Only one road leads into the valley to the town of Idanre, an ancient town located in Ondo State, nestled between tall magnificent granite mountains that still retains its quaintness and charm even through some modernization.
My friends and I wanted to have an undiluted rural experience, so we decided to visit the small, rustic village of Onipepeye, tucked and hidden away in the mountains of Idanre. Upon our arrival into town, we took a quick tour before journeying onwards to Onipepeye where we were going to spend the night. Everywhere we looked, we were surrounded by hills and one couldn’t help but wonder what stories the hills held secret. Our guide, Kola, pointed out to us a gigantic hill known as the Ojimoba Hill and explained that the hill was once a warrior who, in a bid to defend his village turned himself to a hill to enclose the village in his protection. The myth, he explained, says that in the middle of the night close to the hill, one can hear the sounds of the villager either calling out to each other, children’s voices, women calling out their wares etc. Of course we wished we could hear this for ourselves, but as much as we pressed our ears against the rock, we were disappointed by the silence. Others however, were unnerved by this information so we walked back to our parked vehicle. Kola also pointed out the highest peak on the hills called Orosun Peak, said to be the highest point in south-western Nigeria, rising to about 3,018m above sea level.
We finally took off on the one-hour bus ride to Onipepeye, through a series of bumps and potholes, twisting and bouncing on small protrusions of rocks along the dusty road. We arrived at Onipepeye at mid noon and with no electricity or direct water supply except from the Arun River and surrounding brooks, Onipepeye was the perfect location for a rural experience.
Most of the residents at Onipepeye are cocoa farmers who want to stay close to their farms. The entrance to their homes are typically laden with cocoa seeds spread out for drying in the sun. We spoke with the elders of the village who offered us a small hut and mattresses to pass the night. The people were kind and friendly towards us, often wondering why city folks like us would leave our comfortable and ‘awesome’ life to spend a night in a village with little to no amenities.
As the evening neared, the sudden clouds of dust along the road indicated the return of farmers and hunters on bicycles and motorcycles loaded with farm produce. Grey smoke rose from the cooking pots behind surrounding huts, permeating the air with aromas of roasting yam and savory vegetable stew. We yearned so much for a meal made in an earthen pot over firewood and cooking stones; a meal rarely eaten in “our big cities.” We set up a cooking stove composed of nearby dry tree branches and a set of neatly arranged small stones. When the wood had burned to charcoal, we fanned the coal to hot-red, placed a wire mesh over the stones and arranged slices of unpeeled yam and plantains bought earlier that evening. We ate our meal with salted groundnut oil, while chatting under the open skies. That night, we all slept soundly, except for the occasional biting and buzzing of mosquitoes, often drowned by chirping crickets from the surrounding forest.
As daylight filtered through our small hut window, we awoke one by one to enjoy the slightly chilly countryside air; a satiating freshness not easily enjoyed in a big city like Lagos. Kola, our guide arrived a few minutes later and took us to the nearby Arun River so we could wash up. The foot path to the river snaked through an expanse of cocoa farms paved with fallen dry cocoa leaves and full of bright yellow cocoa pods hanging from the trees. After a bath, we walked back to the village to say our good byes and took off for Idanre town.
The tour guide explained that in the past, the people of Idanre lived in the hill and due to vulnerable attacks from nearby enemy enclaves, they only came down when necessary. However, once peace settled in and the need for accessibility increased, they moved down to the valley where the town is presently located. He also spoke about the Agboogun Footprint- a mysterious footprint believed to fit every foot size. Unfortunately, the trail to the footprint was overgrown by bushes and would not be cleared until the annual Orosun Festival- a festival celebrating the King’s reign.
Nonetheless, we spent the rest of the day hiking up the popular Idanre hills tourist trail to see the ancient Oba’s Palace at old Oke-Idanre and other attractions. To get to the palace, Kola took us through an uphill path and had us slide down the steep hillside to the other side. He explained that along the way are specific rocks which the king sits on to rest whenever he hikes the trail during the Orosun Festival. At the palace, we were met by the chief priest of Idanre land, who wore a sole white loin cloth around his waist and had a most striking young face that exuded the aura of a wizened old man. The chief priest welcomed us and shared an intriguing tale of how the king of Idanre is the only king in Yoruba land who wears a crown once a year as a sacred ornament. In celebration of the king’s reign, cows are sacrificed and their skulls are strung together and preserved in the palace. We were led to a corner of the palace that showcased 29 skulls which signified 29 years of the kings’ reign.
The chief priest led us further into the palace through a series of connected rooms and issued warnings as we went along. We arrived at a small courtyard that had in the corner, a festival talking drum and at its center, a tree covered in cowries that open up towards the only source of light in the roof. We were asked to kneel facing the tree while the priest went into an inner chamber to summon the gods for us. A feeling of panic and fear swept over us as we waited.
“E ní sùúrù o. Ó dàbí npé àwon ìyá wà nínú ìpàdé” (Hold on, it seems the spirits are in a meeting).
We heard muffled rhythmic whistling sounds and were asked to say Amen. The chief priest re-emerged and shared some white clay known in Yoruba as ‘Efun’ for everyone to mark their foreheads as a sign of protection from the gods. As a gesture of gratitude, a friend in the group offered the chief priest a pack of glucose which made us laugh at the inadequate gift. The priest expressed his likeness for our group and decided to guide us through the hills to show us some of the unusual attractions most tourists don’t get to see. We left Idanre for Akure with a deep sense of fulfilment, looking forward to a next visit to the sacred hills.