Ofir bought a billy goat and rode in the back of a pickup toward the Achipawa, searching for the first Achipawa Christian, Timothy, who lived on the edge of Achipawa territory and who would speak English. Ofir was in the remote north of Nigeria. Several days on, he and Timothy began to climb the volcano on which the Achipawa live. The two boys pictured were working seven years in the fields of their future father-in-laws, strangely echoing Jacob in Genesis. The Achipawa are animists.
Brother Bulus Demena tried to build a church in the territory of the Achipawa and was driven out. He told Ofir, “They are guarding their chief called god. No one enters. He is their god…They will not let you in. Don’t go there.” Still, as is the custom in Nigeria, Brother Bulus welcomed Ofir to his house and surrounded him with enough pots of food to feed a family of five. On the wall behind Ofir is a Year 2000 Doomsday poster, which delineates those going to heaven and those not. People drinking in bars, playing soccer, and practicing karate are not going up.
A year after beginning his search for Niyi Gbade, Ofir finally found the man in Lagos. Niyi was hesitant to share information about the Achipawa out of worry that Ofir would strengthen their local beliefs and thus strengthen their resistance to Christianity. Ofir pointed to his scars and said he’d nearly been killed trying to meet Niyi, and the man said only that the Achipawa were located between the Niger and Kebbi states. Armed with this information, Ofir returned to Leo’s hut in the bush, and after many days of walking they found an elder who had been to those states, a man who said, “If you reach the mountain of the Achipawa you will meet a man who when he speaks you will hear thunder.” The elder is pictured below with his homemade gun.
The author of the report citing the Achipawa as “hostile animists” was brother Niyi Gbade. Ofir’s hope of finding the Achipawa lay in finding this man. Three weeks in to following Niyi’s trail across Nigeria, Ofir was in a bus that flew off the road and rolled down a cliff. Cut by glass across the neck, arm, and legs, Ofir barely survived. The photo is with the doctor who saved his life in a bush clinic that operated without running water and often without electricity. Ofir’s head leans to the right because of the injury to the muscles of his neck.
Ofir was in the hut of a Nigerian pastor named Leo when he found a document listing the percentages of Christians and Muslims in various tribes. More than a hundred tribes were listed, all with the percentage of converts. Flipping through the pages, he spotted the lone gap in the data. Just one tribe had no numbers beside it. Instead were the words, “Hostile Animists.” The tribe was the Achipawa. It would take Ofir more than a year to find them. The first photo is of Pastor Leo in his church in Nigeria, the second of a cricket that Leo offered to Ofir on the day he arrived in the village.
Nigeria has its tensions, but the people are warm and beautiful. While traveling across Nigeria by bus in 2002, I was escorted on each leg of the trip by someone who designated himself as my temporary host, buying me food and sometimes paying my fare. Here’s a shot of a breastfeeding mother, a girl in her village, and kids crowding in a bus station to get a view of Ofir.
Sharia law in Nigeria has been condemned for its human rights abuses and has been played up by political opportunists, leading to violent outbreaks between Muslims and Christians who once lived side by side in peace. This poster, nailed to the wall of a mud hut, was sold in markets at the time of Ofir’s visit. The poster shows the punishment for each “crime,” from lashes with a whip to death by stoning.
Unable to fight winds on the dammed Kainji, Ofir sold his canoe and moved north to write about the growing religious tensions in Nigeria post 9/11. When locals in Yelwa learned that there was an Israeli among them, they contacted the family hosting Ofir to coordinate his killing. The sicker in the photo is on a taxicab.