By Muda Ganiyu
On Tuesday, September 27, the world marked the World Tourism Day declared and celebrated annually by the United Nations. Igbeti, in Olorunsogo Local Government, was the focal point of the celebration in Oyo State this year.
Why did the Oyo State Government decide to make Igbeti the centre of the celebration of World Tourism Day this year? The reason is because of the town’s beautiful and remarkable hills. These hills are important to the town because of their spiritual, economic, and tourist utilities.
Igbeti, located in the North of Oyo State is part of the Oke-Ogun Senatorial Zone of the state and is bordered on the East and the North by Kwara State, and on the West by Kisi and Igboho, two other prominent towns in the area known as Oke-Ogun Zone II, and on South by Orire Local Government which is part of Ogbomoso land.
Though, there are many places of worship such as mosques, churches and traditional African religion shrines in Igbeti, two of such places stand out. These are the Iyamapo shrine which is in the bowels of the Iyamapo Hill, and the Christian communitys Galilee, on top of Okin Hill, where a cross has been erected with the portraits of a crucified Jesus Christ painted on both sides of the cross.
But first, we talk about Iyamapo shrine, which is one of the ancient points of worship for the indigenes of the ancient town, believed to have been founded more than 300 years ago, before the coming of Islam and Christianity. The shrine is somewhere in the bowels of the Iyamapo Hill, the highest of the mountain chain that surround the town like a necklace on the neck of a beautiful maiden. The mountain casts its dark, protective shadows over the town day and night like a mother hen over its chicks.
(A long shot of the entrance (left) of the cave.)
There are 16 hills in Igbeti, but the Iyamapo, which literally translates to mother of the hills, is believed to harbour the spirit of the female (Iya means mother) deity that stands guard over the town. As a native writer and poet laureate, Jare Ajayi, from the town describes the hill, Partly because of its imposing look which gives it an impregnable appearance, Oke Iyamapo (Iyamapo Hill), the highest of about 16 hills and hillocks in the area, remains only as a big black veil in daytime and a dark velvet on a moonlit night, especially during the harmattan when a whitish hue envelopes the horizons.
Iyamapo is one of the four of the hills worshipped annually during the traditional religious festival when the Aboke, the priest in charge of the shrine, mobilizes the community to climb the forbidden hill and offer propitiations to the protector spirit of the town.
(Ojubo (Sacrificial points) inside the cave, where propitiations and libations are poured to the Iyamapo diety.)
However, it is not only the traditional religionists who found the hills attractive as a place of worship. The Christians have also appropriated one of the more friendly hills, Oke Okin, to themselves, and parts of the mother hill, Iyamapo.
Some Christian denominations have set up churches on some of the hills as the Christians believe offering prayers and holding vigils and seclusions on hills hasten the realization of their prayers. In addition, all Christian denominations use the Okin Hill as Galilee during the Easter Period, as they all troop the top of the hill to spend the day in prayers.
Some white garment churches in the town have also built churches on some of the hills.
(A cross with the painting of Jesus Christ nailed to the cross on top of Okin Hill.)
Although the Muslims as a group are yet to carve a place of worship of on any of the hills except for individual adherents who may want to go for seclusion on any of the hills like Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to do on Jabal Al-Noor Mountains, knowing the kind of religious rivalry, particularly between Muslims and Christians, that is prevalent in all Nigerian communities, it is only a matter of time before the Muslims or one of their denominations would lay claim to one of the hills.
But whatever ones religious inclinations, the Igbeti hills are seen as a common heritage by all indigenes of the town, and apart from religion, they are also used for economic purposes to dry yam and cassava pellets used to prepare local foodstuff (elubo) that are sold on market days.
In ancient times, the hills also offered protection against invaders, and the name of the town, Igbeti, is a corruption of Agbati, meaning ‘not conquered’. During the Fulani invasion of the late 19th century when Oyo Ile, the capital of Oyo Empire, was sacked, Fulani invaders trampled through the town on their way to Oyo Ile which is less than an hour’s drive to Igbeti.
The story went that the town’s folks, who were scattered in homesteads around the area, fled unto the Iyamapo Hill and prepared okra soup which they poured on the hills. This made the hill slippery and fell the Fulani invaders as they tried to reach the folks. The Fulani were made to abandon their intent in frustration. This singular incident must have been the genesis of the spiritual hallow ascribed to Iyamapo.
Igbeti people lived on Iyamapo for several years until the war threats abated. They then decided to descend the hill and come together as one town instead the scattered communities they were before and named the town Igbeti.
Igbeti is famous for its market days that are held every five days, and being an agrarian town, foodstuff buyers come from all over the Southwest to patronize the market. Trailers and all manner of trucks can be seen on market days ferrying foodstuffs out of the town.
The town is also famous for its marble deposits and charcoal business. These two products, particularly marble, have given the town renown as businessmen come from all over Nigeria to buy marble for export. The indigenes in fact nicknamed their town Marble City.
And increasingly, the hills, especially, Iyamapo, Okin, and Agbele are becoming international tourist attractions for the town and Oyo State. And as we say in the community, Iyamapo a gbewa o, Igbeti a gbewa o.