An umbrella is an object for protection against rain or hot sun. When it starts to rain, people stop to put up their umbrellas at once against the rain, but not in Iwoye-Ketu, a border community in Imeko/Afon Local Government Area of Ogun State, Nigeria. There, residents would rather be drenched by the rain than use an umbrella as its use is taboo.
The custom dates back to the 1700s, when the community’s first settlers found the land, and from that period to now, the tradition has remained even after the advent of Christianity and Islam. The youths in Iwoye-Ketu may have issues with this but they do not defy the rule.
Iwoye-Ketu is split between Nigeria and the Benin Republic, and it is about 98km away from Abeokuta, Ogun State capital and bordered by Iwajowa Local Government Area in Oyo State to the north and the Francophone country to the west, according to a report by the Punch.
With a population of about 75,000, the majority of Iwoye people are farmers and hunters. Others are traders. Their ancestors are from Ile-Ife, Osun State, and the town shares a similar history with other ancient Yoruba towns like Oyo. Apart from the Yoruba, other ethnic groups which can be found in Iwoye-Ketu are the Igbo, Egun, Hausa, Fulani, Ohoi and Igede.
According to legend, one of the first settlers of the community who was called Olumu came from Ile-Ife in Osun State to Iwoye-Ketu with three items — a crown, a staff called Opa Ogbo, and his deity called Orisa Oluwa. It is the deity Orisa Oluwa that does not allow the use of umbrellas in Iwoye-Ketu and Wasinmi, a smaller community Iwoye-Ketu controls. The deity also forbids the rearing of pigs because they are dirty, the Ooye of Iwoye-Ketu or the community’s king called Joel Aremu told the Punch recently.
“We have abided by the rules because we (residents) know the custom. Children are told about the custom and when strangers come in, we also let them know they cannot use umbrella or rear pigs here,” he said. “Our residents can use umbrella outside the community; it’s in the community that it’s forbidden. We inherited the tradition from our forefathers and we have guided it since then because we respect our culture. Thankfully, no one defies the rule,” he added.
Some strangers come into the community and use umbrellas but when they do so, Iwoye-Ketu elders do not harass them but rather let them know that it is against their tradition.
“Nothing bad will happen if someone uses the umbrella but it’s our tradition and we want to keep it that way,” Aremu said.
Many residents of Iwoye-Ketu have umbrellas but they use them only when they are outside Iwoye-Ketu. When in their community, they resort to hoods, raincoats, polythene, traditional woven hats, and other clothing to protect against rain or sun.
However, there is another story behind the no use of umbrellas. An elder of Iwoye-Ketu, Jonathan Idowu, described how that story started with their forefathers who were hunters.
“In those days, our forefathers used to hunt elephants in the forests. Since elephants have big ears that are wide like an umbrella, they felt threatened by the sight of umbrellas anytime they saw hunters with them. Most times, the elephants would chase after them,” he told the Punch.
“As a result, there were many vicious attacks by elephants on the hunters. And since it was the tradition of hunters to consult with Orisa Oluwa before setting out, later, the deity warned them against the use of umbrellas.
“We (residents) obeyed whatever Orisa Oluwa told us to do. If it told the hunters not to go out and that they would be killed in the forest if they did, they would stay at home. Orisa Oluwa was also consulted in the wartime. So when it forbade the use of umbrellas, we obeyed and have obeyed since then,” he said.
Today, only a few know what the deity, Orisa Oluwa, looks like as only elders visit the deity’s shrine to perform rituals. Still, Orisa Oluwa is highly respected. Inside Iwoye-Ketu, the Nigerian community where it is taboo to use umbrella.