Inside Oyo writes about the efforts of Barr. Olatubosun Oladele to place Iyamopo Annual Carnival , in Igbeti, headquarters of Olorunsogo local government of Oyo State, on the global tourism map.
Barr. Olatubosun Oladele, a former commissioner for information and youth leader of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in Oyo State, was born and nurtured in his hometown of Igbeti. If not for his law education at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria and at the Nigeria Law School, everything about him would have been ‘Igbeti’.
When you listen to Oladele, who now represents Irepo/Oorelope/Olorunsogo federal constituency in the House of Representatives, speak English, you may think he is a Lagosian but when he talks in Yoruba, you see his Oke-ogun dialect. He practices law in Lagos but he is too connected to his root.
Iyamapo is one of many hills in Oyo State. In Igbeti, there are 16 of such hills. Many indigenes of Igbeti said the mountain climbing helps to foster peace and unity in the town. Every year, during Easter holidays, indigenes and visitors climb the hill, for fun.
But to Oladele, who is the brain behind the annual event, the carnival can generate money and boost the economy of the state and the host community.
He was motivated by what he witnessed while growing up. “When we were growing up, we used to see white men come here for mountain hiking. They came with all their gadgets. They would be competing with monkeys. You would see monkeys. Later, they stopped coming. We don’t see people hiking again,” he narrated.
To popularise the annual event and attract visitors to the town, the organisers tagged the just concluded carnival ’Iyamapo Jeans Carnival’. With the idea, climbers were made to make their way to the top wearing jeans. It caught up with many, especially the youths,wearing jeans.
With nothing to support yourself, climbing the hill is a healthy exercise that needs endurance and fitness.
According to indigenes of the town, “It is best to embark on the climbing without pressure on oneself to get to the top as quickly as possible. Along the way, one sees the young, the old, the physically challenged and so on, all making it to the top.”
Iyamapo, The Goddess Of Fertility
There are many hills in Igbeti, headquarters of the almost 30 towns that constitute Olorunsogo local government of Oyo State. In Igbeti alone, there are 16 hills and rocky formations and for that, indigenes of the sleepy marble community are referred to, in the local parlance, as ‘sons of town with 16 hills’ (Omo oloke merindlogun). The most pervasive and breathtaking of all the rocky formations is Iyamopo hill, which also defines the town and the people, as it has a rich historical and mythical feel to it.
The massive hill, which historically served as the abode of the forebears of the people and was a defensive enclave for them during the inter-tribal war of the 17th and 18th centuries, spans a long expanse of landmass with its massive frame and pockets of delicate and intriguing locations.
The people, it was learnt, cherish and rehash with relish how their forebears resisted invading forces and the fact that they were never conquered by any force during this troubled era.
Approaching the hill from a far distance, you see something that looks like a dome, but getting to the top, you would see other rock formations, shaped by nature, balanced on top of one another.
Every year, during the Easter Holidays, indigenes of the town, young an old, Christians, Muslims and traditionalists, including visitors, make a long stretch of line from the foot of the hill to the top. For tourists, the race to the top of hill is interesting. It is an image that will linger forever.
The annual festival, Inside Oyo learnt, has been part of the history of this town. “The significance of the festival is that Iyamapo herself is the goddess of fertility.”
The Mysterious Cave
There is also a mysterious cave there. It is one of the various landmarks at the hill. Inside the cave, evidence of an impressive human existence is noticed, especially with sections that look like a living room. Graffiti and signatures of all sorts by people who have made it to the cave decorated the walls. It is believed that your visit will be not be complete and fulfilling without getting to the cave to leave your imprint on the wall. An indigene disclosed that: “At the Iyamapo cave, people go there writing things because they believe that whatever they write will come to pass.”
Igbeti or Agbati?
Though Igbeti is gradually opening its flanks to modernity with real time development fast catching up with it, the landscape of the town will attract a first time visitor to its serenading pristine façade and natural beauty.
