Burial sites are widely found in Africa especially in Nigeria. The historical, social, spiritual and heritage value of burial sites justifies their worth. Igboho Royal burial site is not an exception of these valuable heritages.
Igboho in Oorelope Local Government Area of Oyo State is a settlement located at a few kilometres to Oyo Alaafin town.It is a little farther from Sepeteri area, but very close to Igbeti town. The inhabitants are majorly farmers, hunters and traders. Igboho is regarded as the second physical and spiritual home of Oyo Alaafin before the present final settlement.
This forest called Igbo Oba meaning: The Royal Forest was specifically used to bury the first to the fourth Alaafin namely; Ofinran, Egungun Oju, Orompoto and Ajiboye, who reigned from late 15th to 16th century including the only female, powerful Alaafin and their tombs are still in Igboho till date. This is why the site is also called “Lord of the Royal Palace”.
This burial forest site is in the middle of the city of Igboho,directly opposite the palace of Aare of Igboholand. The chief, Aare of Igboho presently Chief I. Oyebisiis the only one (custodian) who leads and permits entrance to this forest. It is an expanse of land of about four acres left uncultivated for centuries. It is presently fenced round and put under lock for security and proper preservation purposes to curb the encroachment going on around the place. Local watch surveillances is placed on the site to further curb the excesses of people residing around the forest.
The forest is, and still retains the unique features of a typical forest with big trees like baobab, iroko, arere, iya etc. The graves of the past Alaafins were marked and a gate has been constructed to demarcate and to protect the sacred forest from encroachment. It is a sacred place where hunting, farming, cutting and any other activities such as burning are forbidden.
The first Alaafin’s tomb is in an enclosure as a sign of respect for him. No woman is allowed to enter, else she will lose her fertility immediately. The tomb of the other three Alaafins are located at different spots in the forest. Traditional clay pot was placed on each of the tomb as a sign of their importance in history and great personality.
The value of this burial site as a cultural heritage cannot be over emphasized. Politically,it gave a cultural identity and origin of people of Oyo. It teaches humility and total loyalty on the part of all the Aare of Igboho who had ruled to the present one, these are virtues that are rare to come by among people today.
Religiouswise, the burial site is used for spiritual worship in Igboholand, at a festival used to commemorate and celebrate the departure of the fifth Alafin, Oba Tella from Igboholand. Also, it is at the site the yam festival called (Odun Alayaba) is celebrated annually in September where worship takes place and people come for prayers.
Beside the four monumental tombs on the site, a point called Agbara Oyo serves as a powerful point of spiritual upliftment especially during the war in the ancient time. Even today, it was claimed that prominent people are still visiting the burial forest for spiritual consultations.
Socially,the royal forest also serves as a convergence point where all the people of Igboho land gather together yearly. It is also a tourist attraction in its own way as at present because, people visit for information and spiritual consultation till date.
The economic value of the site is numerous if well developed and packaged for tourism purposes. It can bring income to the government and other tourism stakeholders that participate in the development. Also, the host community will be enriched by the product of tourism supported activities that will be provided in exchange for money such as; transportation, accommodation, sales of souvenir, feeding, and provision of other services in the hospitality industry. Similarly, in the time of the yearly festival, the money spent by tourists that attended to witness the proceedings will be a boost for the economy of the town and the surrounding communities. These tourists can also donate some of the facilities needed at the site.
As a cultural heritage, it is necessary to get it developed to the standard that can be considered suitable for sustainable tourism.
Adeseye writes from National Museum, Ibadan.
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