Thursday, 19 April 2018

Òpá Òránmíyàn: The Mystery of an Ancient Monument by Onigegewura

Opa Oranmiyan

LÀGÈRÈ ROAD is to Ile-Ife what Marina is to Lagos. It is the high street where you find the banks and the major stores. It is the main thoroughfare that leads to the ancient city. It is that road that begins immediately after you leave Obafemi Awolowo University and takes you past the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital to the Post Office. You know the road?

At the Post Office, Lagere Road forks into three. To your left is (Adekunle) Fajuyi Road. This is the road that leads to Ilesa and Akure. Straight ahead of you, and passing in front of the Post Office is Iremo Road which takes you directly to the imposing Palace of the Ooni at Enuwa Square. But that is not where we are going.

Oba Adesoji Tadenikawo Aderemi
Our route is the third fork, the one to your right. That is New Road. Yes, Onigegewura is not mistaken. You probably know it as Oba Adesoji Aderemi Road, right? Its original name when it was newly constructed was New Road. The road was constructed by the late Ooni of Ife as his personal contribution to the development of the town. Until Iya Agba’s death in 2000, she called it Nii Rodu. Our old uncle who lived there was, of course, Baba New Road.

If Lagere is Marina, Oba Adesoji Aderemi Road is Broad Street. And indeed it is actually a very broad street. The defunct African Continental Bank used to have its very beautiful branch there. It is Oba Adesoji Aderemi Road that leads to Òrótó. And that’s where we are going.

We are following Onigegewura to see the majestic Opa Oranmiyan (staff of Oranmiyan).

Opa Oranmiyan is one of the wonders of the African race.

You have to visit the Opa yourself to feel its mystery.

The Opa is tall. It is very tall. In height, it is taller than eighteen feet. And it has 1 foot underground. If we take the height of an average storey building to be twenty feet, Opa Oranmiyan is of a comparable height. However, it used to be taller than its present height. From historical records Onigegewura came across, about four feet was broken off from the top during a storm in 1884.

The Opa has upon its front side [I am assuming you are looking at it from the road] a number of metallic nails hammered into it with two mysterious figures carved in the midsection. From a distance, the design of the iron nails look like a ‘three-pronged forklike configuration”. The iron nails have a bullet-like appearance.

This is how Ayinla Ogun whom you probably know as the Reverend Samuel Johnson, the author of the seminal The History of the Yorubas, described the curious arrangement:
Mystery of Ancient Monument

The nails are arranged in such an ordered manner as to render them significant. First, there are 61 in a straight line from the bottom upwards at interval of about 2 inches on either side in midline; and next, at about a distance of 4 inches on either side of this, and from the same level on top, two parallel lines of 31 of the midline. Then in the space between these three rows of parallel lines, and about the level where they converge, is found the most conspicuous of the carvings...”

The Opa was carved of granite gneiss. That’s the first mystery. How did my great grandfathers who were presumed not to have any technological knowledge carve the structure out of granite? The European explorers who examined the Opa were of the opinion that it could have been made in the first millennium C. E.

This takes me to the second mystery. How were the iron nails hammered into the granite? What instruments did they use? In a British Museum document which I came across, it was recognized that: “Each nail would have been labouriously inserted into the granite before the stela was raised.” How were these nails inserted, and in such an orderly fashion? How long did it take them to insert the nails?

Then, how were the unlettered Yoruba people of Ile-Ife able to master the technique of hoisting up such gigantic stonework in those days? What tools did they use? What happened to those tools?

To me, the greatest mystery is the meaning behind the arrangements of the iron nails on the Opa Oranmiyan. Could they have been merely decorative? Or were they of peculiar significance? What could have been the reason behind the nail configuration? What do they represent? According to the British Museum document I mentioned earlier, it was observed that: “This arrangement of nails is probably not merely decorative, but has a symbolic significance that has been lost over the centuries.”

This is suggestive that the configuration must be representative of a deeper meaning.

A probable explanation as to the meaning of the nails was proffered by Ayinla Ogun. According to the famous historian who was also Pastor of Oyo, “what is conjectured as most probable in these arrangements is that the 61 nails in midline represent the number of years Oranyan [the alternate spelling of Oranmiyan by people of Oyo Province] lived, and that the 31 each on either side indicates that he was 31 when he began to reign, and that he reigned for 31 years, the year he began to reign being counted twice as is the manner of the Yorubas, and that the carvings are the ancient characters Resh and Yod which stand for Oranyan.”

Could the Reverend Johnson be right?  Or is there another explanation? Onigegewura spoke with some elders in Ile-Ife and Oyo. What they told him was as intriguing as it was mind-blowing.

How many of our scholars have attempted to study and analyse this mysterious monument of ages gone past? How many of our students have made Oranmiyan the subject of their thesis? Has the government done anything to make Opa Oranmiyan a centre of culture and tourism? How many people visit Ile-Ife annually for the purpose of cultural tourism?

Tourists in Turkey
Let me share these figures with you. About four million tourists visit Taj Mahal every year. More than seven million people visit the Eiffel Tower every year. Leaning Tower of Pisa attracts an average of one million people every year. Nearer home, more than a million tourists visit Victoria Fall in Zimbabwe on annual basis.  I know you are already calculating the number of jobs that would be created if we have a million tourists trooping to Ile-Ife annually.

Tourists visiting Osun State alone will be delighted to visit Osun Grove in Osogbo, the Olumirin Waterfall at Erin Ijesha, Opa Oranmiyan in Ife, Ife Museum, and of course, the panoramic mountains on the border with Ekiti State which have been colonized by prayer warriors, and a host of other breathtaking historical sites.

These tourists will need to be accommodated: hotels. They will need to eat: restaurants. They will need to go home with souvenirs: artists, manufacturers, and retailers. The opportunities along the value chain are simply endless.

All of us love to bring back to Nigeria miniature Eiffel Tower, Burj Khalifa, Taj Mahal, Leaning Pisa, and other beautiful mementoes from the places we have visited. What will you give someone who visits Nigeria to take back to his country?

Do you want to know what the elders of Ile-Ife and Oyo told Onigegewura about the meaning of the symbols? I will tell you if you can answer this simple question: where in Nigerian can I get a miniature of Opa Oranmiyan to put on my writing table?

I thank you for your time.



  1. Agba o ni tan ni orile. Baba Fakeye, the great carver will do a good job. He did the Oduduwa in Oduduwa Hall in Obafemi Awolowo University, oke Ife.

  2. Good job, but please what did learn from the elders in Oyo about the obelisk

  3. Sir please I honestly want to know what the elders told you. Use orumila to beg you.

  4. Thank you for the write-up. Please, what did you learn from the Oyo elders. If you share it, I will give you a free hosting platform for your blog and I will design it for Free. (Note: You will pay for the domain). Please send a mail to

  5. Thanks so much for this piece. I remember with nostalgia my school days I'm OAU mid eighties. Pls help us do a write up on late PROF Fakeye mentioned above. He was a legend. Tx

  6. Commendable.osun people have provided the tourism with suitable hospitality. Thanks to Onigegewura.

  7. A wonderful piece, well packaged

  8. You never disappoint in any of your writings sir. We have great carvers at Benin. Am waiting patiently for the concluding part of this beautiful piece.

  9. Nice piece brother. Need for the government to encourage tourism.

  10. Please tell us what you learnt from the Oyo Elders about the mystery of Opa Oranyan

  11. Pls I'm curious about what the elders said. I once saw a clipse done by an African American interpreting the inscriptions.

  12. For hours now I have been on your blog reading different inspiring articles. You write so well.