Why do some people hear the eerie rattle of chains drifting from a St. Simons Island marsh at night? Find out in this inspiring, African-American ghost story from the Georgia coast. Written by Craig Dominey, told by Evelyn McCray.
Near the mouth of Dunbar Creek on Georgia’s St. Simons Island, there’s a section of swampy marshland where some fishermen refuse to cast their lines. In the daytime, it doesn’t look any different from the other vast marshes stretching across Georgia’s coastal islands. Elongated white herons call to one another over the endless plain of reeds and mosquito infested marsh grasses. Fiddler crabs scurry across the sands. Unseen creatures plop into the black waters.
But when night falls, it is said that one can hear a different sound entirely. Swamps are known to make strange sounds at night. But if you listen closely, you may hear what sounds like the faint rattling of chains drifting across the marsh, followed by an eerie chant: “The water brought us the water will take us away.”
If you think your ears are deceiving you, think again. For the old timers in the area will tell you that what you’re hearing is the brave warrior Oba, leading his people on their final march home.
Oba, as you may have guessed, is an African name. So our story begins in early nineteenth century Africa – the coast of West Africa to be exact, in the country now known as Nigeria. It is in the southeastern part of this country that the Ibo tribe lives, and has lived for hundreds of years. Early European explorers once called these people “savages,” but the Ibos were anything but. They were spiritual, highly intelligent people well trained in the arts of agriculture, education and war. They tamed miles of tropical rain forests and coastal swampland into cultivable fields and wealthy cities. In fact, the Europeans found that there was little they could trade with the Ibos that the Ibos couldn’t produce themselves.
Oba lived deep within the interior of Iboland in a village founded years before by his great-grandfather. Oba was the proud father of two sons, with a third child on the way. He was tremendously excited about the new arrival, and even talked to the unborn child in his beautiful wife’s womb. For the Ibo believed that the dead and the unborn were always present in their daily lives, and that their homeland was holy ground that they could never leave.
As a hunter and a warrior, Oba was one of the most respected and relied upon members of his village. For it was his job to protect the village from enemies, both human and animal. Oba wore his responsibilities proudly, adorning his body with beautiful emblems that reflected his power and status.
Early one morning, Oba prepared to leave on a hunt with some other men from the village. As he sharpened his arrows, he suddenly heard the voice of his unborn child, whispering cryptically…
“The waters will bring you back to us.”
Startled, Oba looked back at his wife, still sleeping on their bed. “What does that mean?” he quietly replied in her direction.
Again, the unborn child whispered, “The waters will bring you back to us.”
Oba thought about this strange message for a moment, then shook it off. Maybe my unborn child thinks I’m traveling by canoe on this hunt, he thought. But he wasn’t – he was traveling on foot.
Oba told his two sons to help their mother with the daily chores, then tenderly kissed his wife goodbye. “I’ll be home soon,” he said with a smile. Then he confidently walked away.
Hours later, Oba found himself alone in the vast grasslands. In the distance, he spotted a herd of antelopes grazing peacefully, oblivious to his presence. Oba crept closer to the herd, stealthily removed his bow and arrow, and aimed.
In a flash, the antelope suddenly scattered. Oba watched them run away in disbelief. He had been as quiet as the wind, just as he always was. What caused the antelope to run?
Without warning, something hard struck him on the back of the head. He crashed to the ground, his head throbbing with pain. As he tried to get up, he was struck again across the face, this time by something that felt like a fist. He could hear excited voices swarming around him. Then two strong men lifted him to his feet, holding his arms behind his back. Too delirious to fight, Oba offered little resistance as the men tied him up tightly in a grass rope and shackled his ankles and neck.
As his eyes clouded with blood from the deep gash on his head, Oba could see that his captors were rival tribesmen, gleeful at their fine catch. One of them yanked on a chain attached to his neck shackle, dragging Oba through the grasslands like a dog.
Oba’s captors dragged him miles away from his village. The rope and shackles dug into his skin, and the neck shackle made it difficult to swallow or breathe. But the most intense pain came from the helplessness he felt. For Oba knew that other invaders must be close to his family, and there was nothing he could do to protect them. The thought of his wife and children in shackles made his blood run cold. He shook it off, thinking desperately about escape.
