History and culture live in diverse cities. One of such is Osogbo, an ancient city and capital of Osun state, South Western Nigeria known for the making of beautiful Adire (tie and dye) made into colourful dresses worn by people from all walks of life.
Osogbo is also known for its landmark Osun Oshogbo cultural heritage which has become an internationally acclaimed cultural tourism festival celebrated yearly for two weeks in the month of August at the UNESCO World Heritage Site sacred grove along the banks of the Osun River in South West Nigeria. It attracts tourists, Osun worshippers and well-wishers from the world over, spectators and tourists from all walks of life.
History has it that from around 1370 AD, the people of Oshogbo have proudly celebrated this all important cultural festival called Founder’s day built around a relationship that existed between a river goddess and the first Monarch of the kingdom Oba Gbadewolu Laroye inside the Osun Grove that culminated in the formation of Oshogbo and the town’s royal institution.
The festival begins with the traditional cleansing of the town known locally as ‘Iwopopo‘, this is followed three days later with the lighting of the historical 500-year-old ‘Ina Olojumerindinlogun’ (sixteen points sacred lamp).
Then comes the ‘Ibroriade’, an assemblage of the crowns of the past ruler for blessings. This event is led by the sitting Ataoja of Osogbo, the Arugba (maiden), Yeye Osun and a committee of priestesses. The Arugba is responsible for conveying the people’s age-long prayers to the grove in a sacred calabash only carried by a virgin signifying purity.
One of the things that endear all people to the festival is the belief that the goddess has the power to bless its true worshippers with fertility and good fortune. Everyone who came for the festival were all dressed in white, with white cowries and white beads on their neck, feet, wrist, head and the priest and priestess held white staffs made with beads, golden bells, golden iron in shape of a cutlass, the men had their hair plaited in Suku style especially the male priests. It was also a day for business women, who sold their Adire, beautifully sewed, carved woods in handy shaped gods, cowries and beads were used in shape of staff, crowns, and necklace and for the waist.
I was among the thousands of people from all walks of life that converged Friday at the Ataoja’s palace to witness the grand finale of the festival. The sacred shrine place where people come to pray and drop their offerings to the osun river goddess is visible from the Ataoja’s palace. In the shrine are carved ornaments of different shapes and a white dove sitting in the middle, big wooden drums, wooden shaped gods, golden bells, gold shaped cutlasses etc.
On this all important final day, a prepared sacrifice in a big calabash covered with a red shawl and white cowries on it is to be carried from the shrine by the Arugba (bearer of the sacrifice). The Arugba is a beautiful young girl, aged 15 carefully chosen by Yeye osun to carry the dreaded sacrifice and this year’s festival is the third time she would be carrying the sacrifice. Her family members are Osun worshippers and are more than pleased with the privilege bestowed on their daughter to be the sacrifice
Arugba left the shrine with the sacrifice on her head accompanied by chanting priests and priestesses followed devotedly by people seen in solemn mood praying. She finally arrived the groove, dropped the sacrifice by the river and immediately the crowd started turning water into their container for different spiritual use and purpose.
Some devotees spoken to expressed their delight in various ways:
Yeye Tinuomi of Epe division said her life is better now after becoming a follower of the osun goddess, she claimed not have initially believed in the osun goddess until she started seeing the miracles. According to her she finds herself swimming inside the water whenever she sleeps and sometimes sees women sleeping beside me only to wake up and see no one. “I became very sick and eventually decided to serve yeye osun and I became okay”.
Adewale Oke another devotee said “I am a sango priest, but I serve yeye osun, and I must see the welfare of the things going on in the shrine today, I am here to assist the osun priest in the shrine. This tradition has started , and it is as old as this town, the deity compelled the people that first got to this town to be having this festival and positive results ever since then they have been positive results”.
The Oshogbo people are always excited during the two weeklong festival centred around colourful carnivals, processions, dancing and art exhibitions which bear the hallmark of the yearly cultural tourism festival.
This year final event had in attendance representative of the Information, Culture and Tourism Minister Abdullah Yusuf, Atao-Oja of Oshogbo supported by other traditional rulers from within and outside Nigeria, a factional leader of the OPC Ganiyu Adams, popular Artist and designer Nike Davies-Okundaye (Nike Art Gallery), Peter Babalola a renowned politician in the state and other dignitaries
By: Adesua Adetutu