Boat regatta is a major celebration to most communities in Rivers State. It forms part of their history and tradition. The Rivers man history, especially the riverine people would not be complete without the long canoe. It is a special place in the development of the communities.
This trade became defined by the interest of the mercantile business groups or trading blocks from European countries. The long canoe made economic sense in transporting palm produce and other locally made goods from the hinter land to the coast. This was in exchange for coral beads, gold and other luxury items or factory goods bought by European traders.
At this stage, the long canoe defined the scope of the business or a statement of the volume of trade between groups. It was the main economic venture of the indigenous coastal and hinterland societies.
Boat regatta is a celebration of such a statement of economic and political success. When decorated with buntings and flags as well as the proper number of paddlers in their set attire swinging in rhythm to the drumming on board, the long canoe becomes a regatta outfit. It is a symbol of the political …… and health of each chieftaincy or War Canoe House.
When it donned with canoes as a gunboat, the long canoe served to police the waterway or enforce the will of a city state on a trade route. In many communities in the state (Rivers), the regatta boats are displayed in boat sheds called aru-wari.
These boats are usually kept in the open without their full range of fittings. Tourists are free to take pictures of different kinds without interference from any person.
Boat regatta showcased achieved a popular niche with the emergence of the Opobo International Boat Racing And Regatta Festival (OIB). Culture and Tourism learnt that the OIB was launched on January 4-6, 2007 in Opobo Town as a canoe race and regatta competition.
The Opobo boat regatta now serves as both a water-sport and cultural fiesta. It also indigenised some features of long canoe races organised by the Dragon Boat International Federation, in order to cut its identity as an international attraction for enthusiasts of the sport.
Today, the Opobo Boat Regatta (OBR) is now incorporated into the annual festival (CARNIRIV) organised by the Rivers State Government. The OBR is now to serve as one of the approved floats to be displayed at this year’s CARNIRIV celebration.
Culture and Tourism, was informed that the state governor says it will partner with the Opobo people to make it an annual culture festival (CARNIRIV) if it meets the set standard required for this year’s edition.
The Tide On Sunday learnt that the Governor Amaechi made statement during his Town Hall meeting with the people of Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Area at the King Jaja of Opobo Town last week.
According to Amaechi, the state government would direct the committee for the 2010 CARNIRIV to incorporate the boat regatta into this year’s edition which could be of international ranking.
He noted that Opobo Kingdom possesses the right potentials to compete with any other city in the country, saying that the Opobo Boat Regatta was one of such events that could attract attention to the area if properly packaged.
He revealed that all the people of Opobo/Nkoro as well as other costal communities in the state need to drive the economy of the area were there is land and link roads, stressing that the state government was tackling these challenges one after the other.
On that note, he stressed that, that was what gave rise to the state government’s decision to carry out extensive land reclamation in the area and approve the diversion of the Unity Road from Asarama.
The ball is now right in the court of the Opoboans whether or not to keep the promise of the governor alive.
Culture and Tourism have over the years described by analysts that is (culture/Tourism) is the only venture that can replace the oil industry. The argument is that it brings a kind of excitement that brings back even the “dead”.
Some maintained that culture and tourism should be incorporated into the school system where the young minds will be taught the need to keep culture and tourism as a habit.
They regretted that some tourism sites in the state were out of form. According to them, if some of those sites were refurbished, it will, among other things provide jobs for the teeming unemployed youths in the state.
Though, they expressed satisfaction over the state governor’s decision to incorporate the Opobo Boat Regatta into CARNIRIV.
According to them, the inclusion of the Opobo Boat Regatta into the Rivers annual Festival (CARNIRIV) will provide both recreational activities and income for the Opobo people.
Earlier, they have called on Governor Amaechi to fish out more coastal communities that have similar culture with the Opobo people and co-opt them into the CARNIRIV annual festival.