Hours later, they reached the wide banks of the monstrous Niger River. Other enemy tribesman had gathered there with similar “catches” of all ages, many weak and malnourished. Oba’s spirits lifted briefly, until he realized that his family wasn’t among the captured. Some captives he knew by sight, others he had never seen before.
The captives were thrown into waiting canoes and paddled down the mighty Niger. Oba writhed in pain on the dirty, water-soaked floor, covered in sores, intense pain shooting up his back. He watched the wispy clouds drifting through the hot African skies above him, and prayed silently to the spirits of his ancestors to watch over his family.
Oba had drifted off to sleep before he was suddenly awakened by a tremendous commotion. Night had fallen, and the canoes were docked in what Oba guessed was a large river village. His captors suddenly yanked him to his feet and ordered him and his fellow captives onto the dock.
As he stood upright, Oba’s jaw dropped. They had landed in a bustling coastal town on the banks of a vast ocean. Tall masted merchant ships, bigger than anything Oba had ever seen, were lined up on the dock.
From out of nowhere, a group of white skinned beings suddenly surrounded Oba, inspecting him carefully. Oba had heard about these white beings before, but this was the first time he had seen them in the flesh. With their cold eyes, angry mannerisms and colorful, otherworldly garments, they didn’t look like human beings at all, but white monsters that had come to terrify him. What were they doing here?
One of these white monsters suddenly nodded, and Oba was dragged to an area near the ships. He was humiliatingly held down, stripped of his clothes and proud adornments, and shaved from head to toe. Oba screamed with pain as a white monster stuck him with a red-hot iron, branding a strange symbol into his skin. He was then lead down into the dark bowels of a waiting ship, where he was chained to a rack and left.
Oba squinted through the darkness. He could make out hundreds of other eyes staring back at him, filled with the same unspeakable fear. As his eyes adjusted, he saw that the hold was filled with other Ibos from across Iboland – men, women and children of all ages, shackled together in pairs onto racks. No one spoke, afraid of what the white monsters might do next.
The large boat suddenly lurched into the water, its massive wood frame moaning and creaking. The captives were tossed back and forth, some screaming and crying. But Oba could only stare into the darkness, a horrifying thought chilling him to the core. For he felt in his heart that he might never see his family, his ancestors or his homeland again.
Weeks went by, and the massive boat lurched across the storm swept seas. Fearful of the boat collecting water, the white sailors closed off nearly all of the air openings below, turning the hold into a hellish world of disease, bodily waste and death. The stale air below was so rank that the candles wouldn’t remain lit. Food and water were scarce. Many Ibos died quietly in the foul darkness.
The sick and the dying were thrown overboard. The others were occasionally taken up to the deck to dance for the amusement of the sailors, who played strange musical instruments with strings and a stick. As they danced, the Ibos could see swarms of sharks in the waters below, eagerly waiting for the next captive to be tossed over the side.
Some Ibos attempted suicide by rubbing their wrists against their shackles until they bled to death. Others thought of mutiny, but were terrified of being severely beaten.
But Oba somehow kept his head, for he had become something of a leader while on the boat. For the Ibo children who had been torn from their families, Oba provided a smile, a knowing wink and, when the white sailors weren’t looking, words of comfort when needed. When rival tribesmen turned on each other, Oba was the mediator. When desperate captives thought about suicide, Oba reminded them of the inner strength that all Ibos shared.
But Oba’s thoughts were always with his family. He wondered if his wife and child were crossing the water on similar boats, destination unknown. No matter how hard he tried to shake these thoughts off, they nagged him day and night. Sometimes, under cover of darkness, Oba would cry silently to himself.
But then he would hear a faint whisper – the same cryptic whisper he heard as he was sharpening his arrows that morning before the hunt. It was his unborn child telling him:
“The waters will bring you back to us.”
As the weeks passed, his unborn child’s voice was the only comfort Oba had. Oba still wasn’t sure what this message meant. But he felt that it wouldn’t be long before he found out.
One evening, the Ibo captives were suddenly awakened by an explosion of activity on deck. Though they could not understand what the white sailors were saying, they noticed that the boat had slowed, and some sort of landing preparations were underway. After three torturous months, they would finally be able to disembark. But where would they be?
