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The wonders and myths surrounding Zuma Rock

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By Abraham Adekunle

The monolith is four times taller than Nigeria’s tallest skyscraper.

The site is a natural large monolith (or inselberg) found in Niger State, Nigeria. An inselberg is an isolated rock hill, knob, ridge, or small mountain rising abruptly from a gently sloping or virtually level surrounding area. Zuma Rock is an igneous rock composed of gabbro and granodiorite. It is located in the western part of Abuja along Abuja-Kaduna Road off Madala. The locals sometimes refer to it as “the Gateway to Abuja from Suleja.”

It is one of the highest and largest monoliths in the world, standing at about 300m (980ft) above the ground. Its elevation is at about 725m (2,379ft). The Zuba people of Niger State found the rock in the 15th century. They called it “zumwa,” which roughly translates to “a place of guinea fowls.” This accounts for the abundance of these birds around the rock. The Zuba people settled around the rock and regarded it as a spiritual guide. They made sacrifices to the rock to keep them safe. The landmark offered a clear view of the surrounding landscape, so it was also used as a defensive position from other invading tribes.

Formations surface resembles human-like facial features.

Zuma Rock has natural contours on the surface depicting the image of a human face. The natural runoff of water has left the rock surface with a human-like facial feature imprinted on the rock, such as a visible mouth, eyes, and nose. The natives of the community believe the supposed face of the rock represents the deity and ancestral powers protecting and governing the affairs of the people. The Gwari people also see the rock as a gateway for the afterlife. They believe that when people die, their spirits go to the rock.

No precise account pertaining to the origin of the rock has been given by anyone except that it was discovered by the Zuba people in the 15th century upon the instruction of their soothsayer. Over time, the people of Gwari (the same tribe) used the rock as a defense and hideout against invading neighboring tribes and external forces. An interesting myth about the rock is that the it sits on a very large expanse of underground water. It is believed that if the rock is pulled down, an outburst of water will submerge an unimaginable land area.

Forefathers used to make fire from rocks glided against each other.

The rainy season in Nigeria (which is between April and October) comes with another myth about the rock. It is reported that every year the peak of the rock lights on fire. Natives of the community attribute this occurrence to the wonders of their powerful deity and voodoo spells by enchanters. However, scientists have disagreed with this claim. According to science, friction creates moving rocks caused by the sliding slope of the rock. It is during this that the fire comes up.

Dr. Kistso Ngargbu, a geologist and lecturer at Nasarawa State University,Keffi, says, “If it is after rainfall and a particular boulder or broken pieces of the rock got saturated with water, that’s the contact between heat and the main rock body. In the event that it had to slide because water now serves as a lubricating surface, friction is created. We should remember that our forefathers used to make fire from rocks glided against each other. That is what could have happened. Rain water got to the surface, lubricated the boulder and then generated a sliding probably based on a sloppy surface, and in the event of sliding down the fire came up.”

Zuma Rock featured on the one-hundred-naira note.

This sight, which is said to be four times higher than the tallest skyscraper in Nigeria, the NECOM House, was featured on the back of Nigeria’s one-hundred-naira bank note until 2014 when a new design was released celebrating Nigeria’s Centenary Anniversary. Zuma Rock is also higher than Aso Rock and Olumo Rock combined and twice higher than the Uluru Rock in Australia. It has become one of the most important landmarks in Nigeria. On average, it takes about five hours to hike to the top of the rock.

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