Rapid knocks of sunrise rap on my louver blade.
The night is over again. It’s been three days, and the various events of the Orosun Festival are gaining momentum. Exciting thoughts of exploring one of the largest caves in SW Nigeria rock my mind. The people say Owa Cave is so big, it can contain a thousand people. How am I supposed to believe that?
”Granite is a brittle rock, it can’t form a cave that big!”, I keep thinking to myself and feeling sorry for the ubiquitous illiteracy abounding in the enclave. Little do I know that I am the one who need more education.
I burst out of my bed with vivacity and set out towards the mountains. The jagged peaks of Idanre Hills tower above, around and beyond, forming a mighty fortress around the ancient enclave of Idanre town. The rise of the sun has turned the skies into a colourful smiling face of slightly arched crimson lips with fringes of purplish ‘moustache’ and ‘beard’.
With the energy of a new born baby, I speed towards Onipepeye Village. The tires of my bike screamed for mercy as I pull through the sharp and polished rocky pavements along the road. The dusty road twists and winds across gentle and steep rocky slopes. Awe-inspiring mountain-scapes sprawl to my left: a colourful blend of lush green from the forest thickets below as well as brown and silvery-grey reflections from enormous inselbergs shooting into the skies.
It’s one and a half hours I left Idanre town and my sun-tanned crash helmet left my scalp glistening in the hot sun as I pull it off. The gigantic inselbergs are no more in sight and Onipepeye village lie silent as a graveyard. Walls of mud are decorated with saucer-shaped plasters of cattle dung. They’re good sources of fuel for cooking when dried.
There is no one in sight. Goats and chicken stroll about the vicinity, picking whatever they can savage from the red earth underlying the area.
A farmer emerges from the forests behind a group of huts and asks me
who I want to see. Immediately I mention Owa Cave and he points towards the direction from which he came. In a moment, with gust of excitement I mount my bike and speed off towards the forests. The farmer screams out behind me ”you’ll find bat hunters in the forest. You can’t get to the cave without themmmm…” and his voice faints into the chilly ambience of the forest canopies.
The wheels of my bike spin like that of a tailor’s sewing machine. The footpaths meander through the forest, narrowly by-passing the big Ìrókò tree trunks. The path suddenly opens up to an open space of lover trees and shrubs. A small bridge made of three logs of wood lie ahead, connecting both sides of a channel cut by Arun River. The spectacular River intersects the paths again as I approach a cluster of massive inselbergs looming above the forest ahead of me.
”Gbosa! Gbosa!”, gun shots echoes in the forest. The reverberations send shrills through my bones; and just then objects start falling from the tree tops and hit the rocks below like rains of brimstone.
The paths have now become too rugged for me to cycle on. At a cleared corner in the bush, about five motorcycles are parked. I quickly add my bike to the number and head off towards the direction of the gun shots. They must be the bat hunters I need to find to get to the cave. The paths branch haphazardly in a labyrinth, but my ears have become my compass and the gun shots my ‘magnetic north’. I continue to jog and in a few minutes, I encounter an enormous rock shooting out of the forest. The air hangs dense with palpable vapour. The vegetation shines with vivacious verdure. The sun rays breaking through the leaves and branches of the overhead canopies throw a pattern of light and shade on the rocky footway.
With a few boulder hopping, and rock climbing I find myself in the midst of a hundred hunter and inundated by deafening cacophony of bullets hammered off the muzzle of rifles and ricocheting off the backs of robust tree trunks. Teen hunters armed with rubber catapults run helter-skelter to pick up dead bats which had been shot down from the tree tops. It is an assembly of skilled hunters. They hunt with such pride, adroitness and energy like the legendary Massai Mara people of Ngorongoro, Kenya.
- “A hunter hurries along with a jute bag full of dead bats…”
An indescribable joy well-up in my heart. I never dreamt of having the opportunity to witness an event like this. ‘Such opportunities never come near the city life’, I keep thinking to myself. A group of teen yokels sat beneath a rock boulder, dressed in mud-dyed shorts and ragged t-shirts. A long, narrow and gloomy chasm lay beneath a massive rock beside them.
”Iwo Owa”, I ask; and immediately, three of them point to the big cleft, while the others observe me curiously from head to toe. They are likely to be wondering what someone ‘neatly’ dressed like me and ‘in his right senses’ will be looking for in a ‘lost’ place like this.
I feel a little daunted, but because I will not like to be looked at as a chicken by the young hunters, I took up courage and proceed into the stygian recess. Across the gloomy expanse, the earth farts the odour of bat guano. The mammalian birds parade the air in confused flight patterns. Fear and anxiety is written all over their faces. Light beams from hunters’ torchlight manage to penetrate the dense darkness at different corners. The hunters keep knocking down the bats with long sticks and catapults, and those that manage to fly out of the cave to find shelter at the tree tops get shot down with rifles. There’s no hiding place. It is hunting festival in the land of Idanre.
As the gloom swallow me further, I see sharp rays of sunlight piercing the expanse from a distance, sparingly revealing splashes of a treacly substance smeared on the numerous rock boulders scattered all over the cave. My admiration of the size of the cave escalates when the sound of rushing waters mute the anxious chirruping of the bats. I move closer and find a stream of crystal clear sping waters exuding from a pile of pebbles and cobbles at the center of the cave.
- Bat Hunters in the Belly of Owa Cave, Idanre, Nigeria
At the end of the cave exists an exit point. Two hunters sits down on a boulder marking any bat that attempts to escape through the opening.
I speak with them for a while and we share the food and drinks I brought with me. Before departing, I suggest that we take photos and they gave me a small baby bat from their bag. My forty five minutes journey back to Onipepeye Village is deeply fascinating. I continue my journey back to Idanre town hoping to reach there before evening.
Rustic village children wave mud-plastered palms at me as I speed by.
"ódàbò!" "ódàbò!", they shout, with smiles and gestures that seem to wish that I stop and spend the night in their huts; looks that seem to hold a promise of plenteous treats to moonlight stories. So bad I have to leave Idanre tomorrow as the limpid cascades of Arinta Waterfalls, my next destination, beckon at me.
An admiration and awe for Owa Cave will forever remain deeply etched on the tablet of my heart. An admiration for Nature’s dexterous hand-work, a spectacular piece of art, latched away in the mountainous jungles of Idanre- the city of Inselbergs.