The white men gruffly unchained the captives from the racks and shoved them up on deck. In the bright moonlight, Oba could see that they were drifting down what looked to be a creek of some sort. He also noticed that the white men’s voices had suddenly become hushed and anxious.
The boat finally came to rest on a bluff near the end of the creek. The plank was gently lowered and, one by one, the terrified Ibos were marched into the black night, their ankles shackled together. They shivered as the cold, muddy soil of this alien land squished under their bare feet.
Oba could now see that they had landed in some sort of salt marsh ribboned with tidal creeks. Rustling palm tree fronds and Spanish moss filtered soft streams of moonlight down onto the black waters. In the stillness, Oba could hear the eerie sounds of night birds calling one another, crickets and frogs chirping in the grass, unseen creatures splashing into the water. The air was thick with the salty smells of the sea.
This new world, in fact, felt like the Niger Delta marshland back home. Oba suddenly had a glimmer of hope. After all that time, had they turned around and returned to Africa?
Then the glow of pine torches emerged from the black forest, and Oba could see that they belonged to more white people, their garments as strange as those on the white merchants back home. In hushed tones, they closely inspected the Ibo captives – pinching them, prodding them, stripping them of their clothes. Liking what they saw, these new white people produced wads of money and bartered with the sailors.
Now Oba realized the horrible truth: he and his people were being sold into slavery. This wasn’t a strange idea to him – his village back home had used prisoners of war as slaves before. But what lay in wait for them deep within this black, alien swamp?
Oba looked into the eyes of his fellow captives. Some were vacant and weary, others wide with terror. Some captives even flashed sparks of humiliation and anger. They all seemed to know that their fate had been sealed – that they would spend the rest of their lives enslaved to these brutal white monsters, in a world they could never hope to understand.
Again, Oba thought of his family back home, both above and below the earth. He took some comfort in knowing that, as all Ibos believed, his soul would one day return to Iboland upon his death. But his soul could not return while his living body remained in the white man’s world. Besides, he thought, the white man does not deserve to reap the fruits of my labor.
It was then that Oba again heard the voice of his unborn child, this time booming through his ears:
“The water will bring you back to us! The water will bring you back to us!”
Oba suddenly understood what his unborn child was trying to say. As the white people hastily negotiated with one another, Oba leaned over and whispered something into the ear of the captive next to him, who in turn passed it down the line. All looked back in agreement with Oba – men, women and children, some with tears in their eyes. And as they slowly turned together and walked away from their captors, they began to softly chant the words that Oba had whispered to them:
“The water brought us the water will take us away.”
Up on the ship, a white sailor suddenly noticed what was going on. He rushed to the side and looked down upon the Ibos, walking hand in hand into the black water, their shackles clanking around their ankles.
“They’re walking into the water!” he screamed.
The other sailors snapped to attention and ran after the Ibos, sloshing blindly through the dark marsh. They pointed guns in their direction and ordered them to stop. But the Ibos kept walking deeper and deeper into the water, their eerie refrain growing louder and louder:
“The water brought us the water will take us away.”
Oba placed his hand down the head of a young boy about his son’s age who had been ripped away from his parents. There was no fear in the boy’s eyes, only a defiant certainty. The two smiled at one another as the waters rose to swallow them, their loud voices trailing off behind them:
“The water brought us the water will take us away.”
Within seconds, the rattling of the chains stopped, and the voices were silenced. The white sailors watched with horror as men, women and children sank together into the murky depths, never to return.
This act of defiance did not stop the slave trade in coastal Georgia. For over sixty more years, slaves from Africa continued to toil on the vast cotton plantations that blossomed throughout the area.
But when work was done, the slaves would sometimes gather around the fire and tell the story of the Ibos. For to them, the Ibos’ defiance gave them hope that one day they, too, would return to the motherland – if not in body, then in spirit.
And to this day, they say that if you sit near the mouth of Dunbar Creek on certain nights and listen closely, you’ll hear the sound of the Ibos’ rattling chains, along with the sounds of bare feet slapping against the dark waters. And, if you’re not too frightened already, you may also want to keep an ear out for their solemn, defiant refrain as it drifts like a whisper through the marsh:
“The water brought us the water will take us away.”
