The first time I visited the Olumo Rock in Abeokuta, Ogun State, was at age nine. I was in primary school at Aiyetoro, Egbado. As I grew older, I tried to recall all that transpired back then, but all I could dig up was only faint memories. And even though one has made several trips to the rocky town afterwards, the opportunity to visit the historic rock again had remained elusive.
Olumo Rock is a historical monument, which served as a shelter and fortress to the Egba people during the Yoruba intercity wars. By 1830, the main body of the Egbas had already settled at the site and the refuge provided by the rock marked the end of their wanderings and struggles for existence.
Since then, they have come to regard the Olumo Rock as their protection shrine.
To the Egbas, Olumo Rock stands not only as a monument of faith in unity but also a source of strength and unfailing protection and sustenance from the Supreme Being who led their ancestors through the perplexities of life safely to Abeokuta.
Olumo Rock, a massive outcrop of granite rocks of primitive formation, today, is a world-class tourist destination that stands as the only one of its kind in Africa. The centre consists of a fast food joint, museum and a giant telescope to view Abeokuta, a fountain of atonement, a recreational park, and an amphitheatre among others.
From the gate with the inscription, ‘Olumo Rock Tourist Complex,’ you would not lose sight of the heavy-duty escalator and a glass elevator running the different levels of the rock alongside the old stairway for visitors who love climbing.
Findings revealed that tourists to Africa definitely have increased, especially since new renovations were completed early in 2006, with the upgraded infrastructure of to include a new museum, restaurants, water fountain and an elevator that will provide even the climbing-challenged a wonderful view of the surrounding city.
A trip to Olumo Rock commences after the payment of N500 to climb, N150, if one is just staying within the complex without climbing and N100 parking toll. A token is also collected for the use of the lift. However, most visitors still prefer to climb the man-made stairs etched into the rock. With numerous tour guides around, no tourist is allowed to go up the hill alone. It is often helpful to enlist the services of a guide who possess knowledge of the history of the rock and the culture of the people. This makes for an interesting climb as every twist and turn will reveal a significant story.
First port of interest to any visitor as one goes up the rock is the Olumo main shrine where one of the tour guides, Modupe Adebayo disclosed that the Alake of Egbaland, being the paramount ruler of the Egba offers sacrifices in the shrine on behalf of the people and prays for the whole country, the entire Egba people, as well as for the tourists that visit the rock.
“Nobody is allowed to go into the small room except the priests and the Alake,” Adebayo intoned.
It was amazing to note that the rock is naturally surrounded by caves, one of which is about 20 feet long and 25 feet wide.
These caves have slab-like stones, which appear to have served as seats used by the ancient dwellers.
Another cave, some 20-metre long and 17-metre wide, seemed to be a dwelling place. It has five in-built rooms with a long corridor, a sitting room, kitchen and a store. Of all the five caves, only one is in use till date.
There are holes on the floor, which were said to have provided a devise for grinding pepper.
There is also the ancient abode of the priestesses who lived in huts on the rock. And, it is not uncommon to catch a sight of the very aged women who live there and mutter greetings or blessings as people make their way through. Visitors are also encouraged to give the aged women alms. In turn, the women pray for their visitors.
Other historic spots along the path up the rock are Igun shrine, where you find some priestess and Ojubo Obaluaye. Built with mud walls into outer and inner chambers, it is used as a shrine by the devotees of Orisa-Igun (God of longevity). Orisa Igun is celebrated annually during which goats, rams and other animals are sacrificed. The ceremonies last for 30 days. It is believed that that deity controls smallpox and measles. Anyone afflicted by these diseases can go there, perform the necessary rituals and receive permanent healing. There is also the presence of the Akoko (crown) tree.
According to Jimoh Kamaldeen, a tour guide, leaves plucked from that tree are used to crown the Alake of Egba land. The
tree is reported to have been there for over 300 years. One very significant thing about the tree, however, is that it neither dries nor withers, no matter what time of the year it is. “It flourishes throughout the seasons, whether dry or rainy season. This is the tree that we pluck leaves from to crown every Alake of Egba land”, he said.
Also along the way, tourists catch sights of artistic sculptures of heroes like Lisabi Adigbo Akala, Adurodekun, Alatise, Sodeke (the first Balogun of Egba) Okunkerun and other cowrie-studded statues.
