Picture of a tree used to illustrate the story [Photo: The Nation]


TOURISM: On Ekiti Mystery Tree, Olosunta of Ikere, By Tunji Ariyomo

By Tunji Olaopa

June 10, 2017

As you move further inward in Yoruba land, you encounter less civilization. It was why the Yorubas in Lagos referred to anyone from Ibadan, Oyo, Ijesha to the lands of Ekiti as ‘ara ilu oke’.

The debate today in Ekiti is over what should be done to ‘Igi Olosunta’, a tree revered by the Ikeres as a totem of their ancestral deity standing on what is considered a holy site. The tree is believed to be as old as the town with spiritual powers

The people of Lagos understand why their Eeyo masquerade must remain a key menu on cultural fiestas. The people of Abeokuta (perhaps due to their proximity to Lagos’ civilization?) continue to expand the cultural influence of Olumo. Even in Oshogbo, the cultural significance of Osun is now being enlarged and Africans in the Diaspora are latching on to this with attendant boom in tourism. One of our girls, Beyonce, at some point in her works embraced the personas of the Osun goddess of beauty and fertility on the international stage rather than Aphrodite.

In Ekiti in June 2017, the Olukere of Ikere is under vilification by the Ekiti State Government for resisting an attempt to uproot and demolish the sacred Olosunta tree and redevelop its site into portion of a dual carriage way that is under construction. Of course people with preference for mischief are at liberty to misrepresent my position as an opposition to carriageway development!

Members of the Ekiti State Government have predictably wheeled out ‘evidences’ of royal capitulation and acquiesce by Olukere, the custodian of cultural spirituality in the ancient town of Aparimo and Alaletan. They gleefully stated that “oga Fayose has approved $3,000 (ONE million Naira) for the relocation of Olosunta tree!”.

What is wrong?

The government. The government of Ekiti State appears to lack the capacity to understand the opportunity before it. Let us conceed (although we reserve the right to educate differently) that modern engineering in Ekiti precludes the latitude to re-define the route and horizontal alignment of a road to suit preferred design paths by the engineer (i.e, the possibility of avoiding the route to the sacred land altogether), the OPPORTUNITY here is the cultural rebrand and relaunch offered by the willingness of the custodians to relocate Olosunta. It presents the right set of circumstances for modernization, expanded tourism economic potentials and value chain readjustment.

Hundreds of people from Ekiti spend hard earned dollars every year to visit Jerusalem (Christians) and the Ka’ba (Muslims) in Saudi Arabia, Islam’s holy site spending over $6,000 per person (twice what Ekiti is willing to spend on a 900-year old Olosunta tree). People (yes, humans) at different times made or remake parts of the Kaaba into what it is today. In 1979, an artist Ahmad bin Ibrahim Badr made and affixed the heavy gold doors you see on the Kaaba. They made their God into what they desired – superior.

The opportunity

Rather than vilifying Olukere, the Olosunta grove presents an opportunity for planned and controlled tourism growth in Ekiti State. The government has to lead the effort, relocate, rebrand, beautify Olosunta as a tourism destination of choice. Produce literature that connect the Olosunta tree to the Olosunta rock so the people can readily learn about their past. Is there a viable water source on that rock? Get a private sector player to produce potable water from that. Make your God into what you desire, inferior or superior. Hype your God!

One million Naira for Olukere cannot get this done.