in eye) lies within the West African Freshwater Alluvial Monsoon ecozone. It is a river-side settlement on the Ekole Creek 20 kms South of Yenagoa in the Ogbia Local Government of Bayelsa State, (see map 8). It is in the Fresh-water ecozone of the Niger Delta. The Ekole Creek is a large river that at one time carried the waters subsequently captured by the Nun River.

The Anyama people speak a dialect which they call Ema. The dialect is one of the Kugbo-Ogbia cluster of dialects in the Central Delta group of languages which belongs to the Benue-Congo family, which is a sub-family of the Volta-Congo family, also a sub-family of the Atlantic-Congo family, (Professor Kay Williams, Department of Linguistics, University of Port Harcourt). The language is only distantly related to the Ijoid languages (both part of the Atlantic-Congo family) which are spoken immediately to the West and over the larger part of the Delta.

A number of villages up and down the river belong to the Anyama community, including Otuedu, Ologi and Onuebum.

A noticeable feature of Anyama is its relative isolation (compared to Botem-Tai and Nembe) despite being on a busy river and near to Yenagoa. It is not always easy to get a flying boat to stop. Footpaths along the river link the closest neighbouring communities.


The Anyama district lies on the alluvial flood plain of the Niger Delta Map 8.). Like the Okoroba-Nembe district, it is a young dynamic landscape where rivers meander in wide curves across a plain which is so flat, that although the general flow is Southerly some rivers run in a Northerly direction. The young rivers erode the unstable alluvial deposits and spread fresh alluvium on one side of a river as they erode the other. Ox-bow lakes are formed and as the rivers shift their positions they capture sections of each other so that they may quite suddenly (in geological terms) carry a lot less water abandoning fossil levees, or a lot more water, eroding a young flood plain. Settlements are confined to the levees which are the only areas that are entirely safe from the wet-season flooding. Travelling by boat through the area gives the impression of a drier landscape than really exists because the levees disguise the flood plains and swamps behind them.

The local Anyama landscape is typical: an "island" confined by rivers in the East, North and West, and in the South by mangrove swamps and creeks. The island is shovel shaped: the levees of the three rivers forming a discontinuous rim of higher ground around an interior flood-plain containing lakes and swamps, that is inundated from June to August, when Anyama's dry land shrinks to a narrow strip from Ologi to Okodi.

18.3 SOILS

As the topography suggests there are three main soil types in the district: levee soils; flood-plain soils; and swamp soils.

The levee soils are deeper than the Okoroba levee soils but have similarly developed on the sand and silt deposited by floods. Thus they are sandy loams, fine sandy loams and silty loams with a low permeability so that if they are not flooded in the wet season there may be, nonetheless, standing water at times. Some of these soils may be quite deep, as seen at the Anyama waterfront in the dry-season, when the village is 3-4m above water level, but generally they are shallow because of the permanently high water table. When they are cleared for agriculture and without the addition of humus, such soils rapidly lose fertility.

The flood plain soils are like those at Okoroba also. Typically, they are high water-table silty clay and clay gley (seasonally reduced) soils criss-crossed with flood streams which work their way around the buttresses, stilt and knee roots that are typical of the trees that grow on them.

Similarly, the swamp soils are like those found at Okoroba: permanently wet and sometimes submerged having a higher clay content than the flood-plain soils because they are the final sink for the alluvial deposits and because their is no downward leaching at all. Also because of reduced conditions and the accumulation of organic matter in depressions there are deposits of peaty soil.


As stated, Anyama lies within the Freshwater Alluvial Monsoon (FAM) ecozone, which, in its natural state would have been youthful in relation to the natural lowland tropical rainforest beyond the Delta. FAM ecosystems are defined by the drainage regime, thus: on the levee soils, comparatively good drainage with standing water in the wet season; on the flood-plain soils, high water tables with some seasonal flooding; and on the swamp soils permanent flooding. Intermediate conditions exist, for instance on natural or man-made ridges (log canals) running through the back swamps and in swamps which dry out for short periods.

The vegetation of the natural ecosystem corresponds to the soils. The forest on the levees is most like the lowland tropical rainforest beyond the Niger Delta, but with a lower species diversity because of its relative youth. The trees are tall, with large buttresses to support them in the shallow soil, straight and without branches almost up to the thirty metre canopy. So dark is the under-story, that undergrowth is confined to young trees growing in a slash of light created by the fall of a dead tree. Beside the wider rivers, lighter conditions encourage oil palms, shrubby trees and woody climbers. In especially favoured conditions where the soils are deep and very fertile the giant Silk Cotton Tree, Ceiba pentandra, towers above the forest canopy.

