OSUN OSOGBO FESTIVAL OF YORUBA PEOPLE OF NIGERIA: AFRICA`S BIGGEST AND AUTHENTIC TRADITIONAL RELIGIOUS FESTIVAL

28 Feb 2014
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Osogbo (also Oṣogbo , rarely Oshogbo) is an ancient Yoruba-speaking city in Nigeria, the capital of Osun State and a Local Government Area. The Local Government Area has an area of 47 km² and a population of about 2 million people live here.

Worshipers of the Osun goddess make their way to the Osun Shrine in Osogbo, Nigeria. Yeye Osun!!

Osogbo lies on the railway line from Lagos to Kano. It is known for the Oshogbo School of Art and the Oja Oba Market building, said to be the former Oba's palace, within yards of the Osogbo Grand Mosque.
Osogbo is the trade center for a farming region. Yams, cassava, grain, and tobacco are grown. Cotton is grown and used to weave cloth. It is also home to several hotels and a football stadium with a capacity of 10,000 and a second division professional league team.

Osun Osogbo festival procession

Osogbo, sometimes called "Ilu Aro" (home of dyeing), is a major dyeing center. The traditional industry is one of the major industries of Osogbo. A number of industries also began to rise after independence, notably small scale establishments involved in textile, foam making, and pencils. Osogbo was made a major industrial development center by the government of Nigeria during the 1970s. Osogbo is also the childhood home of dramatist Duro Ladipo and the Muslim scholar Sheikh Adelabu.

Osun Osogbo festival

Worshipers of the Osun goddess make there way to the Osun Shrine in appease the goddess of the Osun river and other spirits in Osogbo, Nigeria

Osogbo is the venue of the annual Osun-Osogbo festival along the River Osun. The festival is centered around the sacred grove of the river goddess Ọsun, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site


I have provided below various articles on this important, famous and biggest authentic African Traditional Religio-Cultural Festival

                              Osogbo township, Osun State, Nigeria

Oshogbo Renowned Festival
History of the Osun Oshogbo festival
The town of Osogbo is believed to have been founded around 400 years ago. It is part of the wider Yoruba community, divided into 16 kingdoms, which legend says were ruled by the children of Oduduwa, the mythic founder, whose abode at Ile-Ife, south-east of Osogbo, is still regarded as the spiritual home of the Yoruba people.
A Yoruba man performs a ritual to appease the goddess of the Osun river and other spirits in Osogbo, Nigeria

The earliest settlement seems to have been in the Osogbo Grove and included palaces and a market. When the population expanded the community moved outside the Grove and created a new town, which reflected spatially the arrangements within the Grove.

In the 1840s Osogbo became a refugee town for people fleeing the Fulani Jihad, as it moved south from what is now northern Nigeria. The Yorubas retreated further south into the forests and Osogbo, right at the northern edge of the forest, became an important centre for northern Yorubaland.

                          Osun priestess Abayimo Susanne Wenger with other Osun leaders

The Fulani attacks on Osogbo were repelled and, as a result, Osogbo has become a symbol of pride for all the Yorubas.

During the first half of the 20th century, the town of Osogbo expanded considerably. In 1914 British colonial rule begun. As it was delivered under a system of indirect rule through traditional rulers, the authority of the Oba and priests were sustained. A greater change was brought about from the middle of the 19th century through the introduction of both Islam and Christianity. Islam became the religion of traders and ruling houses - as it gave contacts to northern trade routes and links to returning enslaves from Central and South America. For a while all three religions co-existed but as time went by it became less fashionable to be identified with the Ogboni and Osun cults.

By the 1950s the combined political and religious changes were having a marked detrimental effect on the Grove: customary responsibilities and sanctions were weakening, shrines were becoming neglected and traditional priests began to disappear. All this was exacerbated by a rise in the looting of statues and movable sculptures to feed an antiquities market.

             Worshipers of the Osun goddess make their way to the Osun Shrine in Osogbo, Nigeria

 At around this time part of the Grove was acquired by the Department of Agriculture and Forestry for agricultural experiments. Trees were felled and teak plantations established; sculptures were reportedly stolen and hunting and fishing begun to be recorded - previously forbidden in the sacred Grove.

