I have driven past the small sleepy town of Igbara-Oke when travelling to Ikogosi Warm Springs in Ekiti State, and never knew the town hosted such a great historical relic as this. However, someone from this town wrote me a mail and suggested I pay a visit to his home town to see the petroglyphs. 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 following Saturday, I drove down to Igbara-Oke. The town was quiet as usual, except for the frequent horns and hums of passing cars and trucks; however, in the evenings, the noise diminishes and is taken over by rings and chinks of the bicycles of farmers returning from their farms. At the outskirt of the town, I saw an old woman sitting down on a low stool in front of her house. I pulled up and walked up to her.
“E káàsán màmá” (good afternoon maam), I said.
She looked up and smiled. “káàsán omo mi o” (good afternoon my son), she replied.
I told her I was visiting the town to see some old inscription on a rock. Again she gave that ageless smile and told me it is good to see someone coming to their small town just to see the inscriptions. I nodded and smiled.
She asked me to drive down to end of the main road entering the town (off Ilesa-Akure express way), and turn right to a dusty road; then stop in front of a white-painted fence and ask for a certain man in charge of the ancient inscriptions. The dusty road leads to Isarun town (the town that hosts the popular Iho-Eleeru Cave). I did exactly as she said and found myself at the gate of the small plot of land housing the petroglyphs. The 100x100m plot of land had been fenced round and gated by the state government. I asked for the tour guide and I was told that I can only view the inscriptions through the bars at the gate, because the keys to the lock is at the State Ministry for Museum and Monument’s office in Akure. I couldn’t control my shock. However, I asked for someone who could tell me more about the inscriptions and an old man was called out from a near by house to come and attend to me. He was very friendly. He told me how often they had told government officials who came visiting to release the key to the gate for them, so that tourists who come around to see the inscriptions could have a good experience, but that they wouldn’t listen. He took me closer to the gate and pointed to a set of low-lying granite outcrops at the center of the plot and asked me to carefully observe some seemingly faded outlines on one of the rocks.
As soon as I focused and fastened my eyes on the particular rock, the outlines suddenly came alive and became clearer. He began to tell me what each diagram represented. ‘Ida’ (Yoruba word for sword) was represented by a big triangle with one vertical line drawn from its apex to its base and horizontal lines drawn across it; ‘Apo-ifa’ (meaning a 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 inscriptions measures about 4ft in height and 10ft in length.
These ‘mystical words’, called Igbara-Oke petroglyphs, are pictorial etchings on a rock, documenting some of the fiercest wars fought in Yoruba land, south-western Nigeria, in ancient times. These inscriptions automatically places Igbara-Oke enclave on a significant pedestal in the archive of wars that has sculpted the history of the ancient Yoruba people.
The old man attempted to give me a summary of the myth behind the petroglyphs. He narrates that in th eolden days, there was a great warrior in Igbara-Oke land known as Opomunaki. According to him, “Opomunaki fought many wars, and with indomitable might he invaded and laid waste many surrounding enemy villages, defending his people and spreading ‘the fear of Igbara-Oke’ among the other enclaves. He was a very powerful and brave man. He had great spiritual powers. 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; and there came a time when he actually went to battle against a certain village. The battle was fierce. The enemies wielded great spiritual powers during the battle, and Opomunaki was overpowered and he killed in the fight. His wife saw the surface of the concoction turn red and began to wail and cry, lamenting the death of her husband. Since Opomunaki’s body still held his spiritual powers, he was able to supernaturally merge the remains of his decapitated body with another slain soldier’s head 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 dusty road leading to Isarun village) and saw people wailing and mourning. He stopped and inquired from a by-stander what the mourning was about, and he was told that people were mourning the death of Opomunaki, the great warrior! He became enraged and offended. He wasn’t happy that his people lost faith in him. He went directly to some nearby outcrop of rocks (the present site of the petroglyphs) and made the impressions on the rocks to show the people that he has reincarnated himself. Then dashed out of the village in annoyance and attacked the village where he was initially killed. His attack was unexpected and so ferocious that left the enemy enclave in utter devastation”.
The tour guide also added that “Opomunaki, after his victory over the enemy 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 in existence in the village where he fought till this day”. I asked him for the name of this enemy village and he quickly shook his head and said “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. So, in order to retain order and peace, it is best the knowledge of the decree is kept secret. However, it is known to most indigenes of the town”.
The site of the enclave was declared a national monument on 19th March 1963 and was immediately 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 unfenced mud and rustic buildings surrounding it. Therefore, when next you are driving through Ondo State or the neighbouring Ekiti State, make sure you stop by at Igbara-Oke and check out the awesome petroglyphs it hosts.
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 Kolawole
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