Field Trip to Old Oyo

24 March 2007 (Ibadan)

It’s been an adventurous month so far. I’m going to need a few days to recover. Apparently, my body is rebelling. I have a very painful cold sore, my stomach is a disaster, and I’m currently nursing an irritated sunburn from my most recent adventure: a field visit to Old Oyo National Park with Professor Agbaje-Williams, a leading archaeologist in this field, on behalf of the Aluka project. More on that in a second…

The brilliant flamboyant tree just outside the window...

The brilliant flamboyant tree just outside the window…

Last weekend, I had the very good luck to call Ruth; she’s the director of the French Institute here on campus. She is Canadian, but has lived in Europe and Africa for most of her adult life. She’s extremely energetic and full of personality. Her work, from what I’ve gathered in our rapid, fragmented conversations, is a comparative study of youth violence in Cote D’Ivoire, Nigeria (and I forget the third context). She would like to organize a workshop on the Niger Delta, and has asked me to take part. I called her up to let her know I was back in Ibadan, thinking that perhaps we could get started on this project, and instead learned she was leaving for three weeks. Then, out of the blue, she asked if I would like to look after her house while she’s away. Serendipity. She has a beautiful house on campus: a bungalow not far from the archives with screened verandas, up-to-date facilities, and beautiful artwork. There is a garden full of frangipani and flaming flamboyant trees. I jumped at the offer. Three weeks of quiet, and in a beautiful environment. I could get some much-needed solitude and some good work accomplished at the archives. I think my luck is changing… I have spent a very good day just resting, reading a really juicy novel I found on one of Ruth’s bookshelves. Much needed.

Now, back to my three-day adventure to Old Oyo. On our way to the national park our vehicle broke down. Our host, the Director of the Old Oyo National Park loaned us this vehicle. We were supposed to get a jeep for the trip, because the terrain is very rough, and much of it is overgrown with brush. We were also supposed to get lodging near the park, but found that he put us over an hour and a half’s drive away from the park. He was clearly disorganized, and I suspect he is really not committed to this project.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThankfully we broke down near a small village, and hung out with the villagers while our driver fixed the car. We were lucky. This small community had so many children, I noticed; so many more children than adults. There were  a few old people as well. Perhaps all the adults of working age had migrated out to work. Dr. Agbaje-Williams, being ever curious and out-going, immediately set about getting to know the children. They all gathered round us after a short while, and Prof. began a recitation exercise with them. They recited their Arabic numbers and letters in preparation for their Koranic lessons. I especially noticed a bright little girl, who seemed to have such a confidence about her. She out-did all the other children in her recitation. Later, when they posed for pictures, she insisted I capture her, and I did. For most of the children, I took group pictures. I am still struck by her image. She is holding a baby sibling, and her gaze is so intense; so mature for her few years of age.

We finally arrived in a small town called Igbeti, which was the nearest town to the national park. The guest house there was manageable. We woke up very early the next day, bought some tasty Akara (yummy fried bean cakes, which you eat with fresh white bread…so, so, good), and set off for the national park, which was about 10 kilometers away. We had to arrange for motorbikes to take us into the bush, since the station wagon the Director loaned us was clearly not up to the task. We met up with the bikes at Ogundiran camp, which I learned was about 14 kilometers from the site of Old Oyo. I had no idea what I was in for.

On bikes, at the beginning of our ride into the bush.

On bikes, at the beginning of our ride into the bush.

Here I was, in Nigeria, about to embark on a trek into the bush for a day; like a safari trip, but without the big animals and open spaces. This was thick bush. One of the park rangers accompanying us brought along a rifle. I asked him what for; he said it was for the chance encounter of a lion or angry baboon… My heart skipped a beat. (I’m a city girl)

We covered about 17 kilometers to the site. Old Oyo was the former seat of the Oyo Empire, which dates back to the 14th century. I saw the ruins of walls and motes surrounding the ancient city, we went into caves, walked into an old, dried up reservoir, and climbed big boulders. The ruins weren’t as spectacular as I imagined them to be. Prof. explained the degree of deterioration the sites have sustained over several hundred years. It was due in part to the tropical environment, but it was also due to the lack of government support to conserve the site. It is a real problem here in Nigeria. Many of our cultural heritage sites are in danger of being lost forever due to a lack of commitment

One of the ruin walls of Old Oyo...

One of the ruin walls of Old Oyo…

and will on the part of the government to invest in conservation. The Nigerian public is largely unaware of this heritage.

One of the caves we visited had the fresh remains of an antelope. Apparently a mountain lion was keeping it there for a late afternoon snack; so he couldn’t be far off. I immediately started walking in the direction we came, back to the trail where our bikes were. All the men, of course, were amused. They were so sure that because they had a rifle, we were safe. I didn’t want to find out.

The sun and heat, by afternoon, was very intense. I was beginning to feel my skin burn, and the brush whipping my skin only increased the irritation I as beginning to feel. We started heading back in the middle of the afternoon, and stopped in a small Fulani village. It was amazing how they received us. They showed us a shady place to sit, under a mango tree, and offered us water and fresh milk.

We arrived back at Ogundiran camp by late afternoon, sore and exhausted. It was an adventure I wasn’t prepared for, but it is also one of the most unique experiences I’ve had so far. Pretty amazing.

Prof. walking round one of the outer walls of the old city.

Prof. Agbaje-Williams walking round one of the outer walls of the old city.