The Niger River is the principal river of western Africa, extending about 4180 km. It originates in the Guinea Highlands, which is a densely forested mountainous plateau extending from central Guinea, through Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d’ Ivore. 

The River Niger which originates in the Guinea Highlands in Southern Guinea runs a crescent course, shaped like the top knot of Lord Shiva in  Mali, and then through passes through the country of Niger and  Nigeria, discharging through the Niger Delta in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Crescent shaped bend on the River Niger

As it flows through Nigeria, near the island of Madjie, now called Bukah (9.26512 N,4.72872W) two river streams flow into it. One, that flows into it from the west, was known as River Moussa, as was recorded by John and Richard Lander in their travelogue ‘Journal of an Expedition to Explore the Course and Termination of the Niger’ Vol. II. The river is today called the Moshy and passes through a town called Kishi at 9.082683N, 3.848733W). 

The other stream that flows into it from the north – east is known as the Eku and the confluence results in creation of lake Jebba. Though many etymological theories exist, the most obvious source of Jebba is Joliba, that is, Jebba is just a truncated form of the other name of Niger, which is the Joliba. In the local native language ‘Joli’ is said to mean ‘water’ and ‘ba’ means ‘great’. ‘Joli’, however, is the same as the Sanskrit ‘jala’ (जल) water, ‘ba’ seems the same as ‘ga’ (गा) or flow and appears in the names of many river names such as ‘Ganga’, or ‘Volga’ who’s ancient name was ‘Jilaga’.


The encircled part where the River’s Moussa and River Niger
 meet and form a ‘Triveni’. In the middle of this intersection is a
small island. On it lies the settlement called Kesa, also referred to as Keesee. The island is the site of two mountain peaks that were revered by the natives.

As Richard and John Lander headed down the Niger in the easterly direction from the Madjie island, the current carried them down past one little island, and then as they approached another one, suddenly came in sight an elevated rock, quite majestic in its bearing. They passed by quickly owing to the swift current. On inquiring about it later from the natives, they found that the mountain was called Kesa or Kesey. They estimated Mt. Kesa was about three hundred feet in height, which rendered it a conspicuous and remarkable object. 

The Landers described it thus, “On leaving the island we journeyed very rapidly down the current for a few minutes, when , having passed another, we came suddenly in sight of an elevated rock, which is called Mount Kesa by the natives, and almost at the same instant we found ourselves abreast of it. It forms a small island, and is probably not less than three hundred feet in height, which renders it a conspicuous and remarkable object. It is excessively steep, and rising out of the river as it does, its appearance is irresistibly imposing and majestic beyond expression. Its base is fringed by venerable trees, and less magnificent vegetation, which also strives to spring forth from its barren and almost naked sides. The height of Mount Kesa , its solitary position , and the peculiarity of its form , distinguish it from every other, and render it an object of more than common interest. It is greatly venerated by the natives of this part of the country, and, as may readily be imagined, favours the superstitious notions which are attached to it by a simple and credulous people, who, like the vulgar of Europe, are fond of the marvellous. The story attached to Mount Kesa is of a very romantic nature. The natives believe that a benevolent genius makes the mountain his favourite and continual abode, and dispenses around him a benign and heavenly influence. Here the misfortunes of the unhappy are alleviated , the wants of the needy supplied , and the lamentations of the mourner turned to joy : sin , sorrow , and suffering are un known ; solemnity gives place to merriment, and the solicitude of futurity to present enjoyment and thoughtless jocularity. But more especially ,say the natives, the weary traveller here finds a refuge from the storm, and a rest from his toils ; here he reposes in the delights of security, and revels in the comforts of ease. However, to obtain all this, he makes known his wants and de sires to the spirit of the mountain by supplication and prayer, when they are instantly answered; he receives the most delicate and excellent food from invisible hands, and when sufficiently invigorated by refreshment, he is at liberty either to continue his journey or remain awhile to participate in the blessings of the mountain.” This of course is a reminder of the lore of Shiva.

Mt. Kesa on the island where the River Niger meets River Moussa,
‘Kesa’ is the name of Vishnu and Krishna both
Lord Shiva is also known as ‘Vyoma-Kesha‘.
The local inhabitants worshipped this 300 ft. stone.

The observations recorded by Richard and John Lander in their journal about Mt. Kesa and its interpretation through the Indic lens sheds some additional light on what the history and the culture around the river Niger might have been. 

