Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Ogbomoso : Myth Of The 324-Year-Old Tortoise

In the palace of the Soun of Ogbomoso can be found a 324 year old giant male tortoise that has witnessed the installation of 17 Souns. The ancient town of Ogbomoso and second largest city in Oyo state, has continued to attract tourists from all over the world because of Alagba, the legendary giant male tortoise that has lived and witnessed the installation and coronation of 17 Soun's of Ogbomosoland who have reigned in the town since its inception.

Popularly called Alagba as a sign of respect because of their claim that it is the oldest living animal in the world, the tortoise has been acclaimed to be 324 years old by the people of Ogbomosoland.

In deference to its age, it is called Alagba, which means 'the elderly one' in Yoruba. In Ogbomoso, where the legendary tortoise lumbers about in the palatial grounds of the palace, it is almost a sacrilege to refer to Alagba as an ordinary tortoise.

Since Alagba is believed to be older than everyone in Ogbomoso, its true age relies heavily on oral history. Its present age was arrived at by calculations done from the period the Soun who brought it to the palace reigned.

Mr Ajani Sunday Toyin, secretary to the present Soun of Ogbomoso, said Alagba, was brought to the palace by His Royal Highness, Oba Ikumoyede Ajao, the third Soun to the founder of Ogbomoso, who is believed to have reigned between 1770 to 1791.

Oba Ikumoyede, according to the present Soun of Ogbomoso's, Khakaki, Mr Adeniyi Alagbe (the Oba's praise singer) and Mr Abdullahi Bello, who used to carry the umbrella that shields the Oba from the sun, is a hunter who got the tortoise and brought it to the palace before he became the ruler of the town. Since it was customary in those days to transfer the property and all palace belongings to the new monarch, Alagba has remained in the palace after the king's death till date.

Alagba is said to be guarded by the Soun of Ogbomoso himself, and three other able men, which include Mr Adeniyi Alagbe, Mr Abdulahi Bello and Baba Iyabo, who carry out the Oba's instructions to take care of Alagba. They say the animal eats three times a day like human beings and that its meals are prepared together with people's food in the palace. "He usually eats food of three to four people whenever it is eating and finishes one and half bucket of water (approximately 38 litres of water) which he takes once in every three months, " Mr Bello said.

The animal is said to eat everything that human beings eat, but likes pawpaw, particularly. It is said to detest heat and plays a lot in the rainy season, moves around in the palace and sleeps under a shaded flower in the palace. His weight is put at over 100kg since its weight is equivalent to two bags of cement, and it requires many hefty men to lift it up.

"No matter how heavy a person is, Alagba will carry him or her on its back and be moving about, but the incumbent Oba, who cares so much about the well-being of Alagba, stopped people from climbing on its back as the animal got older," Mr Alagbe said.

Suleiman Abdullahi, Alagba's photographer, said Alagba used to be caged and chained in the past for protection. This later affected its legs and made them perforate its shell, and connect the chain to it, and tied him down so that the tortoise won't be stolen.

"The animal has attracted lots of tourists from all over the world and majority of them even wished to take the tortoise away, if they were permitted," he said.

He further stated that Alagba was sick three years ago and required surgery on its neck, while its doctors put its survival chances at 50 per cent. But later, it recovered, despite Soun's rejection of the surgery. Also in 2008 during the dry season, he fell sick again for many weeks , which made him reject food and refuse to play .When Kabiyesi's attention was called to it, he was treated and started eating and playing after the treatment.

Just like some items in traditional palaces that exist for mystical purposes, Sunday, the Oba's secretary, said Alagba's existence in the palace has no such inclination. Alagba according to him, is just a special creature by God and an aged animal that is well taken care of by the Kabiyesi .He reiterated that there are veterinary doctors who attend to it, give drugs that they put in his drinking water and its food, adding that it would have died if it was still in the bush.

Moreover, all sorts of myths have been woven around Alagba. Some say it hears what people say but cannot speak, Alagbe says. "It recognises kabiyesi's voice. If kabiyesi calls it Alagba, it will be shaking its head in agreement, while some people stay near Alagba to offer prayers for longevity."

