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There is only one road leading into the valley within which the town of Idanre sits. The ancient town is located in the beautiful state of Ondo known as the ‘Sunshine State’. Nestled in the middle of tall magnificent hills covered in mist from a distance, one can see how picturesque the little town is; and while modernization has visited the town, it still retains its quaintness and charm.
Upon arriving at the town, the first thing we did was to take a tour of the vicinity before proceeding to the village where we were going to pass the night. Everywhere we looked, the hills were what we kept seeing and one couldn’t help but wonder the stories the hills held secret. Walking down the streets, one could easily notice that houses were built solidly against the hills. The hills were walls of homes all around us, and homes were like extensions of the hills. Our short walk took us to the end of a street which terminated at the foot of a massive hill. There we saw a black goat jumping from rock to rock and a squirrel scuttling through a pile of granite stones on the hillside.
Our guide, Kola, showed us a gigantic hill known as the Ojimoba Hill. He explained that Ojimoba Hill was once a warrior who in a bid to defend his village turned himself to a hill enclosing the village in his protection. It is said that in the middle of the night, if one gets closer to the hill, one can hear the sounds of village activities going on; people calling out to each other, children’s voices, women calling out their wares etc. We sure were interested in hearing this for ourselves but alas, this wasn’t to be. Our driver and some members of the team were frightened. Our guide also pointed to the highest peak on the hills, jutting out above the others and shooting deep into the skies with a shroud of clouds clasp around it. It is called Orosun Peak and it is said to be the highest point in south-western Nigeria (3,018m above sea level).
– The gigantic hills of Idanre.
However, we took off to the distant village of Onipepeye, faraway in the forests of Idanre land. It took us about one hour drive through a rutted and dusty road, twisting, turning and bouncing through small protrusions of rocks along the path. Finally, we arrived at Onipepeye itself, a small rustic village, lying along the dusty road which continued deeper into the forests. Most of the dwellers at the village are cocoa farmers who wanted to stay close to their farms. There is no electrical supply and water supply was majorly from streams and brooks around, especially from the Arun River which emanated from the hills and flowed down through the area to join Owena River farther south.
As evening neared, farmers and hunters began to return from the forests. Clouds of dusts soared from the road all evening as bicycles and motorcycles loaded with farm produced flocked up and down the road. All the houses at Onipepeye village were built with mud but some of them had a finishing of cement plastering on one or two sides and sometimes white washed paint. Some of the houses had platforms in front on which cocoa seeds were spread for drying in the sun. We quickly adjusted to the raw rustic setting and tried settling in.
We spoke to the elders of the village and we were offered a small hut to pass the night. Although the people wondered why civilized people like us left our comfortable and ‘awesome’ abode in the cities and came all the way to their small village to pass a night, nevertheless they were very kind and friendly. We got small foams to place on the cold bare mud floors and sleep on. We also had blankets to fight the cold, and we had torch lights and batteries. But there was no way to recharge our phone and camera batteries.
The night gradually fell as the sun sank beneath the jagged of the hills around us; and slim pillars of grey smoke rose from the cooking pots at the back of the houses. The scent of roasting yam soared from one end of the village mixed with the tantalizing scent of cooking vegetable stew from the back of another part of the village. Our mouths watered and we looked forward to an awesome dinner made from earthen pot, firewood and cooking stones. Darkness swept over the village and our torch lights resumed duty as our phone battery ran down. My camera battery ran down and I was heart broken. We bought fresh cocoyam and plantain from one of the villagers. We got some dried tree branches from a near-by bush, set them in between three stones and set them on fire. The wood burned to charcoal and we fanned the coal to hot-red, then placed a borrowed wire mesh on the stone-set and arranged pieces of sliced but unpeeled yam and unpeeled plantains on it. We roasted the slices of yam and plantains in turns till they were all ready for serving. We ate the roasted yam and plantains from a big plate with salted groundnut oil in a separate smaller plate. We chattered and jested with ourselves over the meal. While we ate, noisy natters also filtered from different houses in the village.
As the night deepened and the stars ruled the skies in their multitudes, the noisy chatters all over the village faded into the dark firmament. We all slept gracefully, except for some occasional biting and buzzing of mosquitoes, often drowned by deafening chirps of crickets from the surrounding forest.
Daylight came early and misty but the freshness of the air drew us out of our mud house. I stepped out into the untainted and chilly morning air and spent some minutes basking in the weather as it is not something we get easily in Lagos. Our guide arrived early and took us to the nearby Arun River so we could have a quick wash. The foot path that leads to the river snaked through thick cocoa farms. There were lots of bright yellow cocoa pods hanging from the stems of the trees and the grounds beneath were covered in dried cocoa leaves which had fallen off the trees. When we finished from the river, we returned to the village, said farewell to the villagers and took off to Idanre town.
We spent the rest of the day climbing the popular Idanre Hills tourist centre to see the Old Oke-Idanre and other attractions there. The tour guide explained that due to many wars back in the olden days, the people of Idanre lived up on the hills and only came down when necessary but when peace began to reign and a craving for accessibility increased, the people moved down to the valley. We wanted to see the Agboogun Footprint which was said to size everyone, but unfortunately, we were told the footpath to it was blocked by overgrown bushes and won’t be cleared until preparation for the annual festival celebrating the King’s reign (Orosun Festival). We visited the ancient Oba’s Palace at Old Oke-Idanre. To get to the palace, Kola took us through a path that had us butt sliding down a steep hillside. He explained that along the way, are specific rocks which the king sits on to rest whenever he climbs up for the festival.
At the ancient palace, we were met by a man who had only a white loin cloth on and identified himself as the chief priest of Idanre. What was most striking about him was that though he was young in appearance, he gave off the air of a wizened old man. However, after welcoming us, he shared the intriguing tale of how the king of Idanre is the only king who doesn’t wear a crown in Yoruba land and how the crown of Idanre is a sacred ornament worn once a year by the king. He further explained that the crown guards must not sleep in the valley overnight. He then showed us the corner where skulls from cows killed as sacrifice in celebration of the king’s reign were preserved. Each head and jaw tied together. We counted 29 skulls that day, signifying the present king had been reigning for 29 years. We were not going to leave the palace without seeing the chief priest in action, so we demanded to see the power house. He obliged and took us through a series of rooms and issued warnings as we went along. We arrived in a small courtyard where in the middle was a tree trunk covered in cowries and by the corner was the festival drum. The only light was from the open space in the roof. He asked us to kneel towards the cowries covered trunk while he went into an inner chamber to summon the gods for us. You can imagine what the next couple of minutes looked like as panic and fear set in.
We began to hear him say “E ní sùúrù o. Ó dàbí npé àwon ìyá wà nínú ìpàdé” (hold on, it seems the spirits are in a meeting).
After another couple of minutes of summoning, we began to hear muffled sounds like those of whistles but that had flow and rhythm. He asked us to start saying Amen. When the sound ended, he came out and we went back to the courtyard. What to make of this experience was an answer that called for some thought. To break the ice, he shared some white clay known in Yoruba as ‘Efun’. A colleague simply brought out glucose from his pack and gave some to him as a reciprocal offering and we had a good laugh over it. Liking our group, the chief priest decided to guide us through the hills and show us some of the unusual attractions most visitors don’t get to see.
– At Onipepeye village. Woman s[reading cocoa seeds with rake.
– A kitchen at the back of one of the houses.
– Chicken coming to welcome us on arrival at the village.
– One of the villagers cutting cocoyam to boil for his lunch.
– At Onipepeye, Sunrise over the hills of Idanre.
– The foot path leading to the river snaked through cocoa farms.
This article was written by Adedolapo George
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