The feeling that I was wasting too much time with Baba at the Centenary hall prompted me to flag down a bike while I tipped Baba 500 naira for his hospitality. I rapidly told the biker I was going to Olumo Rock.
My mind was already made up to cover as much as I could so that I can reveal all the unknown facts, stories and mysteries surrounding this great landmark, I mounted the bike with utmost joy.
One thing about bikers and cab drivers in Ogun state is that they will go to any length to educate you about the state once they get to know you are new in town. That was exactly what my biker did as he told me different stories ranging from how much Abeokuta indigenes love festivals, idols and gods, to how his youngest daughter prevented him from dying some years ago because of the type of power she possesses.
I tagged along pretending to concentrate on his story but soon got discouraged due to how the smell of dry gin was oozing uncontrollably out of his mouth as he explained how powerful the warnings from children could be.
We finally got to Olumo rock after several twists and turns, and on highlighting, I tipped him with an extra 20 Naira to the original 100 Naira we had earlier agreed upon. I was taken by surprise when after receiving the money he raised his hands up to show gratitude and said prayers like he had rehearsed them beforehand. Immediately he put them down, he ignited his bike and zoomed off while I headed to the front gate of the magnificent monument shaking my head in amusement.
At the gate, I paid 700 naira for the entrance fee and 50 naira for VAT. And as though the gate saw what I just did, it swung open with the aid of the security guards who welcomed me almost at the same time.
I was directed by them to go towards the reception which was by the right to meet a particular woman who was to explain the numerous services offered by the management, from the cost of parking to the cost of touring.
After a few minutes of chatting and familiarization, I was appointed a guide who doubled as my photographer after sealing an agreement he was going to take only me.
Then we started.
First, he took me to a mini museum just beside the office of the woman by the right, then another room where crafts such as adire, hand bracelets and necklaces were put on display. The items were expensive for a low budget traveler like me, and so I admired them as I beckoned on my guide to let us start devouring the magnificent Olumo rock.
Originally, tourists are given the option of either climbing the rock via the elevator or the stairs, but almost immediately I opted for the stairs. “Where is the adventure in climbing via the elevator?” I murmured within me as I blamed our poor maintenance culture in this part of the world. The elevator itself is faulty, therefore, leaving me with just the option of climbing the mighty rocks via the stairs. I was quickly interrupted by Ola as he calmly announced that we were in the first of three stages involved in the climbing of the rock.
We took our first 22 steps and we found ourselves in the midst of some trees.
“This place is called the Panseke Garden” Ola started. “And it was named so due to the presence of that tree over there (pointing to the tree on my left). The seedpods you see on that tree are the reason behind the name. When you shake it, it makes a seke-seke sound.” So I was quickly able to connect the dots to why the most popular bus park in abk was named after this garden.
“Right in front of the panseke tree is the dongoyaro tree”, he continued, pouting his lips towards the tree. “This tree has numerous abilities when used as a herb. And adjacent is the odan tree behind which games are played.”
We left there and then proceeded to the most sacred place in Olumo rock –
Olumo Rock Main Shrine
Ola proceeded by explaining that on the 5th of August every year, the god of the rock is worshipped and only 2 people are allowed to enter in the whole of Egba land. They are the paramount ruler of the kingdom – The Alake of Egba land, and the chief priest popularly known as the Abore.
Until recently, human beings were used as sacrifices to appease the god of Olumo rock yearly. This was when civilization hadn’t gotten to Africa. But now, a big black cow is usually used yearly. I tried flipping through the pages of the holy book which houses the story of Abraham and his son but postponed it because I never wanted to miss any part of the info. I still felt bad though, because being a lover of livestock and poultry, I hate seeing animals being killed. Not even for food.
I noticed that there were some feathers of different colours pasted on the door of the scary-looking shrine. Just when I was about asking why they were there, he interrupted me by telling me that those feathers were the indicators of people who have come to seek favours from Olumo rock.
What they do is kill whatever animal they’ve brought, cut the head and throw it inside the shrine through the door, and then take home the body but not after pasting a few feathers or hair from the animal’s body in front of the door. This is the reason why many refer to Olumo rock as Olumo Abelowo Abelomo i.e. Olumo is the giver of both riches and children. Then they’d come back to thank the god after their request(s) have been granted.
While we were climbing further up the rocky steps, I slipped but my guide smiled and assured me nothing was going to happen to me because since its existence nobody had ever fallen from the rock… No one! He reiterated.
Then we got to a place I have always wanted to see.
The Egba war time hide-out!!!
The first thing I observed and inquired about was the lonely grave right in front of the place.
“That is the grave of late Chief Sanni Ajimatanikuje. Up until his demise on the 23rd of January, 1956 he was the only tour guide responsible for telling tourists about the rock before the government took over Olumo rock and made it a tourist site 20 years later in 1976″.
He went further by telling me that Chief Sanni was buried here because that was the tradition in those days – whoever died had to be buried behind his compound. And since he resides within Olumo rock (just beside the cave), he has to be buried right behind the house.
According to a variant of the story, the Egbas settled here in 1830 during the struggle for independence, from the people of Oyo and they were shouting egba wa o! egba wa o! (Meaning save us o! save us o!) as they ran towards Abeokuta. This is why they are to date referred to as the people of Egba.