It was at this crucial point in the history of the Grove that Austrian born Suzanne Wenger moved to Osogbo and, with the encouragement of the Oba and the support from local people, formed the New Sacred Art movement to challenge land speculators, repel poachers, protect shrines and begin the long process of bringing the sacred place back to life through once again establishing it as the sacred heart of Osogbo.
Osun Oshogbo festival procession

The artists deliberately created large, heavy and fixed sculptures in iron cement and mud, as opposed to the smaller traditional wooden ones, in order that their intimidatory architectural forms would help to protect the Grove and stop thefts. All the sculptures have been done in full respect for the spirit of the place, with inspiration from Yoruba mythology and in consultations with the gods in a traditional context.

          Osun-Oshogbo River Goddes devotees carrying symbolic goddess at Osun Oshogbo festival

The new work has made the Grove a symbol of identity for the Yoruba people. Many from the African Diaspora now undertake a pilgrimage to the annual festival.

               Afro-Brazilian Osun devotee at the palace of Oshogbo for Osun Oshogbo festival

In 1965 part of the Grove was declared a national monument. This was extended in 1992 so that now the whole 75 hectares are protected.

                                Aso-ebi en route to the Osun Oshogbo Sacred grove

The Osun Oshogbo Festival
The early history of the Oshogbo people is founded on mythical and spiritual beliefs, along the lines of the traditions of the Yoruba people. The Osun river goddess is credited with the founding and establishment of Oshogbo town. Some describe her as the Oso-Igbo, the queen and original founder of Oshogbo town; thus, the Osun Oshogbo festival, which has been celebrated for about six centuries, was built around the relationship between the river goddess Osun and this first Monarch of Oshogbo kingdom. Oba Gbadewolu Laroye.

A quick look into history reveals that most of the age-long culture heritage of the founding fathers of Africans has gone into extinction with the coming of modern norms and civilization, while attempt will not be made to question the benefits of the encroaching way of life, it must be said that effort must be made to remind Africans of their roots, for the sake of posterity, for which lots of organizations and institutions must be given credence.

Despite the gradual fading away of celebrated African cultural traditions, one that has not only stood the test of time, but has been a reference point even till today, is the Osun Oshogbo festival. Since 1370, the people of this part of the world, South-West Nigeria, have been able to hold on to what was bestowed on them by their fore-fathers.

As a mark of the bond that was established six centuries ago, the Oshogbo people gather annually to celebrate what they observe as their Founder’s Day. A unique cultural practice built around the relationship that existed between a river goddess and Oba Gbadewolu Laroye inside the Osun Grove, lay the origin of the Oshogbo ascendancy and kingship institution.

Precisely, every August, a grand and colourful festival is organized at the “Osun” sacred groves in Oshogbo. This draws tens of thousands of believers and tourists from both inside and outside the country. The custodian and priestess of this grove is a German born devotee of the Osun deity, Susan Wenger, 83, popularly called “Aduni Olorisa” or “Iya Osun” by the believers. The Osun devotees dress traditionally in white cloths and believe that the River goddess brings divine favour and has healing and fertility powers.

The Ataoja of Oshogbo, Oba Iyiola Oyewale Matanmi III, is the current king of Oshogbo in Osun State, Nigeria.

Osun Osogbo sacred grove
The dense forest of the Osun Sacred Grove, on the outskirts of the city of Osogbo, is one of the last remnants of primary high forest in southern Nigeria. Regarded as the abode of the goddess of fertility Osun, one of the pantheon of Yoruba gods, the landscape of the grove and its meandering river is dotted with sanctuaries and shrines, sculptures and art works in honour of Osun and other deities. The sacred grove, which is now seen as a symbol of identity for all Yoruba people, is probably the last in Yoruba culture. It testifies to the once widespread practice of establishing sacred groves outside all settlements.

Despite the proximity of the forest to human habitation, this grove was traditionally maintained and protected by the indigenous people using the myths and beliefs system. This prevents any form of encroachment regarded as sacrilegious and offensive to the gods and the goddess.

