The vehicle to accomplish the mission was not much; a narrow, 15-foot canoe made of mahogany. We cruised at a leisure pace watching the banks of savannah forest pass us by. Having quite settled on my piece of seat, I dipped my entire palm in the water and brought it out. The Black Volta felt milky, tasted clayey and smelt odourless. This is the water body that is home to the most famous hippopotamus family in Ghana. The Wechiau (pronounced ‘wey-chao’) Hippopotamus Sanctuary is located in the Wa West District of the Upper West Region.
As we continued our boat ride, I heard a ‘yooo!’ that rang through the forest. I noticed two fellows standing by the river on the Ghana side. Agbai pointed at the small canoe tied to a tree at the Burkina side.
‘They are calling for the boat’.
The boatman is on the French side, stationed not far from the baot. He would hear the call, row across the other side and ferry the passengers. It takes about ten minutes and costs 50 pesewas. The equivalent in franc CFA is accepted.
‘What if you cannot afford?’
‘You swim,’ replied Agbai.
As we rowed nearer, something emerged. And quickly submerged. Agbai instructed that I keep my eyes on the spot. I did, yet all I could see was that the water in the area seemed to boil and boil and then…up rose the beast!
First thing that came to my mind was ‘reared its ugly head’. This phrase came home to me as a combination of power and movement and sound broke the calmness of the morning. At that material moment, I realised that I had finally come face to face with the object of my mission.
I asked Agbai about poaching. No hippo has been killed at Wechiau in recent memory. That speaks volumes for the cooperation of the communities. Another reason may be because the hippo is amongst the most dangerous and aggressive of all animals. When you put a bullet through it, for instance, you must be prepared to chase miles after it before you can get its body (that is, if it falls at all). As a hippo’s anger grows, it keeps ‘yawning’ and then, shows its big teeth. A hippo’s jaws are capable of biting a 10-foot crocodile in two. Any question?
— Kofi Akpabli, Way West to Wechiau (in the book A Sense of Savannah)
**Join Kofi Akpabli and Nana Awere Damoah for two book readings in Sept: Accra (3rd) and Kumasi (24th)