– THE END –
Here’s another telling of the story (from YouTube):
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45 Responses to “Ibo Landing”
That kind of sent chills down my spine, but I suppose the thought of mass suicide will do that. I’m sure the Ibos saved themselves from the intense suffering the future surely would have brought. I probably would have done the same.
This story is very interesting considering the tremendous societal taboo the Ibo had against committing suicide. They must have been totally desperate and overcome to do this as this “bad death” would not result in a reincarnated life.
I remember visiting St Simons Island as a child and my Step Grandfather a descendent of Sea Island Slaves, and lifelong resident who was in the 1970’s recognized as the oldest living native of St Simmons Island sitting me on his knee and telling me this story. Your retelling was beautiful and took me back to a wonderful time in my life.
I really enjoyed the story Ibo Landing. I could imagine the fear the Ibo people had being brought to the shores of young America against their will. It’s the first story of its kind that I’ve ever read and hope to read more soon. Thank you for printing it!
This is a very unique story and out of the league of all slave stories i’ve heard i just hope theres more where that came from.
this story is gripping. I like the history and feel of this story. Superb.
I feel that story is/was a story of hope to people that feel that they will never overcome certain circumstances in their lives. This story gives strength to the weak.
i really like the history and the feeling of this story
I am Ibo ( Igbo) myself, and this story always feels me with pride, this defiance was also present in Haiti leading to their independence from the French, also the rise and the subsequent killing of the Ibo republic of Biafra by a combination of the British , USSR ,( a very curious relationship ) was because of known Ibo rebellion against foreign inteference and imposition of any kind.
What courage the Ibo had. However, I’m saddened at the knowledge that they knew their only hope was suicide. It doesn’t matter how desperate the situation, suicide is never the answer.
Their suicide wasn’t really suicide if you think about from their piont of view. It was more of a way to be free. And maybe they didn’t die. Maybe their life’s were ended but they didn’t die. They just went to a better place where they wouldn’t be slaves.
Amy- Read what Jaylynn said.That's the truth.
this story is fictional, even though it re-enacts a true story. i am igbo, and we believe that creation began with the creation of oji, (black man), the 1st king of the world. it is the mythological origin of man, until his brothers, ododo (red man- asian man) and edo (white man- european) became jealous and employed witchcraft to harass oji trying to steal the sceptre chukwu(god) gave him. oji had to run away into the jungles where he hibernated, giving way for ododo and ocha to move ahead in advancement.
the igbo as u can see is an essence of nobility and power as the story portrays. however, very soon, i’ll be able to give u that quite intriguing story of the betrayal of the blacks by the other races. then u will know why it seems as if blacks are backward. NDEEWO NU!
visit the site below for a more objective understanding of the igbo people- http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-2895
I like this story, mainly because of the telling of Oba’s capture. I think it’s important to remember, without taking away the horrors of slavery brought on by the whites, that Oba was captured by rival tribesmen. In most cases, this is what happened. There were not enough whites to do the dirty work, and in the end, blacks sold out other blacks for trinkets, European liquor, and cigarettes.
i wept. God rest them
Am from Ikwerre. but its takes 0ne thing to agree another to persist,i love vthe ibos
I am reading, In The Time of The Drums by Kim Siegelman to my fifth-grade class. I needed some background information before I introduce the story. This website was very helpful.
Ndeewo nu. This story is not fiction , its reality. you are doing a great job. Chukwu gozie gi .
I am from Umudioka village , Neni , in Anaocha Local Government Area, Anambra State. My father had complete facial scarification, ICHI. I learned from some elders who are still alive and still have complete ICHI , that groups of people were indeed taken away from our compound. My heart is always sour and my eyes full o tears to learn that my great great grand father (whose name ‘Okpalaojiego’ am answering now ) , was indeed a slave dealer.My life won’t be complete until I visit St Simon’s Island. Am really scared what am going to feel when I get there.
God rest them.
This story is so intriguing! i’ve read like 3 times now and i felt almost the same way. the igbo’s know who they are and they are proud about it.probably that may be our undoing.
I must visit Dunbar Creek. I’m touched.