                                   Osun Oshogbo sacred water

The Osun Sacred Grove is the largest and perhaps the only remaining example of a once widespread phenomenon that used to characterise every Yoruba settlement. It now represents Yoruba sacred groves and their reflection of Yoruba cosmology. It is a tangible expression of Yoruba divinatory and cosmological systems; its annual festival is a living thriving and evolving response to Yoruba beliefs in the bond between people, their ruler and the Osun goddess.

Noble laureate Prof Wole Soyinka takes Osun groove water to Brazil. Soyinka told journalists at the site, “I am taking Osun Osogbo water samples to Brazil to the Osun worshipper. We have a lot of black people there and many of them are devotees of Osun, Sango, Obatala, Ogun, Yemoja and other deities.
”When I visited the worshippers in Brazil, I found out that they have preserved Yoruba culture, from the liturgies to some of the prayers and even the processions of the devotees. I saw the Iyalorisa of Osun. I saw bowl of water, which was symbolic of Osun River and I promise them that I would bring them the actual water from Osun.
The grove covers 75 ha of ring-fenced forest alongside the Osun River on the outskirts of Osogbo town, Western Nigeria. About 2 million people live in Osogbo. The grove in Yoruba cosmology is the domicile of Osun, the goddess of fertility. Ritual paths lead devotees to 40 shrines, dedicated to Osun and other Yoruba deities, and to nine specific worship points beside the river. Osun is the Yoruba personification of the ‘waters of life’ and the spiritual mother of the Osogbo township. It also symbolizes a pact between Larooye, the founder of Osogbo, and Osun: the goddess gave prosperity and protection to her people if they built a shrine to her and respected the sprit of the forest. Unlike other Yoruba towns whose sacred groves have atrophied, or disappeared, the Osogbo Grove has, over the past 40 years, been re-established as a central, living focus of the town. The Osogbo Grove is now seen as a symbol of identity for all Yoruba people, including those of the African diaspora, many of whom make pilgrimages to the annual festival.

                                    Osun Oshogbo Sacred grove

The grove has a mature, reasonably undisturbed, forest canopy, which supports a rich and diverse flora and fauna - including the endangered white-throated monkey. Some parts were cleared in the colonial period, and teak plantations and agriculture introduced, but these are now being re-established. The grove is a highly sacred sanctuary where shrines, sculptures and artworks honour Osun and other Yoruba deities. It has five main sacred divisions associated with different gods and cults, located either side of a path transecting the grove from north-west to south-east.

                                Osun River

The Osun River meanders through the whole grove and along its length are nine worship points. Throughout the grove the broad river is overhung with forest trees. Its waters signify a relationship between nature, the spirits and human beings, reflecting the place given to water in the Yoruba cosmology as symbolizing life. The river is believed to have healing, protective and fertility powers. The fish are said to have been used by the goddess Osun as messengers of peace, blessings and favour.

                              Osun Oshogbo carvings

Traditionally, sacred trees and stones and metal objects, along with mud and wood sculptures, defined the deities in the grove. During the past 40 years, new sculptures have been erected in the place of old ones and giant, immovable ones created in threatened spaces in the grove by Suzanne Wenger working with a group of local artists called New Sacred Art. These sculptures are made from a variety of materials - stone, wood, iron and concrete. There are also wall paintings and decorative roofs made from palm fronds.

There are two palaces. The first is part of the main Osun-Osogbo shrine. The second palace is where Larooye moved to before the community established a new settlement outside the grove. Both buildings are constructed of mud walls with tin roofs supported variously by mud and carved wooden pillars. The three Ogboni buildings are constructed with sweeping roofs rising high over the entrances and supported on a cluster of slender carved wooden posts.

                    Osun lady devotee posing at Osun Oshogbo Sacred grove

 Osun grove was recognized by UNESCO in 2005 as a World Heritage Site and this has been linked to the consistencies that the festival has enjoyed over the years and the protection of the values of the grove by the people.