After this spot is the ancient route that the old settlers used in climbing to the top. A tortuous and narrow route one must admit, but for those who may not be able to bear the rigours, another route has been created. The ultimate for all that go pass this stage is to get to the tip of the mountain.
There is a part of the rock where it is possible to slide down back to the previous level but it is real tough coming back up the same way.
From the way these rocks separate and looks slippery, one wonders if anyone ever had an accident here? Never, the guides are quick to answer. “No, no one has ever had an accident here.” This, the noted is because the spirit of Olumo would not allow it.”
The highest point on the Olumo Rock is about 137 metres from the base of the rock. There also the presence of an Iroko tree that tour guides disclosed has existed for more than 300 years. At the summit of the rock, tourists have the opportunity of having a panoramic view of the city. The first Church in Nigeria, the old St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Ake, built in 1844, the Ogun River, the city’s beautiful central mosque, the Alake’s palace and many other historical places can be sighted from the mountain top.
Descending was not as difficult as climbing. The sight of the Ogun River running like a silver chain amidst a forest of aged red corrugated roofs bordered by thick green forests which melt into the horizon is breathtaking.
At the base of the rock, some tourists took time out to visit the museum while some took time out to relax at the eatery with some others taking their turns buying Ofada rice at one corner in the complex.
On the average, investigations revealed that Olumo Rock and Tourist Complex record an average of 2,500 tourists (foreign and local) in a month.
Ogun State has nine tourist sites. But none is as popular as the Olumo, according to Akinwunmi Alonge, assistant general manager, Olumo Rock Tourist Complex. “People come in on excursion and research visits,” he said.
On whether Nigerians and, indeed the world are taking to tourism as a form of relaxation, he said people were skeptical of tourist sites because they were unsure of the security and safety in place. However, he said safety and security are paramount to the management of the complex hence they employed services of Man-O-War, traditional vigilance groups, Civil Defence and the Nigerian police.
To further harness the full potential of tourism in Nigeria, Alonge commended the government both at the federal and state levels for creating a culture and tourism ministry, adding that what is now left for the country to properly harness the full potentials in tourism is to inject more funds and new ideas into the development of the numerous tourist sites in the country.
To further assist tourists who may want to pass the night around in the town, Alonge revealed that the management is partnering with hotel operators around the vicinity so that their tourists could have a place to lay their heads after a beautiful experience climbing the rock.
The Keita Adire/Kampala market, Itoku, where local artisans and traders enjoy haggling over price just as much as the customers like to find a bargain is just a stone throw from the Olumo Rock premises. The market is a must-see. However, with the recent demolition of some parts of the market to pave way for expansion of roads, a lot of caution needs to be taken by visitors. Several efforts by the government of Ibikunle Amosun to move the marketers to the Olusegun Osoba Adire/Kampala international market, Asero, have not cut ice with the traders. There reluctance to relocate shows the importance they attach to the Itoku area. The Keita Adire/Kampala market is the center of the indigenous Abeokuta industry of tie-and-dye, locally known as adire.
Adire crafters, usually men and women, old and young show off their designs in stalls alongside the roads. Behind these sheds are buildings where many of the crafters live and work.
The locals are friendly and if asked, will often give tourists and visitors informal tours of the dyeing processes. However, marketers are a bit cautious now in taking visitors to their work places now as they accuse foreigners, especially the Chinese of stealing their designs.
Other popular items sold at the market include local beads, bracelets, sculptures and musical instruments like the sekere and talking drum.
Micheal Ogunfidodo, Otunbabalaje and image-maker of the executives of the market revealed that the market is duly incorporated and they have board of trustees, functional executives and governing rules and regulations. Ask him one of the rules and he is quick to say the executive is strongly against fighting among its members. “If for any reason we find two members fighting, we lock their shops for a month. So, if you find out that your business would be closed for a month, you would not want to engage in fighting,” Ogunfidodo said.
Some of the challenges they face as manufacturers of Adire have to do with having to travel long distance to get raw materials and even when they do, he alleged that officials of the Nigerian Customs Service usually arrest them for trading in banned goods. Ogunfidodo said Nigeria could make a lot of revenue from Adire if it is properly harnessed. To get this done, he said government agencies should endeavour to come down to where these things were being manufactured to see things for themselves. “It would go a long way than just picking just anybody in
Abuja to represent us. The person does not even know our pain and challenges in production. And there is a lot of potential in this business,” he said.