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Eating catfish as a taboo in Nigerian communities (Part 1)




The catfish delicacy is a sought-after one in many parts of Nigeria.

Low in calories and packed with protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, catfish is particularly rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats and vitamin B12.

Found in natural habitats like streams and rivers, and also reared in artificial ponds, catfish business is a lucrative one in Nigeria.

Three species of catfish fingerlings mostly found in Nigeria are Clarias, Heterobranchus and Heteroclarias.

In spite of its health and economic value, it is a taboo to take a catfish off it’s natural habitat, let alone eat it, in other parts of the country.

Cultural beliefs and myths have contributed in great measure to dissuade people from consuming the delicious and nutritious delicacy in some places.

This breed of fish even becomes so comfortable in certain habitats and do not see human beings as a threat.

U.K. based Mr. Timothy Anyanwu said:

“In a stream called Dimeke, in Umuanunu Nsu, Ehime Mbano Local Government Area in Imo State, back then as a child, the fishes would freely move into our buckets when we’re fetching water.

“But in other streams where the fishes are eaten, once they sight us, they would disappear.”

Mr Daniel Chukwuemeka Kalu also spoke with Diaspora Digital Media:

“In our village, we call the stream “iyi eke”.

“When you mistakenly fetched the fish, you return it immediately.

“If it dies in your hands, there will be a ritual for it.”

Kalu further narrated:

“Nestled in the heart of Umu Okwe, Umuhu Ezechi in Bende Local Government Area of Abia state, Nigeria, there flows a pristine stream known as “Iyi eke”, meaning “day of the river” in the Igbo Language.

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In Igbo language, “Iyi ” means river and “eke” means the first day of the week.

“We have four days in a week (Eke, Orie, Afọr and Nkwọ)

“This is how the name of the river, Iyi eke came about.

*This stream was not just a source of water for the villagers; it was a symbol of purity and spirituality in the lives of the villagers.

“In the village adjacent to Iyi eke, there lived a community who took care of the stream by cleaning and monitoring the activity around the stream.

“It is arguably that they relied on the stream for their livelihood.

“Generations had passed, and the tradition of no fishing in Iyi Eke had become deeply ingrained in their way of life.

“According to the elders, there existed a mystical agreement between the spirit of the stream and the people of the village.

“It was said that the spirit of Iyi Eke protected the fish within its waters, ensuring that none were ever fetched or killed by the villagers.

“In return, the villagers promised to honor and respect the sanctity of the stream, even when fishes swim around you when you are fetching water, you have to wait for them to swim away, no fishing or polluting its waters.

“Despite the temptation of bountiful catches in other streams, the villagers upholds their end of the sacred pact, choosing to fish elsewhere rather than betray the trust of Iyi Eke.

“This harmony between nature and humanity became the cornerstone of the village’s identity.

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“There was an unconfirmed story of a young man who stumbled upon Iyi Eke and couldn’t resist the temptation and tried to fetch the fish and a sudden gush of wind swept through the surface of the water in warning him of his intentions.

“Terrified, he retreated from the stream, realizing that he had trespassed upon the Iyi Eke.

“He shared his experience and the story got to the with the elders, who nodded knowingly, affirming the sacred bond between the people and the spirit of Iyi eke.

“Rituals were conducted and sacrifices were made to please the gods.

“From that day forth, people of the community became guardians of the stream, advocating for its protection and ensuring that the legacy of reverence continued for generations to come.

“And so, the stream called Iyi Eke remains a sanctuary, a testament to the harmonious coexistence between humanity and the natural world.”

Most of those taboos are however seen as part of traditional conservation strategies adopted to protect some creatures from going into extinction.

ith hunger in the land, the gods should start nourishing his children by lifting some restraints and introducing sustainable fishing methods.

Kelechi Deca said:
“I remember playing, probably as a toddler, with the ones in the Ofala river behind my maternal uncle’s home in Umuike, Ukpor.

“Ofala rivers with sacred fish are not very common nowadays.

“Disregard for African traditional religious beliefs and conservation has people fishing the Ofalas and eating the fish.

“They have become over-fished and all you can spot now is fingerings darting to safety at your approach.

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“The sacred fish are gone.”

To be continued…

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