Igbeti is located in the northern part of the state. It is just a few kilometres away from Ilorin and less than an hour drive from Ogbomoso. With a lush vegetation and an almost table land, it is not surprising that the town is blessed with multiple tourism assets.
Igbeti is surrounded by hills, but not the intimidating ones whose sight discourages one from getting close. The hills at Igbeti invite adventure.
Igbeti is traditionally known as ‘the town that couldn’t be conquered’ (Agbati). ‘Agbati was later corrupted to its present name, Igbeti.
Oladele on Tourism Potentials:
According to him: “The thought is the goal and the goal is only one thing: The tourism potential here remains untapped. Whether we like it or not, the government of the day’s efforts to diversify are on the tripod, the tripod of mining and extractive industry, tourism and agriculture. If you look at this place, we talk about agriculture.
“ We have vast arable land that will be difficult to find any where in Nigeria. When you talk about cassava, we have a suitable soil for cassava farming. When you talk about mining, there are stones here , from marble, to blue tamalin and so on. Some of them, you only need to scratch the surface and you begin to see them.
“When you talk of tourism, you are talking of a town with 16 hills. If you are approaching this community, especially from Ilorin or Ogbomoso, it will seem to you that you are going inside a cave surrounded by hills. You also exit the town through a narrow passage between two hills.
“We normally come to Iyamapo Hill every Easter Monday to have our picnic. That is the way we catch our fun. I am happy about it. I started this campaign. My children were able to climb today. Many people came from Port Harcourt, Warri, Lagos and the United States.
“I have a friend that came from Chicago. He came around two years ago and found it interesting. Some of our kinsmen from London also came. People were there in their thousands. You saw that yourself. We spent some quality time on the campaign. We tagged it Jeans Carnival because we wanted to do something out of the ordinary.
“The majority of those that came for the Iyamapo trek wore jeans. That is to create the awareness and inform the outside world that it is not only in the city that you could wear jeans. You could equally do it here, and do it with all the fun that anyone would wish to catch and you could see that there was nobody climbing today with sadness on their faces.
“It was smiles and fun all through. We are looking to see if we will be able to attract enough global and national interest. Let them come here and see what is happening and let them key in.”
Explaining how the climbing fosters unity. “Some of the people in my team today are Muslims. We call it the Easter picnic, but you see Muslims joining us. When you see one another fraternize, share food, share drinks at the hill top, you won’t want to go down and start fighting. No, it won’t happen. So, we climb it together, felicitate together and it creates and deepens that bond.
“The event keeps getting better every year. The visitors attest to that. I couldn’t imagine that we would have a lot of people in their thousands there. As we were coming down around 6pm, people were still going up in their hundreds.
“When we were at the foot of the mountain, the deejay was dishing out music and the children were catching their fun. We hope that the corporate Nigeria will also key into the silent tourism revolution that happening here right now.”
Oladele talked about some of the tourism assets of the area. “Other tourism attractions include the National Park, Oke Agbele . It is like a human being with slim body carrying heavy load. Those are rocks on top of a rock. It is a masterpiece anywhere globally.
“The Old Oyo Empire started from this environment. As a matter of fact, there is a location here where the three first Alafins of the empire were buried. They call it Igbo Oba. That was where Old Oyo Empire was. That was the seat of government.
“You can see that the empire expanded from this area to where we know as Dahomey, Benin and so on and so forth. So, these are things people should be interested in seeing in order to learn from history, Oladele explained.
A former employee of the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Prince Olaide Yunus Oyekunle, who has been at the forefront to develop Igbeti as a tourism hub, agreed and spoke further on this and the religious dimension of the festival.
“This is a natural and cultural attraction. It is not just for this occasion. This festival has been part of the history of this town. The significance of the festival is that Iyamapo herself is the goddess of fertility. People believe, even up till now, that when they are looking for something, she will give them.”