Itagun, Feb. 2017.

I had always wanted to see how gold was mined since my university days in Osogbo. My friend’s mom told me stories of how she would go to Ilesa, get raw gold, then give a goldsmith to create a beautiful piece.

Her stories gave birth to an idea… Go to Ilesa and find the gold.

You see, I had a plan. I will buy raw gold, break a piece of my favourite china [my moms’] then take it along when I finally take that trip to Japan. Why Japan yea? I am obsessed with Kintsukoroi. The act of repairing broken precious pieces with gold. It is an ancient practice in Japan.

Itagun: The Gold Village
The ladies and our ride for the weekend

It looked like my plan was becoming a reality when the ladies [Titi, Liz and Linda] voted Osun State for our trip. On our list of places to visit were Itagun, Ibodi Monkey Forest, Erin Ijesa Waterfall, Susan Wenger’s residence, Osun Osogbo groove, Opa Oranmiyan, and the Ooni’s palace. We touched every site in one weekend.

How To Get To Itagun

We left Lagos for Osun State at dawn. Ilesa was our first stop. From Ilesa we hired a cab to take us to all the sites we planned in Osun state. The good thing was, the towns neighboured each other.

Itagun: A Gold Village
Mud Houses In Itagun

45 minutes later we approached Itagun. The little village is filled with miners mostly northerners, the aged, mud houses, and mai shais’ [a roadside vendor for easily made meals like tea, noodles etc]. Nothing was made of gold. No luxury houses with gold coating, just farmlands, mud, and miners.

One thing you’d notice as you set into Itagun is the mud. It is glowy. Gold dust seems to have been sprinkled across the village. The grasses were not left out. It was greenish gold.

Itagun: A Gold Village In Nigeria
Miners In Itagun.

The miners moved in groups. They worked in groups. On about every farmland we passed, there were 3-5 miners working together. They were either sorting for gold or digging the ground.

Mining In Itagun

We finally decided to stop and speak to a group. It was a three-man team, consisting of two men in their early twenties [They could pass as teenagers] and one man in his late thirties or early forties, Musa. From the way they worked, I could tell, Musa was the head of the team.

Gold in Itagun
Musa and his team.

As we approached him, he smiled. We exchanged greetings and Baba asked Musa politely if we could watch in what I assume to be a cut and join Hausa.

There was a barrier. Language! The miners do not speak English or Yoruba. So we depended heavily on baba’s cut and join Hausa which the miners struggled to understand.

A few gesticulations later, they said it was okay to watch.

Itagun: The Gold Village
Manually dugged mine

They went into the manually dugged mine and came out with a pan of mud and stones. “Where is the gold,” I remember asking one of the miners.  “Do you have to sort through this mud,” Musa looked up but didn’t reply. He obviously did not understand.

Yes, they had to sort through the mud. To sort, they would pick out the stones and rinse the mud off in the shallow pond on the farmland. It is believed that the gold always settles at the bottom of the pan.

While Musa and his team were sorting, I was analysing the place. It was mud, banana trees, grasses, holes in the ground [mine] an artificial shallow pond and more mud.

It is a tough job. Why has the government not invested in this? Is there an easier process? Could there be better ways of mining for gold? All these questions I asked myself. I wanted to know more. I wanted to have that conversation with them. Talking wasn’t fruitful, so I settled for watching the process.

Itagun: The gold village
Musa and his team sorting for gold.
Itagun: The gold Village
Mining area in Itagun

The Gold In Itagun

In my head, there was no gold for Musa and his team member in this batch. They had been sorting for about 30minutes, I could see the bottom of the pan, it looked empty. But that was because I was expecting to see a gold rock or something.

Shortly after, Musa approached us, there was gold, but it was tini tiny pinchy. It was less than a pinch of salt and it was in powder form.

What!!! For reasons I can’t explain I was expecting to see a rock.

Gold in Itagun
Gold: Spot the gold at the edge of the black sand.

Gold In Itagun: The Miners, The Agents, And The Government

Musa offered to sell the small piece of gold to us at #1500 Naira. I thought of my Kinstukoroi dream and how I needed almost a hand full of gold.

The gold was neither enough for my Kintsukoroi repair nor for Fola’s gold earrings. We had a long list of places to visit, so we could not wait to watch the process again. We let the gold go and tipped Musa and his team.

Musa

We left for Ibodi Monkey Forest.

On our way, I asked our Baba [driver] who they sold the gold to and the quality of gold they get.  He said there were gold agents who bought the gold from the miners in Ilesa. The agents either give goldsmiths to make gold pieces for sale or resell the raw gold to international buyers.

He said gold mining in Itagun and it’s neighbouring gold villages is illegal. Why would something that could be so profitable be illegal? Why?

Itagun: The Gold Village
Baba

Baba told us the story of the Nigerian Gold Mining Company and how they embezzled [one-sided story] the money for development in Itagun and it’s neighbouring gold villages. He said they mined and marketed gold for about 15 years and one day decided to leave.

According to Baba, their equipment was seized by villagers who demanded the promised development. The Nigerian Gold Mining Company never came back.

I will go back to Itagun, this time to buy illegally mined gold. Then go to Japan!

There are several gold villages in Osun State, ever been to any? If you have gold dreams like mine, you can visit Ilesa and it’s neighboring villages.

©Yinka