From Laide Raheem, Abeokuta
Itolu is an ancient community in Yewa South Local Government Area of Ogun State. Very close to Ilaro, the headquarters of the council and shares boundary with Ita Waya. Situated on the Oja-Odan Road and directly opposite the the second gate of the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, Itolu, though in rustic and derelict situation, has a great historical significance.
The community, populated by the Yoruba, Ohori, Eegun and Aja people, neither has electricity nor potable water as well other social amenities, but possesses a healing water. Equally, the town acclaimed to be like a forebear to Ilaro, boasts of more than 200 Yoruba deities, while its Ile Odu’a (shrine), remains central to crowning any Olu of Ilaro.
The spiritual water, it was learnt, has its sources from two rivers – Osun and Yewa – joined another called Erifu and formed a confluence at Itolu. Yewa is warm while Erifu and Osun are cold. This wonder of the nature turned Itolu to a Mecca of sort, as people throng the nearly forgotten town, for the spiritual water.
When Daily Sun visited the community, it was virtually deserted, except for the few people carrying out one chore or another. A man whose head was being shaved by his wife was approached. Flanked by their sons who appeared to be twins, the couple was about responding, when a voice from the house bellowed in Yoruba: “Awon Alagbari tun ti de. Bi won se ma nwa niyen. E ma da won lohun”. Meaning “Fraudsters have come again. That is how they come every time. Don’t answer them.”
Few seconds later, a man who looked frail appeared from the house and continued to sound the caveat to the couple. But after taking time to carefully narrate the mission in details, the man who refused to give his name, reluctantly agreed to talk, but not until his palm was “greased.”
After haggling the “price” for a while, the middle aged man, finally agreed to open up by only referring him to the most elderly person around since the Baale, Chief Hamzat Ajibawo, was not available.
After asking about the whereabouts of the elder, he was said to have gone to the farm. Immediately, the couple dispatched one of the “twins” to go and call the man from his farm. After few minutes, the man appeared and headed straight to his house, which was close to the couple’s abode.
The man, apparently miffed by government’s neglect of the town despite its historical significance, recoiled and blamed the couple for yanking him off his farm for unimportant matter.
The 80-year-old man, Pa Amole Adeyemi, lamented how many prominent visitors including organisations had visited the town and promised to help the town, but after they had allowed them to scoop the Erifu water, they all disappeared into thin air.
He said the elders in the town had since vowed to toll access to the water since nobody was ready to help the town. According to him, Ilaro was an offshoot of Itolu. He narrated that Oduduwa, the progenitor of Yoruba race, lived in the town with his 201 deities, which till now have shrines all over the town.
Apart from the shrines for the deities, there is a particular shrine dedicated to the invocation of Oduduwa’s spirit. He disclosed that it is at this shrine any Olu of Ilaro will be for a whole day in order for necessary propitation to take place. He added that at the shrine, however, no water must be used for sacrifice purpose except the Erifu water.
At this juncture, Pa Adeyemi’s eyes became misty as he talked about how the town has been abandoned and at the brink of extinction, not only by government, but the monarch who understands the historical importance of the town. He particularly recollected how the town was under siege by land grabbers for over a year, yet, the traditional ruler could not help the town.
On the spiritual healing power of Erifu water, Pa Adeyemi, said the claim was not a hoax as many visitors throng the river to scoop the water. These visitors include churches, traditionalists, white men and others who had been probably instructed by spiritualists to get the water. He, however, said despite the healing power of the water, people should not toy with the taboos associated with it.
For example, he said nobody should wash clothes in the water, while the fish cannot be killed and cooked as food. He claimed that no matter how many hours the fish is cooked, it would never be done for human consumption.
In the case of Ile Odu’a (shrine), no other water is allowed into the shrine, while a woman who is on her menstrual cycle, is forbidden from stepping into the shrine. To show appreciation for the spiritual and historical significance of Ile Odu’a, the elder said it was a white man who rebuilt the shrine with facilities such as modern toilets and fence.
Corroborating Pa Adeyemi’s submission, a custodian of one of the deities’ shrines, Ijise Akinyemi, a native of Ohori, said the 201 deities domiciled in Itolu, are always offered sacrifices as at when due. Failure could spell doom for not only Itolu but its offshoot, Ilaro.
Another indigene, Augustine Oluwasegun, an ND 1 Accounting student of the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, bemoaned the neglect the town suffered over the years. He said the town which preceeded many historical towns in Yoruba land, lacked basic amenities such as electricity and pipe borne water:
“If you noticed that people were not friendly when you came, it was not their fault but the pains they feel by government’s neglect. You can only feel the presence of government when an Olu of Ilaro is about to be crowned. This is because he has a special propitation to be done with Erifu water at Ile Odu’a. After the exercise, the town rolls back into oblivion.
“Even the access road to the riverside is now totally cut off because of rainfall. The vegetation around the place is swampy and the mangrove will surely hamper your gaining access to the water. We appeal to government, because of the historical significance of the Itolu and spiritual essence of Erifu water, social amenities should be provided.
“Also, Erifu water, Ile Odu’a as well as other shrines, should be developed into tourism sites. It is sad that when you search for ‘Itolu’ on the google, the search engine will show the search result as ‘Italy’. The town that is supposed to be on a global map is being allowed to ebb into historical oblivion.”
When requested to be taken to the river, they all declined. They claimed it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for anybody to go to the riverside. But when they were told that the mission would be incomplete, without visiting the water, they called for volunteers.
Armed with machetes, two able bodied men and the student guided Daily Sun to Erifu water. The access road was bushy, while the ambience of the water had become marshy and dark because of the panoply of huge trees and mangrove around the area.
The train, however, waddled through the swampy path, replete with thorns, leeches and wild wasps, before it managed to get to the river, with its “confluence” barely visible as a result of ferns, which has almost covered the surface of Erifu. But the flow from both Yewa and Osun tributaries, were distinct and warm nature of Yewa was felt.
The villagers, having realised that there was no intentin to stealthily scoop Erifu water as initially thought, showed their appreciation by giving cherries (Agbalumo) as a token for their hospitality.
Efforts should be geared towards the development of tourism potentials, not only in Itolu, but in other places in Nigeria.