                                       Osun Oshogbo Sacred grove

According to Oluremi Funsho Adebayo, the co-coordinator of the National Museum, the reason why UNESCO recognized this site, inclusive of the festival is because of the authenticity that is involved. It is the only festival that since 1370 AD has remained what it was originally despite modernity; there has not been any adulteration; everything has been in its original state and all structures that were put in the place that forms the foundation of Osun Oshogbo kingdom are still in existence in the grove.

                              Osun Oshogbo river Goddess grove

Osun Oshogbo festival has a two week programme of events starting with the traditional cleansing of the town called “Iwopopo” followed by the lighting of 500 years old sixteen points lamp three days later, called “Olojomerindinlogun.” This is followed by “Ibroriade,” which is the assemblage of the crowns of the past ruler (Ataojas) for blessings and its being led by the Ataoja who is the ruler and votary maid (Arugba) propelled by Yeye Osun, and a committee of priestesses. The Arugba bore the people age-long prayers to the grove in a calabash of effigy which can only be carried by a virgin, which signifies purity.

This festival, with its international status, has become a major tourist attraction. Observations over the years have shown that the festive period is about the best time to see the city as people parade the streets in their colours. The people look forward to it with great expectation and for the period that it lasts, procession, dance, art exhibition, and colourful carnivals are major attractions of the Osun Oshogbo cultural festival.

The event over the years, has given residents and tourists the opportunity to recreate socially, culturally, as they re-enact one of their renowned age-long spiritual and communal feast. Indeed the Osun Oshogbo has been and is one of the most outstanding and preserved cultural practices of the various festivals in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.

             Osun devotees worshiping at Osun Sacred Grove
          
THE ORIGIN OF OSUN OSOGBO FESTIVAL
River Osun takes its source from Igede-Ekiti through Ilesha and the grove in Osogbo. The Osun goddess established her kingdom there. Olaguna(1952:16) writes that many centuries ago when Oba larooye of iple omu, olutimeyin, a great hunter and their subjects migrated from ipole omu because of water scarcity they then settle at the Osun groove where the goddess has established her kingdom. One day, as they were preparing the ground for the planting season, a tree fell across the river crushing many of Osun tools of trade.

Worshippers fetch water from the sacred Osun river during the Osun Osogbo festival, or the river goddess festival, in Osogbo, capital of southwest Nigeria's Osun State, on Aug. 23, 2013. Every August in Osogbo, the festival presents an opportunity for the indigenes of Osogbo, their friends and well-wishers as well as fun-loving tourists to converge in town for the yearly celebration. The festival has gained a global recognition to such an extent that the Osun Grove was enlisted as a world heritage site in 2005. (Xinhua/Zhang Weiyi)

It is recorded that the goddess was at her:
Larooye olutimeyin,                                you have destroyed all
gbogbo ikoko aro mi                              my dying pots
le ti fo tan                                               she cried
The spirits within the grove pacified the goddess saying
“oso-igbo pele o,                                    spirit of the forest we plead,
Oso-igbo rora o,                                     spirit of the forest be patient
Larooye and olutimehin were shocked because they don’t know how the goddess got to know their names. She sensed this, and later advised them to move to the upper part of the river called OHUNTOTO to domicile. There oba larooye established another palace as well as a thriving market. One day, olutimehin saw some spirit dancing round a lamp with sixteen receptacles, which he seized through incantation. When the goddess learnt of this, she made olutimehin and larooye promise to celebrates the lightening of the lamp annually, particularly when the grand finale of the osun festival is nine days away.

                      Yoruba Osun devotee showing Osun Osogbo religious cult mark on her face

She gave them a calabash containing antiquities with a warning that the contents must never be exposed to the naked eyes. She also decree that the calabash must be taken to the grove during the festival by a virgin with filials to the reiginig kink, and who must be chosen by the ifa. On the festival day, the Ataoja (king ) sits
on the dedicated stone of authority housed on the osun temple/shrine where he commune with the ancestors. Osun promised that if her instruction is carried out, she could pour a curative substance into the river as soon as she accepts the sacrifices from the Ataoja. Traditions which is becoming increasingly known in scholarly
circles reveals that osogho had been founded as early as Oduduwa period. Osogbo, the goddess of Osun river was the queen original founder of Osogbo.

