People come here with a mind-set to see some big animals like Roan Antelope, Buffon, Buffalo, Bushbuck and a variety of birdlife. But this is not often the case as this park is more than fauna and flora.” These were the startling words from one of the staff at the Old Oyo National Park’s office in Oyo town, Oyo state. I had travelled from Lagos to the park that morning to experience the preserved culture, historical and archaeological features in the abandoned sites of the then capital city of the ancient Oyo empire at Oyo-Ile, Bara and Koso. Old Oyo national park is a unique park among the others in the country. It is so in the sense that apart from the preservation of flora and fauna resources the park is highly blessed with historical features.
Before the almost two hours journey from Oyo town to Oyo-Ile, Adeniyi Bola prepared my mind on what to see at the site. “The ancient Oyo empire was one of the first states to emerge in the forest and coastal region in West Africa and one of the most culturally advanced. The empire reached its peak between the 17th and 18th centuries. “Several ancient histories, political sites both within and outside the park are associated with Oyo Ile. Among these are Igboho, Ipapo-Ile and Koso. At one time, these sites served as the capital of the empire,” she stated. Listening as she conducted me round the mini-museum at the Park’s headquarters, I was eager to commence the trip when the tour guide, Ajadi said the vehicle was ready.
As we made to depart, Bola said, “In this park, we blend our history with nature”. This stuck in my mind as I traversed the park in search of history and nature. Having driven for a long distance, we got to Akoto tourist camp, near a village called Sepeteri, where the camp accommodation is available. The facility is well furnished with good beddings, portable water and satellite television service. We set out for the central and southern sector of the park where more of game viewing tracks have been opened up. At the entrance of the Ibuya Base camp immediately after the buffer zone, we were welcomed by rangers stationed to wade off poachers. As we were joined by some heavily armed rangers, I was forced to ask why they needed such arms and ammunition. “The area has suffered indiscriminate and uninhibited destructive human activities including hunting. As a result, the animal species have been greatly depleted and some species have either become locally extinct or rare,” the ranger said.
“Game viewing is always good in the morning and during the dry season,” Ajadi, my tour guide explained. We drove through the trails that have been mapped out in the park towards the river for a boat ride on the Ogun River. At the river side, Ajadi pointed out some foot marks of animals that had come to the river to drink water.
The journey back to the Akoto base was an educative one as Ajadi became my botany teacher, disclosing that there are four sub types of vegetation at the park, “dense woodland and forests; mixed open savannah woodland; outcrop vegetation and riparian grassland and fringing woodland.” We left Akoto Tourist camp very early in the morning for the trip to Oyo –Ile. The trip took us first to Igboho, the sites of the royal cemeteries, “four Obas reigned here among them a lady,” said Ajadi, my tour guide.
As we drove from Igboho through Igbeti, the tour guide disclosed that the name of the park is coined from the ruin of old Oyo empire , the park had been in existence in the past as two game reserves- the upper Ogun games reserve and the Oyo Ile games reserve. The Oyo Ile game reserve was the abandoned site of old Oyo Empire where the present day Oyo came from. The Oyo people settled down in so many places before they got to the present Oyo town. “One of those places is Oyo ile which falls within the park today. Before we arrived Oyo –Ile, we stopped over at Ikoyi – Ile where there is the Antete shrine. Inside the shrine is a pot that contains swarm of honey bees which used to fight for the people of the town by stinging enemies to death. “Truly, he has been doing that whenever they call on him at the hill of Antete where the bees will rise to sting their enemies to death. If there is problem among two groups and they go before this hill, the group that is at fault will be stung by the bees.”
We soon arrived Oyo –Ile legendary sites, the largest concentration of archaeological and cultural sites that contain more than twenty of the identified relics.
I was struck by the hosts of cultural artefacts that litter the sites like grinding stones; earthen pots potsherds; snags, snail shells; mud walls; mound of ashes and charcoals that are still discernible with the abandoned old settlement till date. The walls called the Koso defence wall, according to my tour guide, were built round the city of old Oyo-Ile; it is about 6.5ft high and they made holes on it where they spy on those coming in. The wall made with mud is still standing till date right from 16th c. To show that people really inhabited the town, there are relics of mejiro industrial sites that consisted of black smiting, iron forgery sites and grain milling sites. Next to this site is the Akesan market.
The large water reservoir is another great site. “This is the ancient well where water is stored in the olden days. The town was located in a rocky area and we know it is difficult to dig well and get water in rocky area, so that made them dig underground reservoir where they stored rain water during the raining season and made use of it during the dry season,” the tour guide revealed. Old Oyo national Park is not only about historical sites, there are beautiful and marvellous sceneries of fascinating rock formations like the Oke Agbele looking as though they would topple over the next minute. “The story behind Oke Agbele is that a woman with a baby on her back stole cassava flavour, so this is the stolen property on her head and the baby as she turned to a stone.” Others like Agbaku, Idi Are and Mejiro, have formed large caves that served as good shelters in the olden days during the war.
The Kosomo hill is another rock inside the park. This is situated in the central part of Oyo Ile. In the olden days they believe this rock has the power to find their lost one. “The great Agbaku cave. The cave was a hide out during the Yoruba wars in the olden days; the cave has significance, something like power of back to sender.
Any opponent that met the Oyos at this point will fight and destroy themselves instead of fighting the Oyos. The cave can accommodate up to 1000 people at a time. One of the mysteries contained in the park is the mysterious iron which was said to have been used by Alafin Sango, called Ogun Joko. “If you look at it as a very small thing and try lifting it, you will not be able to do that, but just thinking that they said this iron is heavy and try lifting it you will be surprise to lift it. So there is mystery under the iron truly.