MOUNT KESA, IN NIGERIA, A HOLY SPOT FOR ANCIENT HINDUS!

In his book ‘Lander’s Travels’ (1836), which he collated from the unpublished documents of explorers John and Richard Lander who were amongst the first explorers of River Niger, author Robert Huish describes an ancient sacred site called Mt. Kesha located at the confluence of River Niger with River Moussa, also called Moshy, and perhaps Koshy in antiquity, 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 unknown ; 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 desires 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. Such is the story we received from these superstitious people of this celebrated mount. A little to the northward of it is a naked rock , which rises only a few yards above the surface of the water; but from its in-significance it is unworthy of particular description . .”.

About Lander’s observation that Mt. Kesa was greatly venerated by the natives Edward Moor comments in his book Oriental Fragments, “…so it would be if so rising, Lingaically, in any river of India.” Moor adds that some of the legends about Mt. Kesa are warmly given by Lander, “which might, seemingly, have applied to a rock in the Ganges, where the rock might probably have been called by the same name; Kesa being a name of Krishna and Vishnu”.

An illustration of Mount Kesa is given by Lander, and Moor describes it. He states, ” It is certainly a very striking object ; and would be so considered any where, by any race, the most enlightened or the most barbarous…. Its sides are “almost perpendicular and naked.”



Mount Kesa
An illustration from Richard and John Lander’s
‘Journal of an Expedition to Explore the Course and Termination
of the Niger’, 1832

Moor laments,”…we find this fine aqueous obelisk — springing …. out of a great expanse of tranquil or gently moving water, noted as 300 feet high. I wish Lander had given us the full native name — not Mount Kesey. It may haply, be Kesa-Kund or some such.”



The name Kesa has now corrupted to Kechu and Juju.

Mt. Kesha is called Kechu rock or Juju rock today.

The name Mt. Kesa or Kesey have distorted with time to Kechu, and though all the older names survive, the rock is now known as Juju, which has no meaning in the local language. The rock is located at 9.138576 N, 4.799908 E, at the confluence of the Niger with River Moussa or Moshy, perhaps Koshy (कोशी), Sanskrit for ‘drinking vessel’.

The lake formed by the confluence of the rivers has at its centre an island which was known as Madjie at the time when the Landers visited, and was perhaps Nadhija (नदिज) further back in antiquity, meaning ‘born of river’, or perhaps even Madhya (middle) therefore describing the placement of the mount in the lake.

The name of the lake formed at Madjie is Jebba, perhaps a truncated form of the name Jolliba, which is another name for river Niger. Jolliba appears to be the equivalent of Sanskrit Jalaga, jala (जल ) water, ga (गा) going.

The region where the confluence takes place is called Kwara, once again perhaps Khwari (खवारी ) in antiquity, Sanskrit for ‘rainwater’, ‘vapor’ or ‘dew’. Though it is also explained by the Native language Hausa, where Kwarara is flow and wari is place. But Hausa does not explain most other names such as Jolliba or the many towns and settlements that are located on the banks of Niger and the name of the source or termination of the Niger.

The name of the place of origin of the Niger as documented by Mungo Park, the first European explorer of the Niger in the Guinea Highlands is Sankara or Sankari. In an appendix to Mungo Park’s travelogue Travels in the Interior of Africa, Captain Renell states, “At Kamaliah the source of the Jolliba (or Niger) was pointed out to Mr. Park, at a bearing of south, a very little west, seven journies distant… The name of the place is Sankary.”

Sankara is another name of Lord Shiva. To put the whole story in context, the river Niger originates from Sankary, also called Sankara at 11.97150N, 10.881709 W in the Guinea Highlands. There, another river by the name Sankarani emerges and falls into the right bank of the Niger below Kole, about 40 km upstream of Bomako, in Mali. 

Further down on the Niger’s course, are many towns with Indic names. The ones that Mungo Park mentioned in his travelogue include Kanika, Yamina, Gangou and Calimana. These are all Sanskrit words, Kanika (tiny particle, an atom, a drop of water, as well as the name of a minister in Dhritrashtra’s court in Mahabharata), Yamina (one who is restrained, a cognate of the river name Yamuna), Gangu (means ‘container’ or ‘block’ in the local language but its meaning does not fit in with the meaning of the rest of the names in the vicinity and is perhaps a distortion of the name Ganga). Calimana or Kalimana is another name for Yamuna and means black or dark. 

Much ahead of Bomakao as the Niger turns southward forming a crescent, before it reaches Mt. Kesa, is the town of Kalindi. Kalindi is another name for Yamuna river.

Located in the Niger delta, close to the Atlantic Ocean lies the town of Sangam, sometimes written as Sangana at 8.462033 North 11.98039 East. The Niger passes this town at a distance before it culminates in the Atlantic Ocean.

 

Readings:

1. The Hidden Jewel In Nigeria: Discover The City Of Jebba – Mayowa Blades

2. Topografische Karte Niger, Höhe, Relief (topographic-map.com)

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