Iwoye-ketu is a border community in Ogun State. As a custom, it is a taboo for residents to use umbrella or rear pigs. GBENRO ADEOYE, who visited the community, reports on the agelong tradition
It’s the start of another rainy season, a time when people sometimes walk in hurried steps with umbrellas in hand to ward off the rain.
But in Iwoye-ketu, a border community in Imeko/Afon Local Government Area of Ogun State, residents would rather get wet than do that. The use of umbrella is a taboo in the community.
The custom dates back hundreds of years, estimated to go as far back as 1705 when its first settlers discovered the land. Since then, the legend has been passed down from generation to generation. Although, its essence has been lost on some of the community’s younger generation, they dare not break the tradition up till the present day.
Split between Nigeria and Benin Republic, Iwoye-ketu is about 98km away from Abeokuta, Ogun State capital and bordered by Iwajowa Local Government Area in Oyo State to the north and the Francophone country to the west.
One of the closest towns to the community is Imeko Afon, about 17km away. A bumpy motorcycle ride, which is the popular means of transportation on the dusty Imeko-Iwoye Road, takes about 30 minutes to get to Iwoye-ketu.
With an official figure from the 2006 census putting the population of Iwoye-ketu at 25,000, the present population of the community is estimated to have grown to between 50,000 and 75,000.
‘No use of umbrella here’
Legend has it that one of the first settlers of the community, Olumu, who was said to have been a powerful man from Ile-Ife in Osun State brought three items along with him to Iwoye-ketu: a crown; a staff called Opa Ogbo; and his deity called Orisa Oluwa.
The shorter version of the legend is that it is Orisa Oluwa that forbids the use of umbrella in Iwoye-ketu and Wasinmi, a relatively smaller community under its control up till the present day.
In addition, the deity is also said to forbid the rearing of pigs in the communities.
Our correspondent did not sight a pig or anyone using an umbrella during his visit to the community.
But interestingly, there are no known consequences for people who defy the custom. However, that has not affected the strong level of compliance with the rules by the residents.
“It’s the Orisa that doesn’t want umbrella to be used here. It also detests pigs because they are dirty. We have abided by the rules because we (residents) know the custom. Children are told about the custom and when strangers come in, we also let them know they cannot use umbrella or rear pigs here,” said the Ooye of Iwoye-ketu (community’s king), Joel Aremu.
He described the use of umbrella within the community as an affront to the deity as he told the story of how the community’s legendary early settler divided the Ogun River with his staff, similar to the Bible’s account of how Moses parted the Red Sea to rescue thousands of Jews from slavery and oppression in Egypt, famously known today as The Exodus.
“Our residents can use umbrella outside the community; it’s in the community that it’s forbidden. We inherited the tradition from our forefathers and we have guided it since then because we respect our culture. Thankfully, no one defies the rule,” the Ooye of Iwoye-ketu said.
“When strangers come into the community and use their umbrellas, we don’t harass them, we only tell them it’s against our tradition and they always abide by it. Nothing bad will happen if someone uses the umbrella but it’s our tradition and we want to keep it that way.”
Saturday PUNCH observed that many residents of the community, including Aremu, own umbrellas which they use outside the community.
“I have an umbrella in my car and I use it outside the community,” Aremu confirmed to our correspondent.
However, there is a longer version of the story as told by elders of the community.
One of them, Mr. Jonathan Idowu, 75, said the story began with the earliest hunters of the community. Idowu’s late father was one of the community’s most celebrated hunters.
He said, “In those days, our forefathers used to hunt elephants in the forests. Since elephants have big ears that are wide like an umbrella, they felt threatened by the sight of umbrellas anytime they saw hunters with them.
“Most times, the elephants would chase after them. In spite of their size, elephants are fast animals. When an elephant is running, you will only see the dust rising after it because it’s so fast.
“As a result, there were many vicious attacks by elephants on the hunters. And since it was the tradition of hunters to consult with Orisa Oluwa before setting out, later, the deity warned them against the use of umbrellas.
“We (residents) obeyed whatever Orisa Oluwa told us to do. If it told the hunters not to go out and that they would be killed in the forest if they did, they would stay at home. Orisa Oluwa was also consulted in the wartime. So when it forbade the use of umbrellas, we obeyed and have obeyed since then.”
Idowu also told of how attires like gowns worn by masquerades equally elicited violent reactions from elephants back in the day.
“An elephant, with its size, appears like an object wearing a cloak so it could also be threatened by anyone who appeared like a masquerade,” he said.
Meanwhile in the absence of umbrellas, residents are accustomed to the use of polythene, clothes, hoods, rain coats, boots and traditional woven hats (akete), depending on their suitability to the sun or rain.
For instance, a 40-year-old trader in the community, Mrs. Modinat Adepoju, said she has grown to rely on other things in place of an umbrella.
Adepoju, whose last child is still a toddler, said anytime it rained or the sun became too hot while she was out with her baby on her back, she would spread a piece of cloth or polythene over her as protection against the harsh weather element.
“The taboo is not strange to us since we grew up with it. Sometimes I wear akete and give to my child that is older to wear too. And when I go outside the community, I use umbrella. I have one at home,” she told our correspondent.
