Living on the brink: Inside Aba-Oke where residents farm, hunt atop Erin-Ijesa waterfall

A torrential splendour to behold, the Erin-Ijesa waterfall in Osun State has enjoyed immense visual attention since its discovery. But on its peak, from which the water plunges, sits Aba-Oke, a rustic human settlement of farmers who made their way up the dangerous path along the rocky walls where the water cascades. KEHINDE OYETIMI, after a strenuous mountaineering outing to the community, reports the perilously fascinating life of Aba-Oke residents and the hazards they are daily faced with while living and farming on the fall.

The sweeping expanse of the mountains swallows the entire gaze of the onlooker. Far off, with a misty rise, the sky meets the mountain. As one cuts off the major Ilesa-Akure expressway and heads into the community, a blanket of eerie quietness reaches out in subtle embrace, enveloping all in its grip.

The overarching frame that announces Erin-Ijesa’s existence to a first-time caller lacks all the needed descriptive power to fully capture the wonders resident in the community. The area, with its undulating network of roads and rocky stretch, narrows at some point into a bushy tract. The tract opens up quite another spectacle.

Looking up, the bold inscription welcoming tourist enthusiasts, to the Olumirin waterfall, otherwise known as the Erin-Ijesa waterfall, announces, with its fading alphabets, nature’s astonishingly mountainous miracle.

After the necessary formalities with the state officials at the entrance, this reporter inched closer to the enrapturing breezy call of the waterfall. A tourist guide, who simply identified himself as Ayo, told of the renewed fascination that the waterfall holds through the decades. The rocky embankment forms a cleft wall through which the waterfall cascades. Drenching in its fall, pure in its substance, the cascade flows through seven levels of ascending plains. Climbing the first two plains achieves some ease as a result of staircases hewn out for the comfort of tourists.  At this point, the waterfall becomes accessible to tourists as they bath in the cold, reassuring showers. But for the adventurous, any further ascension would require guts as the stairways terminate at the second level.

Aba-Oke: The village at the top
aba-oke3With renewed vigour and a sense of duty, this reporter, led by the tour guide ascended the rest of the plains. Ayodeji Fasoro has been a tour guide for 6 months. As he led the way, he said spiritedly that the waterfall has been a source of attraction through the centuries.

According to him, “The waterfall was discovered about 821 years ago. It was discovered by a hunter, Akinla, the brother of Oduduwa. Those living in the area are people from Ile-Ife. Before he died, Oduduwa told his brother, Akinla, to move to the vicinity of the waterfall with his family. It was during one of Akinla’s hunting expedition that he discovered the waterfall. Neighbouring villages include Imo Ijesha, Erinmo, among others. People who stay at the top of the waterfall are mainly farmers and hunters because of its closeness to the forest. Sometimes, church members come here and churches such as CCC, Deeper Life and Anglican churches are present on the mountain. Aba-Oke is fertile land.”

With tree roots as support and pebbles as brace, any tourist getting to the seventh layer would find the experience absolutely exhausting. After two hours of such mountaineering exercise and getting to the peak of the waterfall, a vast spread of green life budding on a rocky plain came on sight. Mud houses scattered on the rock-strewn upland amply heralded the presence of a human settlement. It was 1 p.m and the atmosphere was foggy. While some of the mud houses were opened, others were locked. Thirty-six year old dismally dressed Adepoju Oluwafemi Solomon could not hide his excitement when he saw this reporter. Sitting in front of his house, with his wife and child, he spoke about the fascination about the community.

According to him, “Our village is called Ajebamidele Aba Oke. It is located at the seventh plain of the Erin Ijesha waterfall. People, who come here, such as residents of the place, climb the rocks through the waterfall. There is no electricity source in the area. We are many who stay here but some have gone back home. We plant cocoa, kolanut and cassava which we process for garri.