Nde woo nu o! I am from Umuahia Ibeku, egwu asaa, It is quite disheartening that poverty greed and inferiority complex made most of our people of the black race to assist the slave masters by indulging and facilitating the act of slave trade during the period. It is a source of moral lesson today for us to be our brothers keeper!, to avoid the “get rich quick or die trying” syndrome and seek for self realization as to discover our selves, heritage and true history! we have been fed with lots of trash making us loose sight and focus of our origin and divine spirituality! we have been presented with strange beliefs, religious dogma and tradition, thus eroding our culture and raising a generation of ill informed and confused people! let us say no to this trend and focus on the energy that drives us to self discovery and realization, emancipating our traditional culture and reawakening our spirituality! There are lots of marveling stories about our race, still waiting to be unearthed by only us and no none else, but only at the right time that we are matured enough to bear the revelation! ka chineke mezie okwu!
Although sucide is a taboo in our Igbo culture but its better to die in dignity than live a cowardice life.
igbos have suffered alot. aro xpedition 1902, biafran war 1967 now ebo landing. god save us. am a writer. 07038204600 call me.
The Ebo (Igbo) Landing Project (ELP) is a non-profit organization incorporated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by USA Director of the project Sidney Davis under the direction of the Head of the ELP Professor Catherine Acholonu who was directly appointed by his Eminence Eze A.E. Chukwuemeka Eri, Eze Ora 34th of Aguleri, the Aka Ji Ovo Igbo and the traditional ruler of Enugwu Aguleri
“Orimiri Omambala bu anyi bia. Orimiri Omambala ka anyi ga ejina.”
~The Water Spirit Omambala brought us. The Water Spirit Omambala will carry us home ~
Omambala River is a sacred river dedicated to the goddess and associated with the myth of creation and of Eden. Oma/Amma is the unversal name of the goddess and appears to have originated from Igbo language and mythology – Catherine Acholonu. In her three books Catherine provides evidence demonstrating that the original Eden was located in the Niger River.
Igbo Landing details how a full cargo of Igbo slaves being brought to America took a plunge into the sea to commit mass suicide rather than become slaves to the white man.
To this day, their souls haunt the sight of Igbo Landing at St. Simons Island, Georgia, USA. People say they can still hear the rattle of chains, and the sound of voices singing an ancient Igbo hymn ““Orimiri Omambala bu anyi bia. Orimiri Omambala ka anyi ga ejina.” (The Water Spirit Omambala brought us. The Water Spirit Omambala will carry us home).
It is believed in Igbo Spirituality, that he whose traditional funeral rites are not dutifully performed, are neither in the Spirit home nor in the world of men and women. They are said to be at “Ijite Naabo” (the traditional territory between the human and the Spirit worlds: Ezi/Ezi Mmuo/Spirit street/way). Thus, they have not yet succeeded in carrying back to God Odii Aka or Isi Chukwu (which literally translates God’s head). For it is well established in Igbo cosmology:
Onwerro onye ga-atta isi Chukwu
Onye obuna ga-ebunagalu Chukwu isi.
“No one shall ever eat up or chew God’s head
Everybody must return God’s head to God.”
We are gathering Africans and the African Diaspora to heal the souls of the heroes of Igbo Landing through a symbolic burial, returning their souls to their original land in the sacred waters of Omambala, in Igbo Land, Nigeria.
We are gathering to facilitate the reconnection of African Diaspora to their ancestral land, culture, and spirituality.
If you’d like to no more about the Igbo Landing Project like us message us here:
Please, Oba is not an igbo name. The term ‘Oba’ is a yoruba title.
No wonder these white cannot do anything without the blacks especially igbos……its really a tragi-comedy.
chamberline umeh, the igbo spirit is quite commendabl. Going through the history lane mne would note that igbos hate supression. The igbos ve resited this long time.ibos believe in freedom and thats why they are unique. I admire their defiant spirit. The :
the igbo spirit is quite commendable. Going through the history lane one wuld note that igbo hate supression. That is why igbo man is unique.igbo culture is engrossed in freedon as it is generally believed “igbo enwe eze” neither the white monsters can take that out of us. The whites would one day be our slaves quote me!!!