A source at the palace told Sunday Trust that for a long time since its existence, Alagba was the only being that the king's wives usually run to for refuge to avoid the king's anger. The king usually pays him a visit whenever he is coming back from an outing or strolling around the palace.

Whatever might have been anybody's offence to the king, the kabiyesi overlooks it if such person runs to Alagba for protection.

The tortoise refused to respond when one of the guardian took our reporter to Alagba for introduction, because she called him Ijapa (Yoruba name for tortoise) when she got there. It responded when called Alagba twice and was told he has a visitor. The ancient one slowly opened one of its eyes and brought out its neck full of age, spots and thick rough warts, and started moving round the palace.

Slowly, it retreated into its thick shell and went back to sleep, its thoughts as mysterious as its age.

Debunking claims by some people of celebrating Alagba's birthday some years back, another source at the palace said there has never been any celebration in his name, and that no importance is attached to him because of the conviction that people may want to start worshipping him if such is done. "Kabiyesi only makes reference to him whenever there is celebration in the palace in recognition of past Obas, but no occasion has been organised in respect of the tortoise," he said.

Contemplating on how Alagba's age can be determined, apart from the use of oral history, Mr Adegbola of Ibadan Agbodi zoological garden, said looking at the body cells and carapace (shell) of tortoise can help to determine its true age. He claimed not to be expert in that area, but grew to understand that, having worked in the zoo for over 20 years now. He however claimed that it is possible because he has seen tortoises that live long , but not as long as Alagba, adding that the new one in their garden is now 38 years old.

He was however doubtful of the possibility of any expert in the country undertaking a venture to determine Alagba's true age, since it would be of no economic value to them.

Sunday Trust gathered from Mrs Olajumoke A. Morenikeji, a Zoologist at the University of Ibadan and Director of the institution's zoological garden, who said it is possible for Alagba to have lived that long, having seen one who lived long before . It is oral evidence and there is no scientific evidence to support it.

She stated that tortoises generally live longer than other animals, as the one they had at the garden died after living for over 125 years.
According to on the internet, tortoises generally live longer and give reasons for their longevity.

The site gave the reason why tortoises are able to live so long as having a lot to do with how they are built and how they live. They are protected by a strong hard shell and they are good at avoiding predators. They also live and move slowly, which means they use up less energy than lots of other creatures. If a tortoise is unable to find enough food, they can survive for longer on less, more easily than animals that burn through their energy really quickly.

The site also added that Addwaitya, the giant tortoise, is reckoned to have been 255 when it died at an Indian zoo in 2006, making him the oldest animal in the world.

Jonathan, the tortoise, is believed to be 176-years-old and was photographed during the Boer war around 1900, and its life has spanned eight British monarchs from George IV to Elizabeth II and 50 prime ministers. It was taken on the South Atlantic island of St Helena, where Jonathan still lives today, along with five other tortoises David, Speedy, Emma, Fredricka and Myrtle, in a plantation.

The previous oldest tortoise was widely thought to be Harriet, a giant Galapagos land tortoise, that died in 2005 aged 175 in Australia. Despite its old age, locals say it still has the energy to regularly mate with the three younger females.
In March 2006, it was reported that an Aldabra tortoise at the Calcutta zoo died and was estimated to be 250 years old.

A Madagascar radiated tortoise was said to have lived in captivity to at least 188 years. Similarly, a 176-year-old giant tortoise from an Australian Zoo died in June, 2006. Typically, the Galapagos tortoise lives 150 years. Other varieties regularly live to be 100.
But now Alagba is seen to be the oldest living animal in the world, having gone through the history of other long living animals.

Some of the visitors at the palace who came to see Alagba advised that he should be taken to museum to generate revenue for government, as such kind of creature is rare to come by these days.

There are also insinuations that some people are planning to steal the animal, which someone said is the reason behind the security around the tortoise.

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