By Dr Ralph James
The first time I heard about this forest was while working on the biography of Chief Alex Akinyele, when he told a story of how he was coming back from school at Ile Oluji and walked pass through the partway nearby the forest and he heard voices singing from inside the forest “T’ Olu B’adan Baku Tani O j’oye” meaning (Who will succeed the Ibadan Monarch when he passes on?)
Ever since I became interested in the forest, then I read halfway the English version of the 1938 novel of D. O. Fagunwa’s “Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀ (The Forest of a Thousand Daemons). I became curious if it was just a fairy tale after all or real. D. O Fagunwa, while working on his novel in 1938, spent quality time in the forest and probably got his impressions from there. The Novel is the first full-length novel in Yoruba language made up of a Yoruba hunter encountering folklore elements, such as magic, demons, ghosts and monsters.
The forest is located in the town of (Oke-Ugbo) which is today pronounce as ‘Oke-Igbo’ in Ondo State with a landmass of about 698 km², the inhabitants speak the Yoruba language of the Ile-Ife people. The forest is believed to be a place of deities, demons, monsters, spirits, kobolds, Gnomes, Ghosts, Ghommids, Trolls and gods who most times performed magic of appearing and disappearing.
This is the forest where the mighty hunter known as ‘Akara-Ogun’ clashed with a variety of supernatural beings, including the spirit with sixteen eyes, arranged around the base of his head, the same forest where the smoke monster that boils up from the ground once lived with the Ghommid with two heads and two horns. In this forest, the snails there are reputed to be bigger than the tortoise, and the forest also had a two-headed python, can you just imagine that?
For a long time I had it on my mind but friends kept discouraging me and creating fears, when I saw it on the wall of Mr Tunde Busari that he visited about a month ago, I became more optimistic and coincidentally Mr Deji Ajomale-McWord was also on my neck, “Dr you just have to visit this forest in my village, you will love it” and that was it.
On Monday March 26th 2018, I set out for Oke-Igbo, though from Ibadan but then the distance from Lagos to Oke-Igbo is about 4 hours’ drive covering about 254 kilometer. Then from Oke-Igbo junction in Oloruntele to the forest, (Igbo Olodumare) is about 70 kilometer, it took us one hour and 24 minutes on bike to get there and it took us another 31 minutes to get to the top of the rock in the forest. The custodian Mr. Olarenwaju was very wonderful as he narrated the stories and took me into the forest, he told me a story of how in the olden days, some hunters who believed they had charms, insisted on hunting in the forest, they went in and never came out till date.
On arrival, he did some incantations while he opened the gate to the forest and he explained to me how he inherited being the custodian from his late father who was the chief priest of the forest. As we walked we were welcomed by the statue of the old wise man and his flute, (Baba Onrungbon Yeuke). We walked through the entrance to ‘Oke Langbodo Ree Ooo’ (Mountain of the entrance to voices of the spirits and demons).
At ‘Oke Langbodo’, Mr. Olarenwaju showed me two stones and some shells under the huge rock, he told me that If I lay me hand on the white stone ”Apata Adimola” (Adimola rock) and ask for any favour it will come to pass, I had imagined what I could ask for hmmmmm. Then I saw the talking tree, which repeats your words. I heard sounds not sure may be they were insects, birds and wild animals but I am sure not demons.
I battled to climb the rock to visit the two headed python’s home but my feet were so slippery and I could not, as I made more attempt he advised me not to force myself, that may be the spirit of the Python did not want me to visit her home. We walked through dry leaves and dead woods, shells of snails and dry bones to ‘Oja-Iwin’, (Market of the witches and demons) from his narration, I was sure that is the spot where the battle of the 7 brave hunters and the spirits took place, in Fagunwa’s book.
My eyes were wandering and watching out if I will see: Akara Oogun, Eifoye, Imodoye, Kako Oni kumoekun, Olohuniyo, Aramanda Okunrin and Elegbede Ode. At the market of the demons filed mostly with cactus trees, I wandered what their items could have been then, what could they have been buying and selling on the rock in the thick forest.
At that point an insect flew into my left eye and my eye became reddish, my tour guard asked me to close my eyes and open them after a minute or two, when I did I felt as if I saw a very old man with white beards, I did swore I saw in real life the all wise Baba Onrungbon Yeuke in Fagunwa’s book. We walked through the forest to “Ogbun Ainisale” (Bottom less pit). It is a spot that is for men only, you have to be brave to stand there and look at the bottom less pit. It is like standing at the top of a roof of a 40-storey building and looking down to the ground. When we got to “Igi to ni Itarun ogoruh” (Tree of 100 roots), I had to relax on it to rest.
Even as a gasped for breath and was almost to the point of dehydration, I had fun. I am happy I visited ‘Ògbójú Ọdẹ Nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀’. I enjoyed my ‘Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo elegbeje” I am happy I visited ‘The Forest of a Thousand Daemons’ I love adventure and exploration, I love history, I love fact finding missions..