Recently, Peter Uzoho joined a group of tourists to visit and climb the ancient Olumo Rock in Ikija, Abeokuta North, Ogun State, and reports that the expedition was a pleasurable experience
It was in the evening of Friday, 18 November, 2016, as scheduled, the announcement went round, reminding us that it was time for the tour to Olumo Rock. Of course, you know the mood that follows such announcement. Joy, laden with anxiety and anticipation rent the air. For the first time visitors to such natural resort, it was a pleasurable expedition.
The visit to the rock was part of the activities lined up for the just concluded 2016 Ake Arts and Book Festival, which took place at the Ogun State Arts and Cultural Centre, Kuto, Abeokuta, where literary artists from across Africa converged to exhibit their works and discuss African issues.
Indeed, the people of Ikija, that is, the community housing the ancient Olumo Rock, and Abeokuta in general, really felt our presence as we moved in a long convoy. In their generosity, other vehicles on the road facilitated our movement as they had to clear for us to pass by. Passers-by on their part halted their movement, standing, gazing and smiling at us as we kept going-they already knew our mission and destination.
Approaching the gate, we saw a curved overhead brick beam, with the inscription ‘Olumo Rock Tourist Complex’. Immediately, I felt a sense of accomplishment. So I’m finally here, I asked, rhetorically, as we alighted from the vehicles. We tried to pass through but were intercepted by hefty security men who looked stern but not harmful anyway. Who is your coordinator, the security man questioned? In the process, Mrs. Lola Shoneyin, Director, Ake Arts and Book Festival and leader of the trip, appeared and discussed with them.
After getting clearance from the security, we were then allowed to enter the complex. In excitements, we could behold Olumo Rock standing tall as if reaching the sky, in its natural form.
Not quite long, we were beckoned by Mr. Michael Ogunbiyi, Head of Tourism, Olumo Rock Tourist Complex, who was to officially welcome and address us. “Ekaabo” (Welcome), he said in Yoruba language, apparently reminding us, especially the non-Nigerians that we were in Yoruba land, and so, should welcome us in their own way. And without hesitation, we responded “O se!”(Thank you) to show that we were on the same page. At this point, Ogunbiyi gave us a cursory history of the rock.
“Olumo Rock was a place of refuge for the old Egba people in 1830,” he tells us, adding “Because of the role it played in the history of the people, the rock has been deified as a god. God benevolently molded the rock. God also put an end to the wandering and strife of the people. So because of this, annually, sacrifices are performed to the gods. The essence of the sacrifices is to pray that none of the climbers of Olumo Rock will be a casualty and to also remember that Olumo Rock played a significant role in the life of the old Egbe people,” he said.
Continuing he said, “Olumo Rock is also significant in the sense that it has become a historical and religious monument. It holds the culture and tradition of the people of Egba, their values as well as their historical heritage,” assuring that the visitors would hear more about the rock as they tour the rock site.
Beginning the tour proper, Ogunbiyi ushered us into the art gallery, a building where different art works are kept. From there, we moved to the historical cultural gallery where the portrait of the Alake, the first mosque in Egba, and other landmark objects are equally kept.
We then proceeded climbing the rock from the base and came to a place called the ‘Olumo Rock main shrine’.
“I’d like to welcome you to the Olumo Rock main shrine,” he says, smiling. “In the ancient African setting, you have to understand that some personalities were deified as gods. Here, we have people like Sango, Ogun, Obatala, and Oya, etc. During sacrifice, a big black cow is normally presented to the gods. In this occasion, the priest and custodian of the Olumo Rock shrine, ‘Abore’, and Alake, the paramount ruler of Egba land, would enter the shrine to pray for the people of Egba, and for the peace and unity of Nigeria.”
From the main shrine, we were taken to a place called ‘Abe Okuta’ meaning ‘beneath the rock’. Climbing 120 steps from the base of the rock takes us to the ‘Lishabi Garden’. Lishabi was said to be among the most famous warriors that led the Egba people to this place of refuge in 1830. He was regarded as the chief warrior of the old Egba people.
“As a mighty and fearless warrior, he played a significant role during the war. When the people seemed to be losing faith and were gripped by fear of the enemy, Lishabi fearlessly stood in front and boosted their morale, assuring them that they would conquer. Eventually, the Egba people conquered and found the place, and named it after Lishabi as a reward for his bravery and heroic display.”
At the Lishabi garden, there is a beautiful tree called the ‘pansheke tree’ which is said to be medicinal. “The pod of the tree is called ‘Pansheke’. The pod when cut, makes an onomatopoeic sound ‘shekeshekesheke’ hence calling the tree ‘pansheke’. The Lishabi garden is also called pansheke garden.”
After the Lishabi garden, we moved up to the house of Chief Sanni. At this juncture, Ogunbiyi handed us over to the Tour Guide, Mr. Jeremiah Ayobanmi, who gave us the history of Chief Sanni. According to him, Chief Sanni was the Osin of Itoko during his life time. Pointing at the grave of Chief Sanni, Ayobanmi said he died on 23 January, 1956.
“The Osin chieftaincy title is given to someone who sits at the left hand side of the king at the palace. When the government took over the place as a tourist site, they cleared the monuments to avoid blocking the way for tourists when they want to pass. The house of Chief Sanni was used as the Egba war time hideout. It was there the people took refuge for three years,” he explained.
“Egba people were under the old the Oyo Empire. They wanted independence and went to fight. They consulted Ifarekun, and he instructed them to go and take refuge at the rock. On their way to the rock, they met a woman, called Adagba. Adagba was the one who discovered the rock and invited the Egba people to take refuge there. The people stayed and ate there for three years. While sojourning at the rock, they constructed five rooms. Four have collapsed due to lack of maintenance. The remaining one was where they kept their wives and children, while the men and the warriors among them would surround the rock so that their enemies would not gain access to the place.
“On the surface of the rock are six holes which their wives used to pound and grind food items during the war. When the war ended in 1833, the people of Egba consulted the Ifarekun to confirm if they should leave the place for their former destination. But Ifako asked them to remain there, revealing to them that that was where God had put an end to their wandering and suffering. So they named the place Olumo Rock.
“After the war, when the people of Egba came out from the rock, people were asking them where they hid during the war, and they, Egba people, responded ‘we hid ourselves under the rock’. Under or beneath the rock in Yoruba language means Abeokuta, which is where the Ogun State capital originated from,” he noted.
After a brief stay at the Abeokuta, we finally made it to the peak of the rock which measures 137 metres above sea level. Standing atop the rock, we could behold different important areas in Abeokuta. Looking behind, we could see a river known as the Ogun River which runs from the north through the south of Ogun State. Also seen from the top of the rock is the first central mosque called Kobiti.
Having achieved the feat of climbing to the peak of Olumo Rock, with strength almost exhausted, Ogunbiyi who had been up there waiting for us, congratulated us and led us to a song to conclude our expedition.