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Naijatreks | Engulfed by the Rich Belly of Iho-Eleeru Cave in Ondo State, South West Nigeria

Engulfed by the Rich Belly of Iho-Eleeru Cave in Ondo State, South West Nigeria

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iho eleeru

At Iho-Eleeru Cave, a lovely cave naturally formed by the aesthetic cluster of massive granite boulders, also known as ‘The Cave of Ashes’, was found by a great archeological piece- the  remains of prehistoric man dating back to 9200BC.

In 1922, Chief Obele, an hunter, during one of his hunting expeditions chanced upon the elusive cave and broken pottery works scattered all over its vicinity. He returned back to the people of Isarun (descendants of the Iloro people) and broke the news of his discovery to the traditional ruler. He was officially accorded the rediscovery of Iho-Eleeru Cave, located in Isarun, Ondo State, Nigeria.

 Although, during a recent visit to the cave, Obele was still alive, he couldn’t speak again as a result of old age and its related ailments. Obele’s finding is termed rediscovery because evidences that the rock had earlier on accommodated human habitation abound.

The cave has also played a significant role in the archeological history of West Africa. In 1968, Professor Thurstan Shaw of the then University of Ile-Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), conducted an intensive and extensive research and exploration on the site, and excavated the remains of a Homo Sapiens skeleton which was buried in a standing position, holding a pot with sixteen inlets. The skeleton dated back to as early as 9200BC. The pottery works excavated from the cave site dated back to 1000BC. The findings of Professor Shaw was published in his book, HISTORY OF WEST AFRICAN ARCHEOLOGY, Vol 1.Iho Eleeru was officially recognised as a tourist attraction in 1992.

Presently, the cave and its surroundings is still very much in a pristine state and has numerous potentials for archaeology, history and tourism if properly and creatively harnessed. Still buried within the silt sands flooring the cave are hundreds of left over potsherds, cutting tools (flints) used by ancient man who dwelt at the cave as well as congealed reddish material used as paint by prehistoric man (the Yoruba people call it “apaparobo”). Also, on one of the big rocks surrounding the cave, a long Ifa inscription is engraved which bears similarity with the one found at Old Oke-Idanre (known as “adiye kowe oyinbo kaati” inscription).

It was once said that the Ondo State government was making plans to provide the location with good tourist facilities to cater for the needs of future visitors at the cave; and that the State Tourism board was also planning to employ the services of traditionalists who are well versed in Ifa mythology to interpret the divination engraved on one of the rocks earlier mentioned.

Isarun village is about 20minutes drive from Akure (State capital), and can be easily accessed from the Akure-Ilesha Expressway. The cave itself is a about 40minutes bike ride from Isarun village.


Ok, now let me ‘storify’ the main history behind the cave:

A long long time ago, just beneath a massive granite rock jutting out of the ground and forming a shade under its overhanging side, a man stopped to rest. We may never know what drew him to these rocks. He was probably a nomadic trader, moving from place to place across south-western Nigeria to sell his goods. Perhaps he was a wanderer or an outcast from his clan.

Scorched by the mid-day sun, he gazed ahead over the sweeping plains and rolling hills. The horizon stood ethereal, vague and daunting. Behind him rose the titanic Amoye Inselbergs of Ikere-Ekiti.

There were signs of human habitation in the vicinity, yet there was no one in sight. Going forward became disheartening as there was no proximate destination in sight, and going backward was a taboo.

This place felt weird. A spooky ambience accompanied the silence that held the air. Something felt wrong but he couldn’t place it. He had called out in the bush signals again and again, and no one had answered. Suddenly, he heard some muffled sounds in a nearby bush. He stood up to take a closer look. In an instant, two heavily-built men sprung out of the bush and seized him. His pleas fell on deaf ears. His struggle to free himself from their grips had no effect. Within minutes the entire vicinity became populated with jubilant people.
The gods had been angry with the people who resided at the foot of a gloomy cave. They were skilled hunters and herdsmen.
Strange occurrences had pervaded the enclave. The gods of the cave needed to be appeased and a human sacrifice was the price for redemption.
A stranger had entered the wrong place at a wrong time- the foot of the sacred hole at the time of sacrificial cleansing. He became the food of the gods.
He was buried alive, at the foot of the cave in a standing position holding a pot with sixteen inlets.

Centuries later, the enclave had grown into a bigger one. Generations upon generations have come and gone. The people were now referred to as Iloro people. They had developed various skills. Their expertise was in pottery works and the walls of the sacred cave were often decorated in bright patches of ash painting.
There were wars in the land; and the enclave of the Iloro people was suddenly invaded by the neighbouring Ado people. The assault was so ferocious that the people of Iloro were forced to flee into the surrounding forest for safety. After the intruders had left, the people of Iloro were distraught to discover that their pottery works had been reduced to ashes. In deep despondence they left migrated from the location to resettle somewhere else and they named the cave “Iho eleeru”, which means “Hole of Ashes” or “Cave of Ashes”.

 Though locked away in these lush jungles, a trip to the Cave of Ashes still remains one to look forward to.