According to Bier (1966:69) there are some heroic roles of historical importance, rendered by Osun goddess especially during the Fulani war of 1842. She was credited with many important achievements, which helped to established the state. She possessed magical powers which inspired her and frightened her
enemies. Tradition acclaims her the goddess of fertility, protection and blessing. She possess the ability to give children (through birth) to the barren women and power to heal the sick and the afflicted by means of her medicinal water from the river. Osun according to the Yoruba cosmology, they believe that she is omnipresent and omnipotent. Her power is represented in another Yoruba proverb which reminds us that no one is an enemy to water and therefore, every one has need of and should respect and revere Osun as well as her follower. The relationship between the osun Osoggo festival which has been celebrated for about six hundred centuries.
Religious personnel take part in a ritual during the Osun Osogbo festival, or the river goddess festival, in Osogbo, capital of southwest Nigeria's Osun State

The Osun Osogbo festival has the early history of the Osogbo people which is founded on mythical powers. The relationship between the people of Osogbo land, the Osun goddess and the festival is that annually the people of Osogbo comes together in the second week of august in worshiping and praising the osun goddess who have been protecting their land. The Osun Osogbo festival which is celebrated in  august has manage to survive the rigors of the 21st century and people hail it as one of  the most solid festival that celebrates and showcases the traditional African culture.

The festival that is held in Osogbo an ancient city in the states of Osun attracts thousands of western tourists, and other parts of the world. The Osun city has surprising facts such as having been governed by late Suzanne Wenger a white woman who was adopted into the city when visiting the deity and was duly appointed a deity. She was renamed “Adunni olorisha oko upon taking her new roles as the Osun administrator. Each year a large festival is held in honour of Osun goddess in Osogbo. The called OSUN OSOGBO FESTIVAL, and is held by the people of Osogbo to renew this between the town and the goddess. Osun Osogbo festival serves the purpose of promoting and understanding cultural history in contemporary times and serves as educational needs for students.
Worshippers of Osun goddess pray to the goddess and other spirits as they take water from the Osun river in Osogbo, Nigeria

THE OSUN OSOGBO FESTIVAL.
The Osun Osogbo festival is an annual traditional festival that involves the entire people of Osogbo (king, traders, hunters, men, women, children, old and young).and the Osun goddess. The Osun Osogbo festival is an occasion of religious observance, in which the people of Osogbo celebrates the significance of the river
goddess (Osun) and her mythical deeds. The festival is a twelve-day events that takes place during the second , third and fourth week of august. It commence and ends in the palace of the Ataoja (king of Osogbo).

According to the information gathered from the “awise” of Osogbo land (cheif yemi Eleburuibon), preparation for the Osun festival begins with ifa consultation. The consultation is done by the chief Babalawo, awise of Osogbo (Chief Yemi eleburuibon) in the palace of the Ataoja. The Ifa consultation provides the specific date and particular sacrificial requirements for the year’s celebration. The specific Ifa consultation is restricted to the religious and political hierarchy of Osogbo and Osun worship. After the date has been chosen, the Ataoja’s representative of the goddess officially announce the chosen date and the requirements for the communal offering to Osun and the people of Osogbo. This marks the beginning of the festival.

The announcement is presented as a formal event staged in the centre of town situated at the Osogbo market where the Osun shrine is located. In reaction to the announcement, the Iya ewe (mother of youths) dance around the market collecting token of wares from the market women as a part of their contribution to the ceremony. the festival officially begins with Popo (spiritual route clearing), which is the physical and ritual clearing of the pilgrimage route from the palace through Obaemu to the grove. This is the first major public event of the Osun festival. This is done by the Ataoja, surrounded by his wives, chiefs, attendants, musicians and guards. The royal horn-blowers lead the way through Osogbo announcing the approach of Ataoja with their instruments. The royal party walks down the streets displaying the Opa-oba (staff of political and religious authority amidst dancing and singing).

Worshippers take part in the Osun Osogbo festival, or the river goddess festival, in Osogbo, capital of southwest Nigeria's Osun State

During this activity, local rulers as well as the general populace participate in the opening celebration by giving their contribution to the success of the festival in terms of money, foods, beverages e.t.c. also women who have given birth during the intervening year between festivals contribute to and participate in the procession with their babies tied to their back.

