#EGBALAND: THE FAMED OLUMO ROCK, ABEOKUTA OGUN STATE

Olumo Rock
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Olumo rock is a massive outcrop of granite rocks of primitive formation from which Abeokuta the capital of Ogun state derived its name. Olumo rock sits in the heart of  Abeokuta – a name which means ‘under the rock’. It serves as home to many caves and shrines. 

According to the official website of Ogun State , Olumo means “all the troubles and sufferings were over”. But some also claim that Olumo means “Lord moulded it” (“Oluwa-lo-mo”, “Oluwa-mo” “Olu-mo”).

The entrance of Olumo Rock

Olumo rock was turned into a tourist site in 1976 and was commissioned by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in February 3rd 2006.

The rock is an historical monument which served as shelter and fortress for the Egba people who at 1830 had settled under the rock during the intercity wars. The rock is a monument of Faith, Unity source of strength and unfailing protection for Egba people.

The highest point of the rock is 137 meters above sea level with existence of a muster tree growing for over 200 years and surrounding caves.

Olumo rock tourist complex has modern infrastructures of a heavy duty glass escalator running through the different levels of the rock with a well-constructed stairway for tourists with phobia for climbing mountains.

Also, included are eatery/restaurant, a museum, conference hall, multi-purpose hall, garden, parking space and a heavy duty generator.

LISABI, THE FAMED EGBA WARRIOR 

Lisabi Agbongbo Akala was an Egba man who lived in the 17th century in the Egba community of the  Yoruba speaking people of West Africa. He was born in Itoku and lived in Igbehin. He was a farmer turned warrior and one of the founding patriarchs of Egbaland.

Lisabi set up  a mutual aid society which he called Egbe Aaro . But this was no ordinary cooperative society. They didn’t discuss pricing  or collective bargaining power.  Their secret aim was freedom. Liberation from the firm grip  and tribute payment  in the form of humans and goods to the Oyo empire.

Yoruba men 1970s Photo Credits Eliot Elisofon SI website

The Alaafin  of the Oyo Empire, which by virtue of acquired  cavalry and ammunition maintained a stranglehold over all of Yoruba land and beyond to the West and slightly North, had  groups  of his men known as the Ilari engaged all over the land. They were his enforcers, his eyes and ears stationed  in the tributary communities.

The Ilari in the Egba community were infamously oppressive and had established themselves as a nuisance to the peace of the people. The King’s messengers were known as Ilari or Are. Ilari wore a special hairstyle with most or half of the hair shaved off . William Fagg captured this image, and has published many photographic books on Yoruba art.

Kings’s messenger, “Ilari” or “are”. Shaki. Photo by William Fagg, 1959.* 

Why or how Lisabi came to take it upon himself to eradicate the Ilari problem of the Egba people is not clear. He was not a king or a leader at the time, the Egba were famous for not having a king. There is a famous saying  “Egbas have no King, they are all of them like masters”.

But one day, under cover of his cooperative society Egbe Aaro, Lisabi and the other members hatched a plot.

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The mission? To rise up and kill every single Ilari messenger of the Alaafin’s on Egba land. Absolute secrecy , unquestionable faith in each participant’s ability to perform his , or her, role must have been necessary. Precise timing, and death defying commitment to the mission. There would only be one chance to get it right.

Picture of eldersYoruba elders attending gelede performance Photo credits : Eliot Elisofon 1970sSI Website

At a time when the Yoruba had no single agreed form of written communication (individuals were known to share codes between themselves) , one can only imagine what method was used to agree the moment to strike, and to share that clue throughout the land undetected by the intended victims.

And to do the deadly deed, what means? Were the men lured into women’s bed chambers and dispatched in their moments of vulnerability? Were they invited to dance dramas  of  which they were the finale? Were they treated to deliciously prepared meals loaded with poison?

What’s sure is that  on that day in 1780,  Lisabi and his men showed uncommon planning acumen, communication skills and efficiency.  Because not only were the murders executed swiftly in Igbehin, but the success of the mission in Igbehin town was replicated simultaneously throughout all the Egba towns in synchronised attacks. An army of 600 or more Ilari were murdered by the townspeople in one fell swoop across Egba land!

Even the army of vengeance sent urgently from Oyo by the Alaafin to quash the insurgency was cut down mercilessly by the ready ranks of Lisabi and his men!

In the Egba forests,  circa 1780 , the Alaafin’s army was humiliated and the Egba freedom from evil oppression of Oyo Empire was won….

Was this the end of oppression and evil for the Egba? Sadly it was not. There followed many decades of war in the 18th century, as the disintegration of the Oyo Empire and the boom of the slave trade exposed the Egba to frequent attacks from neighbours far and near, and led to the founding of Abeokuta as an Egba refuge from war which later became the sprawling town we see today. 

For years, a part of the Olumo rock served as hiding place for aborigines of Egba. The took refuge from calamities of war under the rock (Abe-Okuta).