Directions to Iho-Eleeru Cave:
Akure » Isarun

Lagos » Ibadan » Ilesha » Igbara-Oke » Isarun

Abuja » Lokoja » Okenne » Owo » Akure » Isarun


signboard to Isarun –  Signpost at the entrance to Isarun village from Akure-Ilesa Expressway.

The rock under which the cave is ensconced

– The massive rock beneath which Iho-Eleeru cave is formed.

Entrance to Iho Eleeru, The Cave of Ashes  – Entrance to the cave

Splashes of Ash on the rocks at the cave

– Splashes of ash on the rocks at Iho-Eleeru cave.

The spot at the cave where the skeletal remains of prehistoric Yoruba man was escavated – The spot at the cave where the skeletal remains of prehistoric Yoruba man was excavated.

Relic of Mud sctructures erected by ancient dwellers at the cave

– A relic of mud structure erected by ancient dwellers at the cave

The rock bearing the Ifa inscription at Iho Eleeru, The Cave of Ashes – The big rock on which the Ifa inscription is inscribed, Iho Eleeru (Cave of Ashes).


– A potsherd recovered from Iho-Eleeru Cave. Notice the depression pattern at the tip of the piece, which signifies typical African art.


– More potsherds from the cave.


– Flints recovered from Iho-Eleeru Cave- cutting tools used by ancient man who dwelt at the cave.

portsherd4 – More flints from the cave.

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This article was written by Folarin Kolawole

Founder of Naijatreks, Nigerian-born Folarin Kolawole is a geologist, travel writer and researcher. When not at work, he travels the length and breadth of Nigeria, exploring, taking photos and writing about her numerous hidden tourist potentials.   'Naijatreks' is a product name registered under the Ntreks brand, which is also duly registered by Nigeria's Federal Corporate Affairs Commission. The contents on this blog are re-usable. However, it must be ensured that it is linked back to this blog, and correctly attributed to Naijatreks or the author. Please do not edit, rewrite or commercialize the original works on this blog without direct and written permission from the Founder (Folarin Kolawole). For inquiries and advert placement on the blog, kindly contact us at or


Heated debate! Ile-Ife OR Iho-Eleeru: which is the cradle of the Yoruba people? | NaijatreksAugust 21, 2013 at 11:52 amReply

[…] The poem below is about a cave called Iho-Eleeru also known as Cave of Ashes), tucked away in the thick forests of Isarun village, Ondo State, South-western Nigeria. Of great significance is this cave in the history of the Yoruba people as well as West Africa because the skeletons of prehistoric man dating as far back as 9,200 B.C. was discovered at the cave during an archeological exploration of the area by Prof. Thurstan Shaw. Many ancient pottery works and flint cutting tools (used by ancient dwellers at the cave) were also excavated along with the skeletal remains. The skeletal remains are the oldest ever found in West Africa and dating revealed that there existed human habitation in the region long before the existence of Oduduwa or Ile-Ife. This had therefore constituted a strongly debated issue among Yoruba traditional rulers in southwestern Nigeria. You can read more and see more photos of the cave and some of the excavated artifacts at The Discovery of Iho-Eleeru: Cave of Ashes. […]

Africa’s Oldest Known Boat found in Dufuna village near Yobe River, Northern Nigeria | NaijatreksNovember 5, 2013 at 2:46 pmReply

[…] wood into a beautiful form as the Dufuna Canoe. The fact that cutting tools of flint were found at Iho-Eleeru Cave in western Nigeria which dates back to 9200BC, gives a clue to the suite of cutting and carving […]' Omo ObaApril 10, 2014 at 4:00 amReply

People of Naijatreks, you’re all marvelous doing great job. Thank you for this post. Love you all.

NaijatreksApril 10, 2014 at 9:33 amReply

@Omo Oba…thank you for the compliment :) we love you too for your consistent support ooo!!' Fabusuyi EniolaFebruary 10, 2015 at 11:12 amReply

Thank you my brother, GOVERMENT should provide Iho-Eleeru Cave in Ondo State a center with adequate amenity so that it can generate revenue for the State.' Ajani AderemiFebruary 11, 2015 at 6:42 pmReply

I’m from Erigi. Iho Eleru is just behind our cocoa farm.My father participated in d excavation of 1968 he knows prof Shaw very well.A woman from Germany visited d site in 1987 and we assisted her to locate this oldest abode of man in Africa. We were rewarded with white shirts,soaps and other items.It had also played host to prince Tony Mommoh- the then information minister. Erigi is under the royal control of Asharun of Isharun land but predominantly occupied by the Oyos and just a few Isharun indigens. Though historic but this revenue-generating cave has long been neglected by all the three tiers of Nigerian Government.

NaijatreksFebruary 11, 2015 at 7:18 pmReply

@Ajani Aderemi…thank you for your comment. It is indeed amazing to know that your father was part of Thurstan Shaw’s team. Such a great story.' Ajetomobi ClementFebruary 12, 2015 at 2:11 pmReply

Kudos to all the crew at Naijatreks for this wonderful work. More of this will definitely attract the attention of our government to develop this cradle abode of mankind…..will always remember those days of battling with bats and echoes of strange creatures at the cave whenever we were sent to fetch water there..Iho-Eleeru, the truly bedrock of hospitality!!