Mask Under the Rock | Nigeria
Olumo Rock, Abeokuta, Ogun State
Olumo rock, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Nigeria, West Africa, sits in the ancient city center of Abeokuta – a name which means “Under the rock”. Abeokuta was originally inhabited by the egba people who found refuge at the Olumo rock during inter-tribal wars in the 19th century. The rock provided sanctuary to the people as well as a vantage point to monitor the enemy’s advance leading to eventual triumph in war. The town of Abeokuta eventually grew as these new settlers spread out from this location.
Abeokuta is just about an hours drive from the bustling metropolitan city of Lagos providing convenient access to an array of hotels, restaurants, clubs, casinos and various nightlife activities. Lagos is also home to the closest airport to Abeokuta, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. Hotels in Abeokuta within minutes drive from the rock include Gateway Hotel and Olumo Guest House.
Tourists to Africa definitely need to consider putting Olumo rock on their travel plans. New renovations completed early 2006 upgraded the infrastructure of the site to include a new museum, restaurants, water fountain and an elevator that will provide even the climbing-challenged a wonderful view of the surrounding city.
The ancient Itoku market where local artisans and traders enjoy to haggle over price just as much as the customers like to find a bargain ies just outside the Olumo rock premises and is a must-see. The market is the center of the indigenous Abeokuta industry of tie-and-dye, locally known as adire. Adire crafters, usually women, both old and young show off their designs in sheds alongside the roads. Behind these sheds are buildings where many of these crafters live and work and their parents before them. In places where the plaster has cracked off the walls, you may see traces of the mud bricks used in the original construction. The locals are very friendly and if asked, will often give tourists and visitors informal tours of the dyeing processes. Other popular items to watch out for include local beads, bracelets, sculptures and musical instruments like the sekere and talking drum.
A trip to Olumo rock usually commences with a climb up the man-made stairs carved into the rock. While this sounds easy enough, it leaves many breathless and ready to take a break to rest on the benches under the trees growing from the rock and enjoy some clean breeze. The journey continues with climbs on irregularly sized rocks (or ladders which are now thankfully provided) through a narrow corridor that leads to the top of the rock. All along the way, catch sights of carvings in the rock, cowrie-studded statues and the ancient abode of the priestesses who live in huts on the rock. And yes, it is not uncommon to catch a sight of the very aged women who live there and mutter greetings or blessings as people make their way through.
It is often helpful to enlist the services of a guide who possess vast knowledge of the history of the rock and the culture of the people. This makes for an interesting climb as every twist and turn will reveal a significant story making the trip a truly memorable one.
On the way back down the rock, the sight of the Ogun river running like a silver chain amidst a forest of aged red corrugated roofs bordered by thick green forests which melt into the horizon is breathtaking.