On the flood plains the forest is less even, depending on the susceptibility to flooding and the height of the water table. Generally, there is more undergrowth, and there are shorter trees with buttresses, stilt roots, peg roots (pneumorrhizae) and knee roots. Here are to be found substantial areas of oil palm and rattan-palm forest.

Anyama lies in the natural oil-palm zone and under natural conditions the palm would have been conspicuous where ever the land was not permanently flooded and where conditions did not favour the development of lowland tropical rainforest (palm trees will not grow under heavy shade). It is people who have moved the oil-palm belt North as they have converted the lowland rainforest belt into derived savannah dominated by the useful oil palm.

Naturally, the swamps carry the lowest species diversity with large patches of raffia-palm forest. On drier land, there is oil palm forest, interspersed with broad-leaved forest with rattan palm growing up trees that are frequently stilt rooted.


As elsewhere in the Delta, people have been a part of the landscape for hundreds of thousands of years. But it was the appearance of viable people, about 5000 years ago, which began the alteration of the ecosystem to suit people's needs: the banks of the Ekole Creek would have been very attractive for settlement. The populations of some of the slower moving animals such as the hippopotamus (the most dangerous large mammal from people's point of view) may have felt the impact of people's hunting, while their dogs would have worried smaller faster moving animals such as duikers. However the overall impact of early people was small and easily absorbed by the ecosystem.

In more recent times, like much of the interior of the Niger Delta, the more accessible parts of the Anyama district may have been a place of refuge from more dynamic and better organised cultures around it (for instance Benin and Warri to the West). The interior will have been a refuge from slave trading, although because the Ekole Creek was a slave-trading route, the activity would have had the overall effect of inhibiting population growth.

The Anyama people are part of the Central Delta group and Anyama specifically seems to have been settled from the area around Ogbia sometime in the 19th century although, on such an accessible site, there may have been a hunting and fishing camp already. Given the limited dry land, colonies went out to found new settlements resulting in the 17 Anyama communities of today.

It is conceivable that the impetus to the settlement of Anyama arose for two reasons. First because of the decline of the slave trade, making the site on the Ekole Creek a safer place to live; and second with the development of the palm oil and timber trade with Europe in the middle of the 19th century, in which the Ekole Creek was an important route. Anyama was considered important enough by the British to have a District Officer in 1928.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, a human population, having grown due to the ending of the slave trade, would have had a substantial impact on the ecosystem, which nonetheless would have remained dominantly forest, albeit depleted of the larger more valuable trees in the more accessible areas. With an insatiable demand for palm oil the oil palm forests would have been opened up for exploitation and the palm favoured in many other areas. The more settled life encouraged by the British for easy economic exploitation, and improved health care, initially encouraged by the missions and later by the government, will have caused a rapid growth in human population from the 1920s onwards. which continues today (despite a high child mortality, at rates of between 2.5 and 3.5% per annum). However pressure on land resources would have been relieved somewhat by the rich fishing of the Ekole Creek and the easy accessibility to the palm-oil market, while wholesale destruction of the swamp forests would and still is restricted by the agricultural limitations of the land.

Nonetheless by the 1960s all the Anyama levee was cleared and farmed, with inroads being made into the flood-plain forest. The mammal population was substantially reduced by hunting and those not able to take refuge in the more inaccessible swamps were extinct or close to extinction - elephant, chimpanzee and hippopotamus - although, due to people's farming activities, the variety of birds was greater than in the natural ecosystem of the area.


Population densities on the levees of the Anyama district are high, and the "settleable" land in the area is as densely populated as other parts of Southern Nigeria. Pressure is mitigated by the large areas of swamp and semi-swamp that provide additional resources (and a refuge for bio-diversity) but on "dry" land modern populations suffer the same problems as do poor rural communities everywhere: declining agricultural yields and poor sanitation.

This illusion, of empty land, is the problem of modern people in the Niger Delta which is seen as the place where economic problems can be solved: where additional food can be grown and where valuable mineral resources can be extracted cheaply. Development of the Niger Delta may indeed be one of the solutions but because it looks large and empty the answer is seen in terms of large-scale developments that by nature are careless of the local people and the environment.

The Niger Delta as a whole is being adversely affected by large development projects: up-stream dams, oil extraction, agro-industrial projects, and up-stream industrial projects. The Anyama district in particular is affected by large-scale industrial agriculture: the Risonpalm developments on the Eastern side of the Ekole Creek and the Niger Delta Basin Authority rice project South of Anyama towards Okodi (see map 8). Both projects involve the large scale clearing of what is assumed to be useless "bush" and are being undertaken without the benefit of environmental or social impact analyses. Thus there is no awareness of their costs and while the short-term financial gains may be substantial to limited members of society, these gains will be out-weighed by the long-term economic costs. Costs that are felt locally, nationally and internationally; and that concern immediate financial costs, and immediate and future economic costs.