A community split between two countries
Iwoye-ketu is a multi-cultural community with its over eight ethnic groups which include Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Igbo, Egun, Ohoi and Igede.
A concrete pillar within the community separates the section under the Nigerian territory from the part that falls under Benin Republic, although residents see themselves as one since both fall under the authority of the same monarch- Ooye of Iwoye-ketu.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the boundary dividing the community along international lines had been demarcated since the colonial era but with little regard for its sanctity in the early post colonial period. Following the indiscriminate construction that sprang up all around the border line, a former Minister of Works and Housing, the late Gen. Abdulkareem Adisa (retd.) under the military regime of General Sani Abacha, redefined the border and demolished some illegal structures in the community.
But at the Benin Republic end of the community, also called ‘French’ by residents, the taboo is also strongly respected.
A gendarme at a police post belonging to Benin Republic, Tonasse Germain, who spoke to our correspondent through a translator, confirmed that the French speaking section of the community also complies with the age long tradition.
He said residents have learnt to read weather signs and work with them.
“We don’t have any problem with the tradition since Iwoye is one and we’re under one king. We watch the weather, when it looks like it would rain, I will stay indoors if I don’t want to get wet. And if it’s important, I can hold a polythene over my head. Some people wear raincoats and the like,” he said.
Iwoye-ketu is also one of four locations in Ogun State where agricultural students of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta go annually for their Farm Practical Year, the equivalent of industrial training undertaken by students offering non-agriculture related courses.
New students are posted to the school’s Iwoye-ketu farm every session, where they are required to stay for a minimum of seven months. Our correspondent learnt that 350 students from the school were currently undergoing the training in the school farm located in Iwoye-ketu.
Some of them could not understand the reason behind the taboo and why they should be affected. They described the taboo as strange and wondered how the residents of the community had managed to cope with it for a long time.
“I feel sorry for them still. The people of the community are still tied to an old tradition that has nothing to do with this age. I think they are only punishing themselves but who are we to complain since we’re only here for a while?” One of them who did not want his name published told our correspondent.
There are also pockets of youths in the community who suffer in silence but have been afraid to speak against the tradition for fear of castigation by the elders.
Some of them argued that Orisa Oluwa has lost its relevance in a modern age that has opened their eyes to other religions like Christianity and Islam.
“Nobody goes there to worship again like before,” a teenager who identified himself as Dayo said.
Findings by Saturday PUNCH indeed showed that only some elders of the community still visit the shrine of Orisa Oluwa to perform the required annual rites done in August or November of every year.
The rites involve pouring water fetched with only gourds and calabashes on the deity. No plastic buckets or alcoholic drinks are allowed near it and only some specific persons are allowed to move closer than 10 metres to the shrine.
Therefore, most residents of the community don’t know what the deity looks like. In the absence of Mr. Ogundele, who tends to the shrine, our correspondent learnt from someone in his household that the deity lives in a calabash.
Our correspondent’s visit to the shrine showed a pavement amidst a bushy area.
The residents described it as the start of an ongoing renovation exercise at the shrine.
Reacting to the critics of the deity, Idowu criticised them for questioning its potency, describing Orisa Oluwa as deserving of reverence by the young and the old. He recalled that in his younger days, no one dared cast aspersions on Orisa Oluwa’s potency.
“When we were young, if it did not rain in the community for long, the community would fetch water and pour on Orisa Oluwa. A heavy rain would fall within an hour of performing the rite,” he recalled.
“Some of us who did not leave the shrine immediately would be drenched in the rain on our way home. That was the power of Orisa Oluwa.”
Incidentally, umbrella is the logo of the Peoples Democratic Party, the ruling party in Nigeria. And trust politicians from the opposition parties, they would not miss an opportunity to use the taboo to their benefit during political campaigns.
Apart from the fact that PDP members cannot put up umbrellas during campaigns in the community, members of the other parties also make it a point of duty to remind residents that the deity of the land forbade the use of umbrellas.
“We tell people not to accept the party with the umbrella logo because our deity forbids the use of umbrellas. Of course, they are political statements and some residents know that but we might be able to win a few sentimental people to our side through that,” the youth leader of the All Progressives Congress in Iwoye-Jabata ward, Mr. Idowu Odekunle, told our correspondent.
Mr. Peter Bamgbowu, PDP Secretary, Iwoye-Jabata ward, who confirmed the situation said as a result, his party members sometimes have to explain to residents that his party was not after destroying the tradition of the community.
“During campaigns, some people will say ‘go away, we don’t use umbrella here.’ We explain to them that it’s only a logo and that it doesn’t mean we want to use umbrellas in the community,” he said.
Taboo on pig rearing
Known as a nomadic tribe, a large Fulani population in Iwoye-ketu makes the community a destination for lovers of beef. Even though, pork is eaten by some of the residents of the community, it is a taboo to rear them.
Legend has it that a bad omen awaits any pig that strays near Orisa Oluwa shrine.
“Because Orisa Oluwa does not like pigs, any pig that goes too close to its shrine will die mysteriously. So it became a taboo for anyone to rear pigs in the community,” Idowu said.
However, findings showed that some residents living on the outskirts of the community rear pigs.