Another variant has it that before they came, a hunter by the name ‘Adagba’ discovered the rock and went to tell others what he had discovered so they came to settle down there.
During this same period, there was another war between the Egbas and the Idahome (the present-day Benin Republic) for 3 years (1830-1833) as a result of a boundary dispute.
The Idahomes believing that the Egbas were weak due to their slender population attacked them. “We should be able to overpower a settlement comprising of only 4 families”, they must have thought within themselves.
Under listed are the families:
- Egba Ake
- Egba Oke-ona
- Egba Gbagura
- Egba Owu
The Egbas then had 5 cave-like rooms beneath the rocks (though 4 of them have collapsed leaving just one because they were made of mud).
During this period of war, the warriors would leave their wives in the caves and go to the rock-top to see if their enemies were approaching or not so that they can know when to lay an ambush for their approaching enemies.
That was how they won the war.
“After the war in 1833”, Ola continued, “The people of Egba consulted the oracle ‘Ifa’ on whether or not they should go back to Oyo (their former colony, since the people of Oyo wanted a reunion). But the Ifa told them to stay put affirming that this was where God wanted them to dwell. That this was the place God had decided to put an end to their sufferings and trouble… This, in Yoruba means ‘oluwa fi wahala mo’ which brought about the name of the almighty Rock”.
OLU – God
MO – put a stop
Another derivative of Olumo rock is Oluwa lomo meaning ‘God molded it’.
After the war, when people (the neigbouring villagers) were asking them where they hid all through the war, they’d reply by telling them “Abeokuta” which means “beneath the rock”.
Next we got to the Orisa-igun shrine, where we met some women who were being led by Chief (Mrs.) Sinatu Aduke Sanni, who was 131 years of age as of her last birthday.
These women worship their own personal god within the shrine called ‘orisa igun’. That is the god of longevity.
Right beside the shrine is a tree called the ‘Akoko tree’. This tree is where the leaf that is usually fixed beneath the cap of a newly crowned king in Yoruba land is being plucked. But this particular Akoko tree is specifically for the Alake only.
One amazing fact about this particular tree is that it has never withered, that is, it is evergreen. Neither does it increase nor decrease in size.
Other Akoko trees aside this particular one can be used for other kings of Egba land.
This present Alake is 10th. Now imagine how long this tree has been there, bearing in mind that kings don’t have tenures like political officeholders. They remain on the throne until their demise.
We moved a few steps ahead to another shrine, still within Olumo rock. This shrine is where the deity called ‘Obaluaye’ is. This deity is worshiped because it is believed to help cure measles and smallpox.
Igi- ose – The Baobab tree
This tree is called igi- ose in Yoruba. It is so important because people usually come there to pray while embracing the massively robust tree.
Their prayer usually goes thus:
‘Bi owo aye o se ka igi ose, apa aye o ni kami’, meaning the enemies hand won’t get me just as my hand couldn’t wrap the igi ose.
…So as I wrapped my hands around it, I said the prayer as instructed
We proceeded up more steps and then we got to a secluded place where the symbols representing the warriors who have fought for the Egbas were placed. It was more like a hall of fame. Examples are lishabi Agbongbo Akala, who was the leader of the war; Adagba the great hunter, who discovered the rock; Alatise, Madam Efunroye Tinubu (the first Iyalode of Egba land), etc.
On spotting a crown just by the corner, I asked what it represented.
“Oh!” exclaimed Ola, “that represents the first Alake of Egba land, Oba Okunkenu the first. And the face right in front of the crown symbolizes the first Balogun (warlord) of Egba land, Sodeke the first”.
Littered around these were 50 cowries representing the money being spent in that era called owo-eyo. These 50 cowries are equivalent to the present day 50 kobo.
Olumo rock is 137 meters high.
Here is where I was shown the aerial view of the whole of Aboekuta.
- From there, we can see the 1st church in Nigeria and West Africa which was built in 1844.
- The first central mosque in Abeokuta located in Kobiti which was rebuilt in 1925.
- Right beside it is the legendary Chief M.K.O. Abiola’s family house (popularly called oja agbo (gbagura).
- I also saw the first TV station in Abeokuta NTA Abeokuta.
- Right in front is the old Baptist Boys High School where the likes of Obasanjo, Gbenga Daniel, and Dimeji Bankole schooled.
- Turning back still on the rock, though a little bit afraid because of the height, I saw the historic Odo Ogun which the state is named after. It is a river which flows through Lagos, Osun, Oyo and Ondo states before pouring into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Egba anthem was composed by late Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s grandfather. The chorus goes thus:
… Mayo mayo mayo oo labe Olumo meaning, ‘I’d rejoice under the olumo rock’.
We sang this anthem as we descended the historic site.
I took a couple of pictures and handed 500 naira to Ola while he escorted me to the gate grinning at intervals. There, at around 5 pm, I flagged down a cab back to my base feeling tired and famished.
I needed enough energy to serve me throughout the next day when I’d visit the sacred bilikisu’s grave in one of the thickest forests in ijebu ode, Ogun state.
NB: all pictures taken from “The Egba war time hide-out” till the end of my sojourn at Olumo rock went bad due to a fault developed by my small camera. a video of me on the topmost part of the rock is however on my Instagram page @nomadic_negro coupled with few other amazing pictures.