These women pay homage to the Ataoja singing his praise and that of osun amidst dancing. Since the beginning of the festival, no reigning Ataoja died before the festival, but this last year’s (2010) festival was the first which a reigning Ataoja will die before the annual festival. Late OBA IYIOLA OYEWALE MATANMI III, who reigned for thirty four years and eight days on the throne before the last festival. As the late Ataoja was not there to see the festival, the Ajagun of Osogbo land chief OPARANTI, who was the ‘Adele oba’ was the one that perform the late ‘Ataoja’ duty throughout the festival and takes over the throne until a new king is selected. The second, third, fourth and fifth days of the festival witness the appearance of masquerades dedicated to their ancestors as well as Sango, the Yoruba’s deity of thunder.

The night of the sixth day of the festival is dedicated to osanyin, a yoruba deity responsible for healing through the knowledge of the use of herbs. On this occasion, a sixteen point lamp is lit using palm oil soaked in cotton wicks. The lamp is lit from seven in the night to seven in the next morning. The ataoja, his wives,
followers, traditional chiefs, ifa priest, osun devotees and the arugba (osun bowl carrier) would dance round the sixteen-point lamp(atupa oloju merindinlogun). Three times to the administration of a cross section of the people of osogbo present of the palace. After the dancing round the lamp for the third time, which should be
by daybreak, the king dances to the market and before he comes back, the sixteen lamp should have been put off by itself. The seventh day is dedicated to the ifa priest who dances round osogbo town. The eight day includes acrobatic performances by naming deities like oya, one of the wives of sango, whom osun was
in good terms with her. On the ninth day, the ataoja and his high chiefs pay complemen tto his in-law, in a procession that leads from one house to the other. In a build up toward the grand finale, the tenth witness the laying out of the crowns of the past and present ataoja of osogbo for a rededication to osun. This is called iboriade which takes place at the palace where meetings are normally held. Here, the ataoja worships the crowds, beads, shoes, clothes e.t.c of his predecessors and forebears, making appeasement to osun on their behalf. The ataoja in total submission to the gods is simply dressed on this day, without a crown.

                         Beautiful Yoruba girl from Osogbo. by Rainer Doost

The king will then pray for the town which is followed by pouring of the libation by the king. Honey, banana, adun, salt, bitter kola, oti adura, and so on are used for the prayer. The iya osun (osun priest) will then pour the divination kola, after which she pronounce the gods acceptance of the offering and the people present
will reply saying praise to osun (iya yeye o). Then the king, chief priest and priestess would prostrate before the crown as a salute to the royal ancestors, as the occasion attempts to invoke the spirits of the ancestors of the ataoja to bestow blessings on the people of osogbo.

The ceremony ends with the citation of praise name of the town, the founders of osogbo, the past ataojas, to the present ataoja, by the praise singers and drummers whom the king and the congregation offers some money as a sort of appreciation. The king then departs with his wives dancing to the drum beats. The congregation leaves after after the exist of the royal family. The eleventh day is for the preparation of the grand finale which is the twelfth day. The twelfth day August 27th 2010, which is the grand finale of the osun festival, almost all the population of osogbo under takes the procession into the sacred grove which begins at 9a.m. prior to this, the Ifa (oracle) would be consulted early in the morning in the ataoja palace to foresee how the journey to the grove would be, to ask for precautions which the arugba (osun bowl carrier) should adhere to and ensure a smooth and safe journey to the grove and back to the palace, before leaving for the grove, the first assignment is to go the ataoja to receive his blessings, this serves as a signal that the ritual procession to the grove has begun after the blessings, the king also joins the procession.