“According to the history handed down to us by earliest settlers, it was a hunter from Efon Alaye, who during a battle, discovered the path into Efon Alaye and made moves to secure it so that enemies would not find their way into Efon Alaye. As such, he made it into a place to live. He was referred to as Baba Ode. This is the seventh floor. It was my father who lived here. When he died, I moved here. The water comes through the bush path. So far, it was only the earliest settlers who were able to trace the source of the water, but nobody living today can really say where the source of the water is located exactly. We drink the water from the stream that flows into the fall. In fact, when people have ailments, they just bathe with the water from the stream and get better. Sometimes people come up here to pray. I remember scientists came and said that there are precious minerals like gold here. We have come across precious stones when bathing in the water.”

‘The stream is our health centre’

Mrs Wosilatu is another resident who came to the settlement with her husband for farming purposes. They specialise in planting cocoa and kolanuts. “The soil is favourable for farming. At the moment, people are on their farms. We pass through the waterfall, climbing the rocks to get here. Sometimes, we even do it carrying loads and it’s become easier with time. People come from all over to view the waterfall. There’s no electricity source. It is not hard for us to live here. We carry our produce to places in the South-West, including Ibadan. We also carry our produce to the North, sometimes as far as Sokoto. We don’t fall sick here. Nobody uses the health centre built here. When we fall ill, especially with the stress of working on the farm, all we need to do is bathe with water from the stream and we are well again. The stream is our health centre.”

‘Politicians come here only during election periods’

aba-oke2A pained Adeleke Fatima, another resident, flayed politicians who only come there during elections. “Politicians come here only when it is time for election. Up here is Ekiti State. This is Efon Alaye, while down where you the water falls is Erin Ijesa in Osun State. I’m from Inisha in Osun State. Sometimes, I stay here for months and only travel when there are occasions. However, we are given permit to reside on the mountain. We built the houses we live in by ourselves and the roads are also managed by us. There is also not electricity. We vote during election time. The major challenge is constructing of a motorable road to Efon Alaye main town,” she said.

Alice Oluwayemi has been on the settlement for over 15 years. According to her, “I plant cassava, yams and corn. It is those from Oyo State that plant kola nuts. The soil here is very fertile. According to what we were told, it’s been over 100 years that the first settler passed on. He was from Efon Alaye. There’s nothing to fear by climbing the rocks. Even children pass there. It is true that the stream has healing properties. I buy leaves, pineapple, oranges, plantain and we take them to Ibadan to sell. We also take some fruits like oranges to the North. The road is really the major challenge. It clears off immediately. Even body swelling and the like are healed by the stream. We are used to the cold weather which is as a result of the stream. It is cold all through the year. Our children go to school in the major towns. That also is a major challenge. We have had children who grew up here, attended schools and even graduated from the university while residing here. What we appeal to government for is the state of the road leading here. It is tedious to get here through the rocks where the water flows but it is faster since we do not have any road network.”

‘Having spent 50 years here; I call this home’

Joseph Ajala was born in 1951 and is a native of Inisha in Osun State. “Farming brought me here. I plant cocoa, kola nut. Baba Jacob Alade and Baba Joseph Adeyeye are said to be the first settlers. Baba Alade was said to be a hunter. At that time, when there was battle over land between Erin and Efon Alaye, they came here to settle. It was a very thick forest and Baba Alade who was a hunter settled here. There is nothing to be afraid of about the waterfall. It does have healing properties. We just know that the water source is from a rock but we can’t say precisely where it is. I’ve lived here going on 50 years now since I came to settle here. We pay for the land we have here. There is space for farmland, only that the person would have to pay for permit. A while ago, it was N800 or N1000. We have people from Ikirun, Yakoyo, Iba, among others. There are people from Togo.”

Mama Faderera is from Oyo State but made Aba Oke home. For her, “Some people came from Ghana, who were running from battleand had been sent out of their locations in Ghana. They were looking for where to settle and somehow, found themselves in Efon Alaye. So, they settled as farmers. The water is referred to as Olumirin and when we were younger, we used to bathe in the stream. The weather here is favourable all year. I’ve been residing here and now, I’m a great grandmother. My husband just died on January 27. Even with my experience, I have been successful as a trader. I still trade my farm produce and have stalls at Oshodi, Itire, Oyingbo, Agege, Oke-Odo, all in Lagos. After a while, we couldn’t go so far again and so we just trade in neighbouring communities. The cold weather doesn’t affect us at all. We’re used to it.”

