PAKWACH. Amoropi hot spring in Panyimur Sub County, Pakwach district is a fascinating place of interface between tradition, culture and spiritual adventurism.
Amoropi is a Jonam ward which means boiled water.
On arrival to the valley side, a cone-shaped grass thatched shelter standing on 14 wood poles welcomes you.
This is a shrine erected by traditional African religious practitioners who annually gather there on third of April to worship the spirits.
When the shrine burns down, the traditionalists slaughter a sheep and give the arm to the high priest Mr Nyipir Onen before re-erecting another shrine.
But it is the warmth and purported medicinal values of the spring water tucked deep into the bushes of Wankado village that attract most of its daily visitors.
Naked men swam the warmest spot where alluvial stones and boulders dominate the scene. Further down the stream, women gather where the water is mildly warm.
Within a stretch of about 15 metres, the water emits a creamy substance that smells like boiled eggs that traditional diviners use for curing wounds.
Mr Ronald Amandua, an understudy to Mr Onen, the high priest overseeing the goings on and around Amoropi points to an area about five metres away on the left side of the stream saying it is from there that hot water ejects out of the earth’s crust.
The spot is surprisingly covered by a green grass and shrubbery but Amandua insists that it is not advisable to walk into there unless on wooden ladder to avoid the risk of sinking and burning.
“It just takes 30 seconds for egg to cook in that water. During rain, you see it bubbling high above the grass,” he said.
Apart from those just going to take bath or fetch water, visits to Amoropi hot spring are restricted and only possible with permission from the high priest.
Tourists are normally asked to pay some fees to Panyimur Sub County and the Keri-Konga Panyimur palace of the local chief Charles Ombidi before parting ways with sh50,000 to get the high priest’s nod.
As soon as Mr Onen receives that cash money in a basket strewn out of sorghum stalk peelings, Amandua removes his slippers and kneels, stretching his arms out to the high priest. The high priest spits saliva on his hands as he murmurs some words.
Then the journey to the hot spring located some 500 metres away begins. Mr Amandua normally takes visitors past the hot spot to some point up the stream from where he washes his hands ostensibly to allow the spirits of the ancestral world to endorse the blessings from the high priest and safeguard during the tour.
The water beyond the hand washing point leading to Kuti cliff, the source of the constantly flowing stream is cold and the area is off limits to the public.
Only the high priest can lead visitors that way, mostly traditional diviners who want their powers strengthened or ill people seeking cure.
Mr Amandua says he has occasionally led some visitors to that point when Mr Onen sends him but all other unauthorised persons must stay away from the exclusive spiritual zone.
Pressed further to describe what you see when you rich the cave under Kuti cliff where the stream starts from, Mr Amandua initially hesitated but then let up to speak candidly.
“The starting point is a circular pool of water. In it there is a big snake with two heads and there are huge porcupines on either side of the snake floating on the water. The porcupines are bigger than the usual ones people normally see. The high priest takes people there for special prayers between 8:00am -10:00am and 3:00pm- 5:00pm,” he said.
And the ground rules for going there are that you must remove your shoes, watch and things like rosary and so on.
It is common to encounter unusual things such as people who vanish on sight. Sometimes naked people presenting white or black furs on their body are seen sunbathing.
Mr Onen says when that happens, it means you are going to get rich and therefore you must bring a sacrificial sheep or goat of the same colour.
Mr Onen who normally rests under the veranda of his crumbling grass thatched house doesn’t look particularly rich but he says his role for the last 50 years has been to perform ritual sacrifices, initiate young children and invoke the ancestral spirits to make the person who encountered a strange citing and brought a sacrifice to get unlimited riches.
Mr Onen talks of visits by government officials with whom he has discussed proposals to fence the Amoropi area so that one gate is left for entry and exit.
Also discussed is the proposal to install a system that could turn the energy from the hot spring into electricity.
The Energy State minister Simon D’Ujanga acknowledged that some assessment work was already under way but he was not conversant with how far it has gone.
“That area needs to be studied to see whether it can produce electricity, how much it can produce and then we can plan for it,” he said.