Worshippers of Kwara’s abandoned tourist site

In Kwara South, several tourist sites have suffered neglect, while others are worship centres for natural phenomena like the Ero Omola waterfall. Our correspondent was part of a team that accompanied the senator representing the zone on a tour of the sites.

The murky waters of Ero Omola tumble down an incline in a forest area of  Idofingba, Kwara State. In the dry season, when the water is less turbulent, one would have expected to find tourists there. But what one is likely to find is a group of devotees worshipping the falls.

“The fall was discovered in the early 18th century by our forefather,” Are Oluwanisola Adeoti, a resident of Idonfingba, told Daily Trust.

“We have a family that owns the land around the fall that worship and celebrate there. They are called the children of Ero Olomola who pray there against calamity and all evils,” he said.

Adeoti spoke of how beautiful the fall is in the dry season and about how they have tried to convince the government to develop the place to attract tourists.

The calls have gone unheeded and the site draws not tourists, but worshippers.

“During the worshipping of the water, people come from different parts of the country to celebrate with them and the water is taken by those afflicted with barrenness, those who want progress in their work, those seeking jobs and all sorts. They so much believe in it,” Adeoti said.

The people are mostly drawn from the six communities that surround the fall but sometimes others come from afar.

“We once had White men visiting the place but I don’t know where they came from,” Adeoti said.

Adeoti who believes the fall is a unique gift to the area has been keen for the place to develop.

“We have written to the state government several times on the economic potential of the fall but nothing has been forthcoming. The road to this place is very bad. The road leading to the waterfall from the main road is just a few meters but government didn’t see reason to repair it and make fortune from the place,” he said.

He doesn’t believe that the family of water worshippers would object to this change as he claims that they are “ready to leave it for government if it is ready for the development.”

The fall at Idofingba is not the only one suffering neglect. The Owu waterfall, also in Kwara South, has suffered neglect since the bridge leading to the community was washed away by flood.

When Lola Ashiru, the senator representing the zone, tried to visit recently, he could not access the fall.

The Omole Boja, on the other hand, may now be seen as a recreation space called the Imole Boja Rock Centre but it too was a religious shrine before.

According to Chief Afolabi Philips, Chief Inarin of Kajola community where the cave is located, it used to be worshipped before the coming of Christianity and Islam.

“The cave has a custodian called Aworo, who usually stays inside the cave for some hours before worship time and would come out to offer sacrifice at the foot of the rock. People usually come to the rock to make requests in return for a pledge they would make to the Aworo.

In the past, the cave was not only a shrine but a refuge and fort. In protest over a woman getting pregnant out of wedlock, the young women of the community would retreat to the cave.

“If the girls discovered that any of them got pregnant out of wedlock, they would sing round the whole town, insulting the girl. After that, they will all run and hide in the cave and would stay there until the king appeases them and sends his chiefs  to plead with them. The girls won’t return until their demand to punish the girl is granted by going to her house and pouring ashes around her house,”

The women, the chief said, also had ways of punishing the male responsible for the pregnancy.

As a fort, the cave was a refuge for the warriors to hide and launch attacks on enemies during wars.

However, one tourist site that has enjoyed some government support has been the Esie Museum, which happens to be the first museum in the country. The museum was established at the site where nearly a thousand soap stone statues were discovered in the 18th century.

It is not known who made the statues or what they were for, but they depict a rich range of people and are believed to date back to the 10th century.

The Curator, National Museum and Monument, Mopelola Omowunmi, who conducted Senator Ashiru and his entourage round the museum, said it was established in 1775.

“The Esie people migrated from old Oyo empire because of a royal dispute and they stopped in different spots before they finally got to this place, where they settled. One of the leaders who was going on hunting expedition stumbled on these important images you have seen this morning,” the curator said.

“Immediately he turned back to inform the king. At that time, the only medium to unravel history was through Ifa. When Ifa was consulted, it said they were people who turned to stones. But there are lots of schools of thought as regard this. But when archaeologists researched as regards the objects they discovered that they were not human beings that turned into stones, because they are three times shorter than normal human beings,” she said.

She however added that when people visit the museum they tell them the oral and archaeological sources while people choose whichever they want. But research is still ongoing to unravel how these objects came about. She called on government to fix the access road to the museum to attract more tourists and researchers.

Senator Ashiru said he was blown away by the tourist sites he visited in his senatorial district.

“The  sites show the prosperity of the people of Esie, Igbomina and Kwara South in general, which shows their prowess in the 10th century,” he said.

“Africans have to rediscover themselves. It is usually said that we are the cradle of civilization, but we have not been able to show it in Nigeria as much as it is in Esie here. When you look at these statues there are lots of lessons to learn from them. It is like showing different economic lives of the people. It is showing different social lives of the people. The greatest lesson is that we are people of history; we are people of the cherished past and we are people who will take initiative from our past to be able to develop our present and our tomorrow,” he said.

The senator assured that something will be done about the sites, saying, “We will encourage the Federal Government to set up a university of history and archaeology here. Before that time, we are initiating a yearly conference on culture and art which will be an international one,” he said.

In a reaction to the state of the tourist sites, the Kwara State governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq said his administration would construct a good access road to the Owu Fall in a bid to develop tourism and boost the revenue drive of the state.

“We believe we have to develop the road infrastructure for us to revamp our tourist sites, especially the Owu Fall and Esie museum and we are committed to that. As we have said earlier, we intend to put some of our festivals into the national tourism map and budget for them so as to preserve our rich culture,” he said.

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