Mr Ajamu Oluwatoyin, the secretary to Oba (DR) Oladunni Oyewunmi, Soun of Ogbomosoland, hosted me in his office, told me all about Alagba and answered all the questions I asked about the world oldest animal.
THE GENESIS OF ALAGBA
Kumoyede Ajao who was the third Soun of Ogbomosoland, dated back to 16th century. Kumoyede was the son of Jogioro, a famous, strong and brave man who sought and brought respectability to the leadership of the Souns family. It was through Kumoyede that the Soun dynasty had become firmly established in Ogbomosoland.
During the reign of Jogioro, it was believed that Kumoyede, a passionate and charismatic hunter was hunting in the bush one day. While hunting, instead of finding meats, he found a little tortoise under the leaves. He then decided to bring the tortoise to the palace.
Kumoyede Ajao, then a prince started taking care of the tortoise and people started calling the tortoise “Ijapa Kumoyede” (Kumoyede’s tortoise). When Kumoyede succeeded his father, Jogioro, they started calling the tortoise: “Ijapa Oba” (the kings tortoise). After Oba Kumoyede Ajao died, his son who was the “Aare ona-kakanfo” (the Yoruba nation generalissimo), Oba Toyeje Akanni succeeded him and inherited the tortoise. Since then, the tortoise has been inherited by 17 Souns of Ogbomosoland.
THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT ALAGBA
The tortoise was named Alagba which means “the elderly one” in Yoruba as a sign of respect because the tortoise had been acclaimed to be the oldest in Ogbomosoland. The tortoise refused to show any sign that he noticed me when I called it “ijapa” which is the Yoruba name for tortoise. In fact it was prepared to retreat back into its shell. But to my surprise, it stretched out its neck full of age, spots and thick rough warts, slowly opened its eyes and looked at me when I called it Alagba.
Alagba eats food but prefers fruits more than food, especially pawpaw and banana. It only drinks water fortnightly and when he does, finishes a 25-litres bucket full of water. It also detest heat and plays a lot in the raining season
When talking to Alabi, one of those taking care of the tortoise, he said I can try carrying the tortoise and see what will happen. Curious to find out, I tried carrying the tortoise with all my strength but the tortoise wouldn’t even bulge. Alabi then told me that the tortoise weights 100kg, “Alagba’s weight is equivalent to two bags of cement” Alabi said.
No matter how heavy you are, Alagba will carry you on its back and move about, but Oba Oladunni Oyewumi who cares so much about the well-being of the Alagba stopped this.
The king also respects Alagba, he pays him visit whenever he is coming back from outing or strolling around the palace. Whatever might have been anybody’s offence to the king, the Kabiyesi overlooks it if such person runs to Alagba for protection. Alagba is the only being the king’s wives run to for refuge to avoid the kings anger.
ALLEGED MYTHS AND LEGENDS ABOUT ALAGBA
Like some items in African traditional palaces, Alagba has been alleged to exist for mystical and spiritual purposes like some items found in African traditional palaces. When speaking with Mr Ajamu Oluwatoyin about this in his office, he said Alagba is just a mere tortoise that God blessed with age, he continued by saying Alagba has never been treated as sacred. “In fact, the tortoise eats food remnants from the palace.
He futher said that some people believe the tortoise is immortal. However, in 2008, the tortoise fell sick and suddenly developed a lump on the right side of its mouth. The king, HRM Oba Dr Oladunni Oyewumi was duly informed and he ordered that the tortoise be referred to the Veterinary hospital in Mokola, Ibadan for medical attention. They later called the king from the hospital that it was a sign of old age. The veterinary doctor said they had to carry out a surgery on the tortoise but the king decided to avoid the operation and ordered that the tortoise returned to the palace where it recovered by itself. With this, he concluded by saying that it was a proof that the tortoise is not immortal and it can die any time.
Some other alleged myths include:
It was a particular king that had become so old that turned himself to tortoise during a festival in the palace.
Some claim that the tortoise can talk. Although it is generally known that the tortoise hears what people say. This was evident in the way he responded when I called it Alagba
Some people stay near Alagba to offer prayers of longevity
Some people claim that the tortoise is a deity that is being worshipped. Mr Ajamu Oluwatoyin however, debunked this claim saying there was never a time Alagba was worshipped as a deity, the king only make reference to it whenever there is a celebration in the palace in recognition of past Obas.
Some people buy banana and eat with the tortoise believing it is a blessing
Some people also claim that the tortoise has a lot of connection with every soun that ruled, rules, and will rule Ogbomoso land.
Finally, they believe that the tortoise must not die because if it does die, there would be consequences after.
ALAGBA: THE WORLD OLDEST ANIMAL
Tortoises generally live longer than other animals and this is possible because of their link with the dinosaurs. Tortoise and turtle belong to the order Chelonians and they are the only living representatives of the order Chelonians which have a close link to the dinosaurs which are ancient animals lived for very long – up to 400 years – and had enormous size. Most tortoises do not pass 100, some have been known to live well past that marker and have lived as long as 200 to 250 years.
The ability of tortoises to live so long has a lot to do with how they are built and how they live because they are protected by a strong hard shell. Tortoises are good at avoiding predators and also live and move slowly, which means they use up less energy than lots of other creatures. If a tortoise is unable to find enough food, they can survive for a longer period more easily than animals who burn through their energy really quickly.
Addwaitya, the giant tortoise, is reckoned to have been 255 when it died at an Indian zoo in 2006, making him the oldest animal in the world. The previous oldest tortoise was widely thought to be Harriet, a giant Galapagos land tortoise that died in 2005 aged 175 in Australia. Despite its old age, locals say it still has the energy to regularly mate with the three younger females.
In March 2006, it was reported that an Aldabra tortoise at the Calcutta zoo died and was estimated to be 250 years old. A Madagascar radiated tortoise was said to have lived in captivity to at least 188 years. Similarly, a 176-year-old giant tortoise from an Australian Zoo died in June, 2006. Typically, the Galapagos tortoise lives 150 years. Other varieties regularly live to be 100.
At the moment a Seychelles giant tortoise named Jonathan, whose age is about 184 years, is believed to be the oldest known living reptile on earth. Jonathan was photographed during the Boer war around 1900, and its life has spanned eight British monarchs from George IV to Elizabeth II and 50 prime ministers. It was taken on the South Atlantic island of St Helena, where Jonathan still lives today, along with five other tortoises David, Speedy, Emma, Fredricka and Myrtle, in a plantation.
Meanwhile, people in Ogbomoso are still waiting for representatives of Guinness Book of Records to come and confirm Alagba’s age. Alagba is seen to be the oldest living animal in the world, having gone through the history of other long living animals. Some of the visitors at the palace who came to see Alagba advised that he should be taken to museum to generate revenue for government, as such kind of creature is rare to come by these days.
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