Except you’ve been living under a rock, as a Nigerian, you must have heard about Olumo Rock, a popular tourist attraction located only a stone’s throw away from Lagos in the ancient city of Abeokuta.
This isn’t just any piece of rock, it is notable for the significant role it played during the 19th century inter-tribal war involving the Egba people. The rock served as a fortress and a hideout for them when they were literally stuck between a rock and a hard place and the city ‘Abeokuta’ which literally translates to ‘under the rock’ derives its name from it.
Over the past weekend, I went on an organized tour with Social Prefect for a little rock climbing adventure. Before this tour, I had heard about Olumo Rock, of quartz, but I knew nothing about its history or its significance, so this tour provided the avenue to educate myself.
‘Olumo’ means ‘God molded’. That’s the simplest way I can put it. The name is derived from various interpretations of its importance to the Egba people. According to legends, the rock was first discovered by a hunter and farmer named Adagba in the 19th century and was later commissioned as a tourist center in the year 1976.
Since then, the site has undergone a couple of changes, including the introduction of a tourist complex in 2006.
The complex comes with a slate of the art cultural center and art gallery. Before we started the climb, we were given an interesting tour of the gallery. The curator was quite witty as he introduced us to the environment. He shared with us details about some of the works on display as well as what we were to expect during the climb.
Among his witty mentions were the introduction of the ‘Mamas’ that lived atop the rock. He stressed the fact that they were not witches but they offered charm consultancy services, including but not limited to the provision of a ‘follow-me‘ powder and waist beads to control men’s libido.
After the tour of the gallery, we were lead by another guide to begin the first stage of our ascent through a set of steps carved within the rocks.
At our first stop, we were shown a shrine and the Egba war time hideout where people lived, spending a good part of their days crouched beneath the rocks.
Next, we proceeded to see the ‘Mamas’. Of notable mention is the woman who is referred to as ‘Iya Olumo’ or ‘Iya Orisha’. We were told that she turned 131 years old last year (2015) and has lived here almost all her life. She and the women who dwell with her ascribe the secret to their longevity to the deity of the rock.
We continued the tour after a bit of interaction with the women. We were shown a baobab tree that spewed water which served as an incubator for premature children in the olden days – Don’t ask. Then we were led to the next bit of the climb where things got a little more interesting.
Rather than well carved out steps, we were presented with a mix of short man-made ladders and uneven shaped rocks. There was the option to use the stairs ore get our hands dirty if were feeling boulder. I chose the latter and trudged on successfully to our second stop.
But my celebration was short lived as soon as I saw how steep our next path was.
At first, I thought about going back to use the stairs, I mean, there was no fracking way I was going to continue but I’m a bit of an adventure lava, so I figured I might as well give it a shot. After all, what is adventure without a little risk?
The guides did mention that there has never been an incident of anyone falling off since the place began operation and I was bent on not being the one to ruin that record. Turns out the climb wasn’t so bad after all! It was actually quite gneiss.
We all reached the top safely and our reward was a view of Abeokuta’s brown roofs and the Ogun River, 137m above sea level.
Overall, the tour was quite enjoyable and our guides were fantastic. However, there is always room for improvement. The complex itself has a few faults. For example, the elevators don’t work, the restaurant and conveniences could be better and the inclusion of more activities would certainly make the site come alive.