Mrs Elizabeth Oladele is the daughter of one of the first settlers and was born in the settlement. “My father was a hunter. He came upon this place during one of his hunting expeditions. This is where I grew up. The house he first built has collapsed. When he came here, he encountered minor challenges. Even the water was not an issue. In those early times, it is true sacrifices were offered to the stream. He used pigeon, locust bean, local sweetener, groundnut and sugarcane as ingredients for sacrifice. Sometimes, we pounded yam and made egusi soup as offering. It was like a festival at the feet of the stream. It was to ask for favourable weather conditions. All these stopped after my father died. I must add that there have not spiritual consequences since the sacrifices stopped,” she said.

Why the water boosts agriculture, possesses healing properties—Geologists

In an interaction with Nigerian Tribune on the possibility of large mineral deposits like gold and others, Professor M.O. Olorunfemi, a geo-physicist from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, argues thus: “There are certain features that control the accumulation of gold. Primary deposit occurs in the rock where the mineral was formed and it becomes secondary deposit when it has been transported out of the source. It is not in every rock that you would find gold. From our knowledge of geology, gold is primarily found within the belt, primarily located in places like Zamfara in the North, down to Ilesa, among others.

“Minerals are formed in rocks that have cooled very slowly. You need time for minerals to crystallise. If a rock cools very fast, it does not allow minerals to crystallise. Usually, those minerals are concentrated within the rock unit we refer to as pegmatite, coarse green rocks which cool very slowly. That is where we find gemstones.

“The landscape at Erin Ijesha, that is the rocks there, are quartzite and that is the same ridge that goes up to Ikogosi. Though the waterfall comes from fractured zones within the quartzite, I don’t know of any mineral you find in such rocks, except the fact that they are mined for construction purposes. Minerals could also be brought from the water because the water travels from a long distance. The water from Erin Ijesha may not be from Erin Ijesha itself. Just like the water that comes to Ikogosi travels from several kilometers of fractured rocks.”

Asked if there could be consequences of heavy mining activities there, he stated that “there are two consequences of mining in that environment. The water coming out of these rocks is water coming out of pressure. If you de-pressurise that zone, the water may refuse to flow. That is one big consequence of that. Also, when you blast rocks, you subject rock to stress and if it is huge, it can fracture the rock. And when the rock is fractured, you create alternative path for water movement.

“Also, it is important to note that this is pure, natural, unpolluted water. In a country that is serious, that would have been used for irrigation purposes. They could channel part of that water for irrigation purposes. Remember that the area is hilly and when it rains, the rain water washes minerals from the rock and deposit them in lowland areas surrounding the hills. The hills become very rich in nutrients and very good for farming. The properties could even do the body good when bathed with. Remember the water is pure.”

Sharing a similar view, Dr Adepelumi Adekunle Abraham, of the department of Geology, Obafemi Awolowo University, added that “the mineralization that we have at Erin-Ijesa are quartz, hornblende and plagioclase feldspar with veins. When these minerals weather and mix with the soil, they form good, natural fertilizer. Quartz can be used for minor things such as earrings.

“Most farmers use fertilizers for farming and the way God has made it, these minerals naturally fertilize the soil. You also find out that their farm produce are robust and plants grow faster there.”

Speaking, the Akinla of Erin-Ijesa, Oba Isaac Adeyeba Ayeni, who is an engineer, called on all for the development of the region. According to him, “My ancestors settled here because of the waterfall and they left Ile-Ife in 1140 AD. The only daughter of Oduduwa founded Erin-Ijesa. Olumirin means ‘Oluwa Imiran’, that is, ‘another god.’ It was a marvel in the eyes of the first settlers. Olumirin waterfall has suffered under-development. Successive monarchs have tried their best to bring the waterfall to the attention of government. A windmill can be installed at the Abake community situated on top which can generate electricity. We have a huge deposit of feldspar mixed with quartz. This raises the probability of finding gold. We’re working on reaching out to private investors to extract the minerals.”