Iho Eleru: Inside Ondo’s 13000-year-old cave of ashes

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Empirical studies of archaeologists show that the oldest (arguably) living creatures hailed from Isarun and lived where today is known as “Iho Eleru,” loosely translated as Cave of Ashes. However, the cave which is said to have attracted renowned researchers, whose findings indicate human presence dating 13,000 years ago, seems forgotten in the relics of history. HAKEEM GBADAMOSI, who visited the neglected tourist centre, reports the significance of the cave to the Isarun people in Ifedore Local Government Area of Ondo State.

Some 13,000 years ago, Isarun, as proven by researches, existed, and was inhabited by humans, who found home in a cave in the area. Located in present Ifedore Local Government Area of Ondo State, according to findings, bones of some men, who existed in the stone age, were said to have been found.

The Isarun cave was discovered by a native simply identified as Obele, who was on a hunting expedition in 1922; he had rushed back home to inform community leaders of his discovery. This was said to have led to a series of visits to the place, which is about four or five miles from the present Isarun.

Speaking on the discovery of the Cave of Ashes, known to the natives as Iho Eleru, the Asarun of Isarun land, Oba Joseph Adebobola Awolehin, explained that the discovery of the cave laid to rest the argument that East Africa had been in existence before the West African forest was occupied. He said with the research carried out by a group of English archaeologists led by Professor Thurstan Shaw in 1965, it showed that the forest fringe of West Africa had been occupied as far back as 9200 BC.

According to Oba Awolehin, “Shaw and his team conducted an intensive and extensive research and exploration on the place, where they evacuated bones of Stone Age men in a cave. The findings of these men indicated that the person evacuated some 11,200 years ago, who was alive, spoke the Yoruba language.”

Relaying the history of the place, the traditional ruler said his forefathers lived on the hill known as Iloro before migrating to their present abode. He explained that the occupants of the hill were predominantly farmers, while the women engaged in the art of pottery known as “Isa” and sold to the people of the area.

“Isarun has been in existence before any other town in Yorubaland, but it was known as Iloro. Our forefathers left the hills later to visit Ile-Ife with many others to seek for deities to be worshipped, while some of them stayed back in Ile-Ife and settled where is called Lagere today; Lagere became the deity we took from Ile-Ife.

“Some of the people headed to Agbado in present-day Ekiti State, some to Owo town, and others to Mahin in the coastal community of Ondo State. They are still there till today as they have Asarun title or quarters in all these places I have mentioned,” he said.

The ruler also added that when they came back from Ile-Ife, they decided to stay at their present abode when they found out that most of what they left behind had been destroyed, except the ashes used in producing the pots. They therefore called the new place Isarun, meaning: the art of pottery had been destroyed.

When asked about the bones evacuated from the place as reported by the English archaeologists, he said: “There were so many artifacts evacuated from the site aside the human bones exhumed from the cave, such as pottery works dating as far back as 1000B.C. Parts of the skeleton are kept at the University of Ibadan and Owo Museum of Antiquities, while a cast of the skull was said to have been taken to London for research work.”

The findings of Shaw and his team bring Isarun to focus and earn the agrarian community a place on the global map. It was designated one of the tourist destinations in Nigeria in 1992.

As compelling as the discoveries from the cave are, and the global recognition given to Isarun, not much has been done by the government on leveraging on the tourist potential that lies within the cave. When Nigerian Tribune visited, the people of the community lamented how they had been neglected.

The road of about four or five miles to the site was nothing to write home about and even commercial motorcyclists avoided the place like a plague. It was worse when it rained. Though there are still hundreds of leftover potsherds, there are also cutting tools used by men centuries ago, who resided at the cave. There was congealed reddish material used as paint, while one of the rocks had an inscription, with an engraving that could not be deciphered.

Oba Awolehin said he planned to employ the services of traditionalists, who were well versed in Ifa mythology or Islamic scholars to interpret the divination engraved on the rock.

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Also noted in the thick forest were rocks in their natural forms and different sizes and peculiarities, which suggested that people who dwelt in the environs lived under these rocks as it could house between 50 and 100 people.

The tourist guide, who simply identified himself as Ajipe, who took our correspondent round the site, wondered why the site was abandoned by the state government even after the place was named as a national monument some years ago. He said many people had visited the place in the past to find out about the Iho Eleru which is still here till today, noting that the people of the community were not encouraged by the government.

“Tourists usually visit here from different parts of the world to see what is happening here. However, it is sad that government has not been helping us like they did in Idanre. Students and scholars across the country also come around, but the road has been quite discouraging to researchers and tourists.

“It was once said that the Ondo State government was making plans to provide the location with facilities to cater to the needs of future visitors at the cave; but so far, they have been empty promises. The State Tourism Board also planned to bring the place to the limelight but all these failed to come to fruition,” he stated.

Also speaking on the state of the site, Oba Awolehin said subsequent administrations had neglected the place, despite its place in the history and discovery of Stone Age or early men who lived.

He said: “The road to the town needs attention. We have one of the worst roads and the road to the cave is in bad shape. The site is in shambles and has been overgrown and taken over by weeds and now houses dangerous animals and reptiles.”

He said some government officials recently visited the site and promised to turn the place around, but said until something concrete was done, the people could only hope the promises were true.

“We believe the site should be of economic advantage to the people of the town like they celebrate Idanre hill every year. This will improve economy of the state and the people of the town. There are no good roads or even lodgings. Government needs to fence the Iho Eleru site, tar the roads and make the site look like the real tourist centre it ought to be. This is a place of pride for the people of the state; there is no any other place with such historical research or background,” he stated.

According to him, the annual celebration of the Ogere deity, which was the only festival celebrated by sons and daughters of the land should be used to celebrate the discovery of the biological ancestors of the present day inhabitants of Isarun.

The state Commissioner of Culture and Tourism, Alhaji Ismaila Olumirisi, speaking on the cave of ashes, said the state government had commenced the process of transforming the historical site to its  pride of place.

According to the Commissioner, he had visited the site and all arrangements had been concluded to partner with investors in order to enlist the place in the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, noting that the state government had the vision of making the place to a world tourist centre soon.

Culled from here

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