Wednesday 8 June 2022

White tourists loved Iya Olumo, she declined many foreign trip offers – Grandson of late Olumo Rock custodian


The custodian of Olumo Rock in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Sinatu Sanni, popularly called Iya Olumo, passed away on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at a grey age after serving for many years. Her grandson, Olawale Olaniyan, speaks to OLATUNJI DAUD about the life and times of the enigma said to be aged 137 at death

who are you to Mama Sinatu Sanni, popularly called Iya Olumo?

I am a grandson of mama. My name is Olawale Olaniyan. I lived her till her death. I am 61 years old. My mother is one of mama’s daughters. My mother too is very old; she is 90 years old.

How old was Iya Olumo before she died?

She was 137 years old.

How did you know her age?

We grew up observing her birthday yearly; the last one she celebrated was 137th.

How did she become the custodian of Olumo Rock, acquiring the name, Iya Olumo?

She was initially a Muslim. It was delayed childbearing that made her turn to a traditional worshipper. After she got married, she experienced delay in childbearing. She prayed for many years to no avail. She was later told by a spiritualist that she would not have a child unless she worshipped orisa (deity).She heeded the advice and started worshipping Orisa Igun, which is the deity at Olumo Rock. Thereafter, she got pregnant but again, she had difficulty giving birth to the child. She carried that pregnancy for six years. At some point, people started doubting that the thing in her belly was a child.

Mama told us that those six years were really scary for her. She said one day, her stomach would appear flat and the next day, the stomach would appear protruded.

People advised her to worship the deity so she could be delivered of the child. She initially resisted, insisting that she was a Muslim. However, she later succumbed after much pressure and began to worship the deity, which is from her mother’s lineage. She was delivered of the baby afterwards. That baby is my own mother. Since then, mama settled down worshipping the deity.  She made arrangements to improve on the state of the shrine (around the rock). She told us she completely stopped being a Muslim since then. Things started falling in place for her when she became the Iya Osa. She achieved all her aspirations because things were initially not rosy for her.

Becoming Iya Osa opened doors of good things for her as she built her first house at age of 80. And she built three before her death. She told me to leave my carpentry work for traditional activities.

How did she transcend from being a worshipper to the priestess?

There is a deity named Orisa Igun. It is the deity that chose Iya Olumo.  It was divine. The oracle itself chooses a truthful and worthy woman to be the Iya Osa which mama qualified for. It’s not a family position. The oracle can select from any family or background. It could be anybody. But what is strange about the deity is that it doesn’t select a pregnant woman.

Before her encounter with the deity, what was her occupation?

 She was a trader. She traded in clothes around 1968 when she resided at Odeda with her husband. She travelled to Ibadan and Lagos for her business. She stopped trading in 1978 when she was made Iya Osa. Then, she relocated to Itoko. She lost her husband in 1987.

She featured prominently during the celebration of Lisabi festival. Can you speak about her role?

Lisabi festival is an Oro festival. Whenever it is being celebrated, the king visits Olumo rock. Mama would be there to pray for everyone. People would come to mama for prayers before proceeding to Lisabi house. Olumo rock belongs to the Itoko kingdom. The Olumo entrance of today faces Ikija but it is the backside of Olumo. All the traditional rites performed at Olumo are being done by Itoko people because it belongs to them.

What were the other peculiar things about Iya Olumo?

She had many offers to travel abroad but she declined them. She said her work didn’t permit her to travel. White men often visit Olumo; most of them like mama. Some even approached her to teach them about Ifa. I remember one of those white men whose name is Oscar. He liked mama very much. There was a time he wanted mama to travel with him but mama herself said no. Whenever he came to Nigeria, he would come to see mama and take photographs with her.

Did he tell you the secret of her long life?

Long life runs in the family. It is from their father’s family. Mama had three siblings. She was the last born of her family. Her three siblings died before her. One of them was called Mama Panla; she died at the age of 162.

How about her own children?

Mama had just two children. They are both females. There was a third child who died a long time ago, leaving her with only two children and that is why we, the grandchildren, were encouraged to have  many children so as to make her happy.

What were her last moments like? Was she sick before she died?

She was not sick. She was very healthy and agile. Considering her age, old age challenges will surely set in. But she wasn’t sick before her death. On the day of her death, she held my head and prayed for me because I had just got back from Lagos after my child’s introduction ceremony. She then asked for her second daughter whom she also prayed for after which she prayed for every one of her children, grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren, then she slept. We discovered she had died when we tried to wake her up to have her meal. She had once told us that her departure would be surprising and indeed it was because no one saw it coming.

Will anyone step into her shoes as next Iya Olumo?

Yes, mama had selected someone to take over after her six years ago. She was guided by the deity. What is strange about the deity is that it doesn’t select a pregnant woman. The successor is an old woman.

What will she be remembered for?

Mama was a very good person. I grew up living with her. She was a good person who would not condone a child behaving like a hooligan. The way she brought me up made me who I am today. If someone came to mama, crying for help, mama would make sure the person had a smile on their face by the time they were leaving.

She was loved by everyone in the neighbourhood because of her jovial nature. She was a truthful person and we thank God for keeping her alive for so long.

From Itoko Isale to Itoko Oke, it is rare to come by anyone who was like mama. Mama was loved because of her good nature. She gave uncommon advice to those who approached her for advice.

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