EGBA WAR HIDEOUT 

When my tour guide took me to this spot on the Olumo rock, he referred to the place as the first creative flat buildings in this part of the world. 

It was an era when architects weren’t yet trusted with the responsibility of making building plans and carefully supervise the building of houses for convenient use like we see today. 

The Egba War hideout displays an apexed creativity in our forefathers, demonstrated in how they carefully partitioned the cave with mud and each family or individual could live without inconveniencing the other.

It was said that an Hunter discover the hideout and told the natives about it during the war.

Egba people faced different war, waged on them by different Kingdoms. It was said that Egba men were powerful and resilient, they didn’t submit to any invading monarch. They stood there ground for years. Women, old men, children, disabled men and men not brave enough face the enemies lived in this hideout for years till the war was over.

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ORISA OLUMO CHAMBER

Not only does the famous Olumo Rock stand as a Tourist Centre, it also serves as a mountain of worship for traditionalists, providing an unfailing protection for the Egbas.

This is evident in a mystical tree that grows by the branch of this rock. Legend has it that for over 200 years, the tree still flourishes and functions as miracle effigy. “Come rain or dry season, this tree neither withers nor sheds its leaves throughout the year,” says the tour guide.

A very rare tree could also be found on Olumo Rock; “Igi Akoko” (Akoko tree). The leave from the tree; Ewe Akoko (Akoko leave) is used for coronations.

There are lots of shrines, traditional priests and priestess living on Olumo Rock. The tourist site is believed by traditional worshippers to be sacred and Olumo Deity (Orisa Olumo), a deliverer in time of tribulations.

After the initial first stage (120 steps stairway), about 30 more steps connects you directly to the ”Orisa Olumo Chamber’ also know as “Ile Ase Egba” by locals. 

Only the Alake of Egbaland and chief priest alone can enter. The iron door at the entrance of the chamber was locked with a strong padlock.

Olumo chamber house is opened once in a year. sacrificial items including a white cloth coloured with red oil, bottles of Seaman Schnapps and bird feathers littering the floor could be spotted. 

Before an Alake of Egba can be crowned king, he must sleep in Olumo Chamber House overnight.

LISABI GARDEN

After taking the first 120 steps stairway from the ground, we reached the first stage of Olumo Rock. We got to a spot known as Lisabi Garden. 

The beautiful garden called Lisabi garden which was named after the aforementioned warrior; Lisabi. Asides Lisabi, there were other brave egba warriors like:

  • Sodeeke: first Balogun of egba, an egba man and seasoned warrior
  • Ogungbona: an egba man and brave warrior
  • Alatise: an egba man and gallant warrior
  • Lunloye: an egba man and fearless warrior
  • Otonporo: an egba man and fierce warrior

The spot where Lisabi Garden is situated today served as a place of relaxation for reputed egba warriors. They would gather there to meet, plot war strategies, drink concentrated palm wine (emu oguro), play “ayo olopon” and enjoy themselves in the evening.

Asides that, they could stand guard and be on the watch in case of invading enemies.

A MYSTERIOUS SAPENT 

According to story, a snake had somehow crawled onto the rock which was somewhat a taboo or an offence for such an animal and so the deity of the rock in anger turned the snake into stone. 

Another version said it was some powerful enemy of the indigenes who turned into a snake and climbed the rock with the hope of discovering where the people were hiding. The Rock deity in defense of the people then struck the snake with lightening and the snake turned into stone.

PANORAMIC VIEW OF THE CITY FROM OLUMO ROCK

One of the features of the rock that visitors would not want to miss would be the enchanting panoramic view at the top. The old St. Peters Cathedral (first church in Nigeria), the Ogun River, the city’s beautiful central mosque, the Alake’s palace (royal king’s palace) and many others can all be seen from atop the rock.

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OLUMO MUSEUM 

At the base of the rock situated Olumo Rock, a major museum of history where tourists and other visitors can learn about the history and importance of the rock to the people of Abeokuta. 

The city is culturally and historically enriched with many artefacts relatively important to the establishment of the city and the museum at the Olumo rock is one of the places to learn about the past.

Olumo Canada (an alias); the writer’s tour guide

SPECIAL THANKS TO:

Mr. Ajibade Babasola: My big brother and motivator who drove me to Olumo Rock and made sure I got everything needed.

Mrs. Sinmi Babasola: My sister-in-law and enthusiast of my rare articles who also followed me to the tourist site.

Amb. Michael Somefun (SMT): My big brother and Ajibade Babasola’s friend who also gave his support all through and was also there to drop and pick me up from Olumo Rock

Canada Olumo (an alias): My tour guide and narrator of the history/important facts about Olumo Rock in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

CONSULTED SOURCES:

My tour guide; Canada Olumo

Wikipedia 

Theyoruba.com

ogunstate.gov.ng/

thekushchronicles.blogspot.com/

cometonigeria.com/

olumorock.com/

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Written by Johnson Okunade

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