Immediate financial costs of the wholesale clearance of flood-plain and swampforest includes the loss of a range of renewable resources: timber; fish; and all nontimber forest products (NTFPs) such as bush-meat, rattan cane, chewing stick, raffia rope, raffia wine and a range of spices, vegetables and medicinal plants. This loss results in an immediate financial cost to local people and to the down-stream economy (rattan furniture makers and gin distillers for example) which affects the wider local economy and puts additional pressure on the resources arising from the remaining forests.

The immediate economic costs include all the parts that the forest plays in the ecosystem, such as: providing fish breeding grounds, acting as a water and air filter (much more efficiently than do plantations), and acting as a buffer against the problems of the dynamic nature of the local river systems. Theses costs affect local people most but also have an impact on the ecological and economic health of the whole region.

Future Economic Costs include not only all those mentioned above, which continue, but also others including the concentration of new income into fewer hands, and the reduction of local income. This in turn leads to all the social costs of a fractured society which arise from an unfair distribution of income. As originally conceived, the Risonpalm project at Onuebum is a prime example: the local people would have lost the income which they would have otherwise obtained from the forest (for instance from the Ibibio gin distillers who each pay the community 25 litres of gin - equal to about N500 per month), whilst the new income would have gone to employees and share holders of the project.

At the end of this chapter are extracts of literature which indicate the nature of the opposition to the Risonpalm project.


Rice farming, taking advantage of the annual flooding, is the prime economic activity in Anyama and the major export, so much so that the community celebrates a rice festival at the end of December. The activity is dominated by men. Prices are very high, having risen from N30 per 50kg in 1990 to N900 per 50kg in December 1993.

Other arable farming takes second place to rice: it is subsistence and dominated by women. The main crops are plantains and cassava, but maize and sugar cane is planted on the most recent alluvial deposits that are exposed in the dry season. Other crops include mammy-yam (a small cocoyam), fluted pumpkin and pineapples.

Other primary agricultural industries are: oil-palm, which was the prime economic activity before rice; fish-farming; raising goats and chickens; raffia wine tapping; hunting; and fishing in the river, the lakes and swamps.

In 1993 what struck the ERA visitors to the Anyama was what economic activity was not going on: rice was not processed and having been boiled and dried, was taken by flying boat to Yenegoa to be milled; there is a good mini oil mill in the village but in 1993 it was not working and palm oil and kernel was produced in the most primitive way. However in 1996 things had changed: the oil mill had been taken over and was being privately run, able to buy local fresh fruit bunches and to provide employment, while a small rice mill was operating.

Other important secondary industries in Anyama are: gin distilling from raffia palmwine; and sawing. Non-agricultural secondary industry includes: cabinet-making; canoe building; brick making; and building and carpentry.

Trading is important, as it is in all Nigerian communities but the market is small and we were told that traders do not want to come. This may be because the big market at Yenegoa is so near. There were Igbo (second-hand clothes) and Hausa traders in the village.


As map 9. shows, the river is the most important feature in the landscape and its erosion of the waterfront is a constant complaint.

After the river, the next most important feature is the main street of the village which runs parallel to the river. The forest was described as vast, "stretching all the way to Oloibiri" although a map showed it as just another block of land use, the same as the rice farms. All land between the built up area of the village and the forest and "Land owned by Risonpalm" (on the other side of the river) is described as "bushes" mixed, with farms and rice farms. The bushes describe fallow land and degraded forest dominated by raffia and oil palms.


Anyama is a net exporter, primarily of rice and timber. Imports are of consumer goods and food such as beans and yams.

Although the local schools are well run their conditions and facilities are lamentable. Except for a few classrooms, the Anyama secondary school is a complete ruin. Electricity is supplied from the Ekole gas turbine plant and was fairly dependable during the ERA visit in 1996, but there is no piped water, functioning post office or decent health services.

The society is run by men who make most of the decisions but both men and women work equally hard, although the raising of children and cooking is entirely undertaken by women.

Anyama does not exhibit the frustration here that is felt in many other Niger Delta communities, because the young men do have something to do in growing and processing rice, although the 1994 crop was ruined by disastrous floods, conceivably made worse by the Risonpalm dyke on the other side of the river. However in 1993 there was discontent about the amount of land being taken by Risonpalm and this appeared at the time to be a focus of political activity. Discontent about the lack of clean water and tertiary education activities is apparent but the oil industry does not feature as it does in other communities in Rivers State although many people are aware that oil is being taken from "our" land.

It will be interesting to see how the creation of a new State, Bayelsa with its capital at nearby Yenagoa, will affect Anyama.