First Kesa a is the name of both Lord Vishnu and Sri Krishna. Lord Shiva is also known as Vyoma-Kesha, which means, ‘one whose hair is widespread in space’. Lord Shiva is represented by obelisk like rocks, especially those washed by flowing rivers. His saga entails the story of him having bound the river Ganges in his hairlocks to break its unrestrained flow.  

Mt. Kesa or Kesha, located on an island made by the triveni-like intersection of the Niger and Moussa rivers and the Jebba Lake surely appears to have been a place of Vedic worship in antiquity, and remnants of that appears to have survived well into the 1800s.

The same conclusion can be arrived at by analyzing the observations of other explorers who travelled on certain other sections of the River Niger, as well as some other rivers in other parts of the continent. The observation made by the Landers ware certainly not in isolation.  Prior to their expedition,  in his travelogue ‘Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa’, Mungo Park (1771 – 1806), a Scottish explorer of the African continent who was the first Westerner known to have traveled to the central portion of the Niger River, had listed a number of towns that he had passed through while sailing up the Niger in the years 1795-97. The names include Jonakakonda, Tallika, Fatteconda, Sami, Jarra, Samapaka, Wavara, Mellacota.  Many of these names have a decidedly Indic nuance – many Sanskritic, and as many Tamil or Telegu in nature. 
In his book, ‘Oriental Fragments’, author Edward Moor lists names of many African towns and villages mentioned by various European explorers in Africa which include Jonakakonda, Tendikonda, Kootakunda, Barraconda, Seesekund, Tandacunda, Fatteconda and Mauraconda. He then equated them with the names of towns in southern parts of India which have similar names.
In a letter to the Asiatic Journal of July 1817, Issue 1, Volume 1, Edward Moor states, ” .. with a little of this license where wanted, and it may be allowed to others as well as distressed etymologists let us try to turn Park’s names into Hindi. Jonaka-konda is Janeka-kunda, or the hill of Janeka…”. Kootakunda may also be traced to India. ‘Kuta (कुट)  means a mountain, while ‘kUta’ (कूट) means ‘dwelling’. Of the suffix ‘konda’ one may point out that unlike the Telegu ‘kunda’ which means a hill, in Sanskrit ‘kund’ (कुण्ड) means a ‘pool’. However, ‘kAanda’ (काण्ड) means a ‘heap’ and it is this ‘kAanda’ which might be related to the Telegu ‘kunda’ or ‘hill’. Also ‘khanda’ (खंड) means ‘piece’ or ‘section’. In any case, the similarity of these names is unmistakable. 

A section of  Mungo Park’s Exploration route on the Niger

The three highlighted town names would be expected while someone was travelling in India. But these are names of African towns that Mungo recorded on his trip on River Niger more than 200 years ago. 

Other intriguing names that appears on the Nigeria-Cameroon border include ‘Mandara‘.The Mandara Mountains (Monts Mandara) are a volcanic range extending about 200 km along the northern part of the Cameroon-Nigeria border.  

The name Mandara is obviously Indian. It is the name of the mountain that appears in the ‘Samudra Manthan‘ episode in the Hindu Puranas, where it is used as a rod to churn the ocean of milk. Vishnu’s serpent, Vasuki, offered to serve as the rope pulled on one side by a team of asuras, and on the other, by a team of devas

The Mandara Mountain Range
forms the Nigeria-Cameroon Border

Kapsiki Peak is one of the most photographed
arts of the Mandara Mountains. 

Wikipedia states that the Kapsiki Peak, also called the Rhumsiki ‘plug’ (remnant of a dormant volcano) is very obviously phallic and traditionally barren women prayed at its foot”. In the Vedic tradition, women make offerings of the ‘mandara flower’ to  the ‘Shivalingas‘ – the symbol of Lord Shiva. 

For a note on the Sanskrit connection to  the name Niger click here.

Suggested Links:

1. The story of the Niger
2. Celebrated Travels and Travellers, by Jules Verne
3. Mt. Kesha
4. Journal of an Expedition to Explore the course and the termination of the Niger by Richard. Lander and John Lander
5. The Northern Star or Yorkshire Magazine: Conjectures Concerning the River Niger
6. The Jouranla of a Mission to the Niger by Mungo Park
7. The London Encyclopedia: Niger


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