One cannot behold the ‘lyrics’ of Opomunaki, the great and powerful warrior of Igbara-Oke, and not be reminded of the passionate adrenaline that fueled the exploits of Okonkwo- the warrior of Umuofia (Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achiebe).
These ‘mystical words’, called Igbara-Oke petroglyphs, are pictorial etchings on a rock outcrop, situated amidst several other low-lying Pan-African granite outcrops occupying some 200 square meter area of land; they have put Igbara-Oke enclave on a significant pedestal in the archive of wars that has sculpted the history of the ancient Yoruba people.
Igbara-Oke town is located some kilometers north-west of Akure, Ondo state capital; and although a sleepy nodal settlement in Ifedore Local Government Area of the state, it holds one of the most important historical monuments in Southwestern Nigeria.
The ancient impressions, which are basically pictorial representations, consist of ‘Ida’ (sword) illustrated by a big triangle with one vertical line drawn from its apex to its base and horizontal lines drawn across it; ‘Apo-ifa’ (sack containing the Ifa-oracle) was depicted by the diagram of a sack with a rope attached to its opening; and pictorial representations of some other materials used for Ifa-oracle’s divination. This particular outcrop with the petroglyphs measures about 4ft in height and 10ft in average length.
A visit to the location of the petroglyphs on Igbara-Oke – Isarun road cannot be completely fulfilling until one is treated to the fascinating and interesting history behind the mystifying impressions.
History has it that Opomunaki fought many wars, with indomitable aplomb and ardour he invaded and lay waste many enemy enclaves, defending his people- the people of Igbara-Oke. He was a very powerful and brave man. Like Okonkwo of Things fall Apart, he must have believed: ‘’If a man comes into my hut and defecates on the floor, what do I do? Do I shut my eyes? NO! I take a stick and break his head!’’. It was said that Opomunaki once prepared an herbal concoction and told his wife that whenever he was off to battle and the surface of the concoction turned red, it meant that he has been killed. There came a time when he went to battle against a certain village and got killed in the process. His wife saw the surface of the concoction turn red and began to wail and cry, lamenting the death of her husband. As a result of Opomunaki’s great spiritual powers, he was able to supernaturally merge the remains of his decapitated body with someone else’s body so that no-one recognized him when he returned home. As the defeated and reincarnated warrior neared his house, he got to a junction (the present junction of the main road through Igbara-Oke town with the road leading to Isarun) and saw people wailing and mourning. Upon enquiry, he was told that people were mourning the death of Opomunaki, the great warrior. He became enraged and offended. He was said to go directly to some nearby outcrop of rocks (the present site of the petroglyphs) and made the impressions on the rocks. The great warrior dashed out of the enclave in annoyance and fought against the village where he was initially killed and won the battle, leaving the settlement in utter devastation.
According to oral history, Opomunaki, after his victory over the enclave, stuck his blood-smeared sword into the ground, placed his forehead against its handle and he turned into a rock. This rock is said to be extant in the village where he fought till this day. The identity of this enclave has been kept from public knowledge by the people of Igbara-Oke because it is a taboo for an indigene of Igbara-Oke to settle or even pass the night in the enclave.
The site of the enclave was declared a national monument on 19th March 1963 and was enclosed by a fence painted in white, and a low gate painted in white and green, thereby giving the site a distinct and unique look when compared to the rows of mud and unfenced buildings surrounding it.
The petroglyphs therefore need a face-lift and proper packaging for profitable exploitation. The fence of the site needs repainting since the former paints were already washed off at the time of visit to the site. The plot of land itself needs clearing as the whole place has been overgrown with bushes. For this wonderful monument to be more presentable and marketable, proper facilities should be provided, such as good access roads, ticket house (where visitors obtain tickets to gain access into the premises), a good tour guide to narrate the history behind the petroglyphs to visitors; guest houses and hotel facilities, souvenir shops etc. With proper planning and implementation towards the development of this site, it is believed that more jobs will be provided within Igbara-Oke town and the economy of the state at large will be improved.
Despite Opomunaki’s great achievements and exploits, the only records of his existence are those captured on an isolated cluster of granite outcrops on the outskirts of the town; and ever sculpted on a visitor’s mind, will be the rush of awe one feels when touching those ancient etchings with the fingers. It is like communing with the people of old, perceiving the pains that birthed their victories, the agonies that sustained the existence of the Yoruba man till this day.
This article was written by folarin
Founder of Naijatreks, Nigerian-born Folarin Kolawole’s photography and travel writing depict a passionate romance with nature’s endowments. He grew up in the small town of Akure, Ondo State. He is a travel writer, geologist, researcher and tourism activist. When not at work, he writes geo-scientific research papers and travels the length and breadth of Nigeria, exploring, taking photos, making videos and writing about her numerous hidden tourist potentials.