Categories: Time Out

Idanre Hills: Where Old World wonders are preserved at the hilly peaks inhabited by a warring god

The legends of the Idanre Hills are woven around Agboogun, a hunter with supernatural ability. He accounted for three of the wonders on the hill.

Musa Jibril

Many years ago, I heard a story of an indigene of Idanre town who spent all of his 43 years in Lagos and was visiting his hometown for the first time with his wife and young children. Arriving the town at dusk, he was consumed with so much fear he refused to spend the night in a town surrounded by hills. Instead, he journeyed back to Akure, the Ondo State capital.

I understood his phobia the day I first visited the town. Idanre is dwarfed by domineering hills against which it nestled, and to the fainthearted, the lay of the land gives an illusion that giant boulders could roll down and crush nearby houses. Idanre town is like a Lilliput at the feet of towering hills, a jaw-dropping wonder of hills, 3,000 feet tall lunging after the skies.

Long before they were added to the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in October 2007, the hills had attained fame as one of Nigeria’s tourist centres.

READ ALSO: Mount with healing water: The tale of Idanre Hill

The “Nine Wonders” on the hills started with Ibi Akaso (The Great Steps), the 660 steps that lead up into the hills. The long winding steps have five resting points, set at least 100 metres apart. Ascending the hills requires a head against vertigo and a regimen against fatigue.

As you climb your way to the ancient settlement on the hills, you are regaled with the locals’ accounts of fabulous stories of Idanre straight from the history book.

READ ALSO: As a section of Ogun River dries up: Thousands turn Kara to tourist’s site

Once upon a time, an offspring of Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba race, decided to leave Ile-Ife (the Yoruba’s ancestral home) with a band of followers. The splinter group stole a magic crown called “Ade Omo Oduduwa”––the crown of the Oduduwa son––for which they incurred the wrath of their kinsmen. The people of Ife pursued them deep into uncharted jungles, forcing the fleeing band to migrate farther from civilization. They kept a nomadic existence for many years until at last, they came upon a range of hills, which held them in awe and bewilderment. In consternation, they exclaimed: Idanree!” (This is wonder).

They settled at the peak of the hill for over 800 years before they migrated downhill in 1923.

The legends of the Idanre Hills are woven around Agboogun, a hunter with supernatural ability. He accounted for three of the wonders on the hill.

According to the Idanre lore, Agboogun had asked three of his sidekicks to accompany him on a journey. On the way, he stopped to inscribe some hieroglyphs on a hillside. The inscription became known as the “Unreadable Signs.” A little further, he etched on another hill in broad crisscrossed strokes. This is dubbed the “Wonderful Mat.”

At the base of the steep Aghagha Hill, Agboogun struck his foot on the rock, leaving an imprint on its surface and it became Ese Agboogun (Agboogun’s Footprint).

Those accused of witchcraft are made to try it for a size. It is believed that the imprint fits any foot size except those of the malevolent.

Up there on the hill is a spring called Omi Aopara (Thunder Water). According to oral tradition, warriors gathered for a drink at the stream before embarking on any war campaign. At whoever’s turn the thunder rumbled, such an individual would die at the war front and consequently were left out of the campaign.

The ancient settlement on the hills holds the relics of their past, including a complete set of antique homes and the remains of the Igbo Ore Primary School. At the Ancient Palace, a low-roofed mud building with an inner square supported by carved pillars, a number of artefacts exist, among them a collection of animal skulls––from the annual sacrifice of cow––that symbolizes the number of years the incumbent king has spent on the throne.

Close by stands a dilapidated building with a black slate bearing a warning: Remove your shirt before you enter this house. The house belonged to a chieftain who reportedly doesn’t wear any clothes save for a one-piece fabric.

Behind this abominable abode is a low-walled house with a mesh and roof, which served as the prison for felons in that forgotten era. A little distance away is the court and behind the court, a clearing where the king ceremoniously wears his crown annually. According to the local story, an interloper from Ile-Ife who succeeded in stealing the magic crown had Agboogun in hot pursuit. Unluckily for the bandit, the hunter had struck the ground with a magic wand and he became transfixed. Agboogun beheaded him and retrieved the crown.

On that very spot where his blood was spilt, the Idanre king wears the magic crown every year.

Forming a backdrop to the settlement is a giant boulder that perches precariously on a hill above a hut. “The Wonderful Rock” is what the natives called it.

READ ALSO: Akure: City Swallowed By Rocks

One particular sight that is difficult to overlook is a smoking hill in the far distance. The Orosun Hill is covered in a smoky haze from morning till night. The local myth claimed Orosun was a female warrior who protected the Idanre people. She was said to have simply disappeared at the foot of the hills, where a shrine now stands. From under the Orosun Hill flows Arun River, reputed to have healing power.

The rich, robust ecosystem at the hilltop makes Idanre hills, with its steep heights, frightening gorges and suicidal slopes, a mid-way world between the sky and the ground. At the pinnacle of the hills, nature is unrestrainedly benevolent: a balmy weather, clear, sunless azure sky and a quasi-Jurassic jungle. The hills’ flora is a matrix of tropi- cal rainforest and savannah biomes. Its densely variegated vegetation includes tall Obeche, leafy Afara and Acacia intertwined with shrubs and a gallimaufry of cacti, cashews, and coconuts palms. Bananas grow luxuriantly among bamboos under big baobabs. Sporadic cassava cultivation indicated an agrarian occupation. The hills have a fauna of snakes. At least an elephant was killed on the hill in the last decade, so we heard. Other species of animal on the hills include antelopes, apes and the avian species. The hilltop is home to a number of streams, crystal-clear pools that tempt you to take a swim. The world on the hills is a slice of Eden.

From the summit of the hills, you are privy to eagle-eye views of the town and its surrounding, a beautiful scenery of unbroken panorama. Up or down the hills, Idanre is quaintly picturesque––a riot of red, rusty rooftops, mixed architecture and angular viewpoints––like a primitive Legoland.

In Wole Soyinka’s 1967 poetry of the same name, the Nobel laureate has described Idanre as the abode of Ogun, a bellicose deity who wrought destruction on his own people in a moment of drunkenness. Five years earlier in 1962, Soyinka did visit Idanre. Is there a robust connection between Ogun and Idanre? Yes.

Ogun is Idanre’s most revered deity, extravagantly celebrated with pomp in October. During the carnival, all high chiefs dance with their troupes, leaving the king at the end of the procession to take the last dance on the way to the hill. The festive dance, however, could become a ‘dance of death’ for any of the chiefs overtaken by the king. Such unfortunate chieftain is condemned to a woeful year and eventual death.

My memories of the world at the peak of Idanre hills are evergreen. Climbing the hills remains a piece of adventure I hope to relive again.

Tokunbo David :Sun News Online team writer and news editor

This website uses cookies.