I’ve heard this story before and believe that Igbos are one strong tribe…. Spiritually, physically and highly intelligent just like the writer said dont fool with them …. May their souls rest in peace!
This story is AMAZING.
I never heard of or about it until today.
I am thankful for my ancestors for risking their lives throughout the Middle Passage in SO many ways.
Let us not forget who’s shoulders that we stand on. ASHE!
This is a story of defiance and freedom. The ultimate sacrifice so that others may live. Its a story of love and unboundedness. A sacrifice that binds 80% of African Americans and their Ibo brothers.
Chika please Oba is a title as ancient as Igbo in the OZO or NZE holders. Yes Oba here was a leader captured by the white and their collaborators. The Igbo spirit is unbounded. Remember the Igbo says onye anaba ndu ya luo nya na afo ya. obulu okwu bulu ilu.
Chika, do well to listen to Nathy. Not only is Oba an Igbo title, but a proper Igbo name too. My family in Umuekeke village, Atani-Ogbaru LGA of Anambra State is known as the Oba-Okwuosa family. Indeed, we have in our family lineage, Oba-Okwuosa I and II.
The story is so captivating,really entertaing,informin and enlightening.showing an insight about the rich cultural tradition of the east,and letting those that are from africa feel what their country actually is…
I grew up in a very large house on Dunbar Creek. We regularly heard bizarre sounds in and around that house, including chains. We heard it, visitors hear it. There’s no doubt in my mind that Igbo Landing is 100% real.
Really am awestruck. Won’t lie, tis my first contact with this story even though am an Igbo. Abiriba to be precise. The purpose for which a tribe came into existence, and through all this scary experiences of hate, marginalisation and persecutions have not gone into extinction; must reveal itself in no distant time from today.
[…] Creek, the captives drowned themselves in the river rather than endure captivity and enslavement. http://themoonlitroad.com/ibo-landing/ The site is on private land, and there is no historic marker on the main road, so having Miss […]
[…] For the last installment in this series, I’d like to direct your attention to a ghost story that it told on St. Simons Island, as it is recounted at The Moonlit Road: […]
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may just subscribe. Thanks.
John, you can find the link to the newsletter on the “Keep In Touch” page.
igbos really have one mind, they do not want to e the object of any body.
[…] Anyway, for a moment I was at peace just listening to the waves. Staring out into the dark, the only thing I could see were the lights of three ships. At that point, everything became silent. I didn’t hear anything else but the waves. I kind of freaked myself out bc I started to think of the Ibo Landing. The heavy waters & what sounded like cries took me there, in my mind. Those of you who aren’t familiar, it was an event that took place back in the early 1800’s I believe, where a group of slaves chose death over being sold to be the white man’s property. Extremely interesting and sad story; read all about it here: IBO LANDING — […]
The name Oba is Igbo and has many phonetic pronunciations and meanings in Igbo land. A town in Anambara, Yam barn, Alligator, Igbo title, Calabash utensil, and many others, including title.
People erroneously think that Oba is not Igbo. Rather I say it is one of those words taken by Igbo neighbors. This is seen in the titles taken by some of our neighbors. Ijebu Igbo the name of a town in our neighbors area is a very striking example.
I am responding to one of the contribution above. Oba is a title not for Yorubas alone. Edo(Ado), Onitsha, Ogbaland, and other neighbors of Igbo land bear this title.
I am highly touched by this story. I am a voracious researcher on the trans-atlantic slave trade, and very interested in tracking the traces of our culture and religion from the igbo slaves in diaspora. Most can be found in the carribean, Jamaica,cuba and Haiti most especially. But this is the first time I have come across the Igbo landing story, which takes my interest to Georgia as a possible place where we may still find one or two traits that relates to the igbo people of Nigeria aside the Igbo landing experience.
Nonso E Ozoigbo:
I am an Igbo myself, and I take pride in identifying with my tribesmen. I have previously read excerpts on the Igbo landing from late Professor, Chinua Achebe, our literary giant. The story of the Igbo landing was a remarkable act of courage in line with Igbo culture. Just as the death of a soldier in battle is heroic, not suicidal, the Igbo landing tribesmen are heroes of every black race. Now I am in the United States, I look forward to visiting the Igbo landing site in Georgia. Thank you all for your wonderful contributions.