He must have spotted me from afar as I haggled prices with some of the other motorcycle operators in front of the University. Although I didn’t know exactly where I was going, I knew that starting with the lowest possible price is the best strategy of getting a good price. I had failed, and was heading into the University on a plan B when I was approached.
“Where are you going?” He said.
“The Opa Oranmiyan.”
“How much do you have?”
“180 naira. That’s my last offer. The other guys said 250 and I can’t afford to pay that.”
“But it’s quite far.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that. Do you know the place?”
“Of course yes. I am an Ife native. Can’t you tell form my accent?”
“I thought so,” I said. “So shall we?”
“Alright let’s go.”
I mounted the motorbike to murmurs from the other guys and headed for the site of the famous obelisk. It was indeed far and worth the amount. The problem was that on getting there, the gate was locked. I could see the obelisk from a side of the fence but I couldn’t go inside. All I wanted was to be able to pose beside it, perhaps measure who is taller.
“Do you really want to go in?” He asked in return
“There is a way. I’m an Ife boy. Come with me.”
We went around huts deep into the cluster of houses around the compound of the monument and found ourselves in front of a smaller gate far at the back. It was closed, and there were about a dozen women in front of their own houses directly opposite the entrance, and they were not going to allow us in without questioning.
“What happened to this gate ma.” He asked one of them after greetings.
“It’s locked now. You can’t go in. You have to use the main entrance.” She replied.
I could already feel a flurry of curious gazes around my stranger frame with a backpack and an ipod. Who on earth is this guy and what is he looking for? More: what has this motorbike man promised to show him to make him follow him this far off the road?
“Let’s go,” he said. “I’ll take you to the man in charge of the gate.”
“I would think that there is a place where we can pay, get tickets, and go in without any hassles. Why is it so difficult?”
“I don’t know. They open the gates at particular times of the year. When the time comes, you may enter. But not now.”
I observed to him that I found the obelisk different from what I’d seen in pictures. Even the surroundings seem renovated.
“Yes,” he concurred. “Last year, UNESCO or so provided money to turn it into a heritage site. You must have noticed the new toilet and office buildings within the compounds too. They are all paid for because of that renovation.”
“You must have noticed that piece of cloth around the base of the Obelisk. That’s put there by worshippers who come here at particular times of the year to perform sacrifices.”
We spent a few more minutes trying to see the person authorized to open the gates, without luck. The man then took me to an even closer part of the fence where I took much nicer photos. “If I had come here by myself, I’d have climbed over the fence into the premises. I’m just worried for you, because you’re not from the town.” He said.
On the way back to campus where he had picked me up, I asked him to verify the rumour that there are still human sacrifices in Ife today, especially during some major festivals. I’d been told that strangers to the town are usually the major victims. He laughed and said that I too had fallen to unfounded rumours. “No,” he said, “human sacrifices died long ago. Today they use goats and rams. Next time, try to come during the Olojo festival and you’ll see for yourself.”