Road trip to the Igbeti hills, Oyo State
Updated: Oct 20, 2022
Everyone talks about how large Oyo State is, but you only really hear about Ibadan. At 3,000 square kilometres, Ibadan is merely a fraction of the states 28,000 square kilometre range, so what else is out there? As part of an Oyo State Government tourism initiative, attention is annually drawn to the many little towns scattered in the geography. This year for World Tourism Day, the spotlight was on the town of Igbeti.
It is 4 hours North of Ibadan, and an hour West of Ilorin and it is known for its beautiful terrain. The hills and valleys paint pretty pictures against the bright blue hue of the sky and the local people are friendly and accommodating. It is popularly called the 'Marble City' for its rich marble deposits and it hosts a number of unique rock formations which have interesting folklores attached to them. These hills are a source of pride to the residents, who often speak very fondly of them.
This should not come as a surprise though, the 16 hills that surround the town have played pivotal roles in the history of the people here. During times of conflict, many of them protected and gave the residents good luck and have been deified as such. We would be exploring the stories of the most popular ones - Iyamopo hill, Agbele Rock and Bata Erugba.
We stayed at Tafoo hotel park for the 2 nights we would be in town. It was comfortable, inexpensive and the staff did an exceptional job at tending to whatever we needed. The compound was green, spacious and clean and so were the rooms which cost us ₦3,000 a night. They have a kitchen crew on deck but they aren't there all night so you need to plan your meals accordingly. Igbeti also gets quite cold at night, so bring some blankets and hoodies.
In many ways, being in the town felt like a jump to the past. It felt surreal watching people go about their daily tasks peacefully and aloof of the chaos and pollution of the larger cities. They breathed good air and ate organic food so they in turn, were inviting and helpful. Goats also roamed the streets care-free, and they munched on the cassava laid out to dry in the sun, which the owners didn't seem to mind.
As we drove around the town, we noticed the interesting architecture around us - a mix of traditional Yoruba hamlets with some Christian and Muslim influences. The layouts of the streets are quite organized, and indicate the presence of the level of structure and management in the ancient times. A map of the town highlighting the tourist attractions would be helpful but you can ask anyone in the streets for directions.
The largest and most popular of the hills is Oke Iyamopo. It covers an area of 6 kilometres and peaks at 150 metres above sea level. People come here to hike and picnic, particularly during Easter and there is also a festival to celebrate the hill in August.
Igbeti ancestors, known as the 'Agbati', lived here about 1,800 years ago. Agbati translates literally to 'unconquerable', as they had no recorded losses in battles over the centuries. They used their knowledge of the terrain and clever tactics during conflicts with Bororo Fulani herders. They were never able to reach the Agbati who took refuge on the hill.
In the 8th century, Sango the title Alaafin had left Oyo in annoyance after he was refused the crown in favor of his brother. On his way to Ile-Ife he came across a tall and robust woman named 'Iya tomo-opo eniyan', who took care of him for 7 years before he was recalled to be the Alaafin. This woman has been deified as this massive hill we were standing on, so she is celebrated as the divine protector of this land.
Iyamopo is a 3 tiered rock and we climbed to the top to capture the landscape. It is a long climb, most people don't typically venture to the top but it's so worth it to do so. There is a thick forest on top of it and getting there was our finish line. There are small streams of fresh water cascading down the hill from multiple angles and they played an important part in refreshing our bodies under the blazing sun. Sango's cave and Iyamopo's cave are places of interest on the mountain, but some parts of the climb can be dangerous so ladders and ropes should be installed where necessary.
A masterpiece of nature if there ever was one, Agbele hill is another proud symbol of the people of Igbeti. It is an intricately balanced set of rocks thought to resemble a woman with a load on her head and a baby on her back. It is a lot easier to climb Oke Agbele , I wouldn't even call it a hike but it's a fascinating work of nature.
The lore attached to this formation is quite fascinating. After war with the Fulani, there was famine in the land of Igbeti. A woman stole cassava flakes which had been laid out to dry on the hill. She was stopped by guards on her way down and her identity was exposed. She was 'Agbele', a popular warrior woman who had fought valiantly in the war. She felt ashamed and in order to save face, turned into the rocky image.
Up close, you notice a peculiar weathering pattern in the rock that makes it quite unique. You notice the strange shapes, the delicately stacked boulders and the circular arrangement of the surrounding rocks, and you begin to question what you know about the natural world.
It is a fantastic site and it's a must see for visitors of Igbeti. From some angles, you get a fantastic view of the town nestled in between the hills, it is quite memorable. The gate fee is ₦500 per person.
The third site we visited is called 'Oke Bata Erugba', a conical shaped rock fixture thought to have been carved by Iyamopo. When it was time for Sango to go back to Oyo and reclaim his title of Alaafin, it was necessary to have an entourage full of singers, dancers and drummers and this was carved for that purpose.
Subsequently, Bata Erugba was used to make announcements to the people of Igbeti, warning them of war, famine, and other major events. The bata drum is very popular all over the world, particularly in countries that were on the transatlantic slave route.
Reaching the rock is an easy climb, not even 5-minutes up from the foot of the hill so it's an easy bucket list item to check.
We made attempts to visit The Old Oyo National Park through Igbeti but as the sun had started to set and no end to our sojourn, we decided to head back to our accommodations. We also made plans to visit the marble deposits, but we had run out of time. I'll be sure to update this page on my next visit.
It was a fantastic couple of days for me. I find it interesting to see the ways we Nigerians blur the lines between nature and history to create folklore. Exploring these concepts allows you to understand the ancestral footprints as they marched through the sands of time. We might never fully understand the mysterious stories but through the pursuit of knowledge, we might have a deeper appreciation for the Yoruba gods of nature.
Things to note: Phone service is very poor in the town. Always wear a hat and comfortable shoes when hiking. Make sure to carry drinking water at all times. Share this page with someone who might appreciate it.
Happy traveling :)