A child is raised over heads of worshippers during the Osun Osogbo festival, or the river goddess festival, in Osogbo, capital of southwest Nigeria's Osun State, on Aug. 23, 2013. Every August in Osogbo, the festival presents an opportunity for the indigenes of Osogbo, their friends and well-wishers as well as fun-loving tourists to converge in town for the yearly celebration. The festival has gained a global recognition to such an extent that the Osun Grove was enlisted as a world heritage site in 2005. (Xinhua/Zhang Weiyi)

The Arugba moves from shrine to shrine to perform certain rituals on her way to the grove. She is closely followed by the osun devotees. A group of young boys with whip guides the arugba. The ataoja, his wives, high chiefs, and royal children will follow , then the next group is the babalawos (herbalists) led by the chief babalawo (Chief Yemi Eleburuibon). The last group consist of men, women, journalists tourists, guests, performers, children and so on however, those who are told to attend the ceremony stays at home as the procession passes through the town to the grove. The procession moves dancing to the grove while the arugba has two lumps of kolanut stalked into her cheeks to prevent her from saying a word because she must not talk during the journey.the processors is accompanied with drumming and singing. On getting to the grove, the arugba is relieved of her burden, i.e the calabash is lifted off her head while she goes to rest in the first palace. The Ataoja is then taken into the temple (first palace) where he sits on the stone throne (which the first Ataoja sat on during his reign) to offer prayer to osun. He prays for the town, ask for osun protection over every member of the town.

The sacrifices is then carried to the river by the osun priest who then gives it to the Ataoja who goes to the spiritual spot at the center of the river where he would pray to the goddess and throw the contents of the bowl into the river. A golden fish (IKO) then comes out of the river and spits into the emptied bowl. In
reaction to this, the people drink the water in the river, praying and asking osun to give them children, offered them protection, success, prosperity e.t.c. they then make vows which must be fulfilled and honoured. Some put the water in into bottles and kegs to be taken home to heal the sick. Then the king lead the congregation to the ojubo shrine where he addresses the audience. After his address, the kings wives, the traditional chiefs, cultural groups, social clubs, royal relations, progressive union, masquerades and all presents at the occasion takes turn in paying homage to the king, difference masquerades, different cultural and social groups try to out do one another in their strategic display of happiness and to pay homage to the king and the king who in turn bless them. the procession then return to the palace through the way they came, led by the Arugba who carries the emptied bowl.
A dressed-up girl takes part in the Osun Osogbo festival, or the river goddess festival, in Osogbo, capital of southwest Nigeria's Osun State

They were welcomed with enthusiastic hails and shouts of joy from crowd on account of their safe journey to the shrine and back to the palace. The osun priest and priestess removes the bowl from the Arugbas head while she is sneaked away into the osun shrine in the palace. Five day after the festival, a procession of osogbo people who includes women, youths, and children accompany by osun devotees and Arugba trek into the osun shrine in the sacred grove in a joyous mood. They dance to the osun shrine to thank osun for its protection and blessings and to fulfill the vows they made on the festival day to osun.

               A child that Osun delivered,according to devotee, after his baptism in Osun river

 During this ceremony, the Arugba is gorgeously dressed as against her ritual dressing during the actual festival and carries no calabash. Those whose prayer have answered by osun gives osun what they have promised. The items brought are food items like moimoi, rice, eko, chicken, bean cakes, pounded yam, e.t.c which are carried to the river and scattered into the river.

                                  Arugba carrying Osun calabash

The Arugba eats, relaxes, and jests with past Arugbas inside the first palace and after this every one dance back to the palace and leave for their various homes. The long preparations, the twelve-day ceremony of the osun osogbo festival comes to a benefiting-end. The people of osogbo sees osun osobgo festival as the way the in which they can appreciated, praise the osun deity who has been blessing, keeping and protecting their land throughout the previous year.

                                     Osun devotee`s beads

These festival serves as means of paying their vows to osun deity because the entire people of osogbo and some people who comes together to pay their vows as a means of appreciating what osun deity has done for them and their land. Some Eurocentric scholars and Europeans belief that African has neither history nor culture. The Eurocentric scholars beliefs that European culture, and that literature is primitive, and as such noting can come out of African oral literature, but seeing the osun osogbo festival of osogbo land, its build and distorted their image which they have created about African culture, that African is with or no culture and traditions. Osun Oshogbo festival builds the space and vacuum that indeed African is with many culture. Because there are different people with different culture and traditions and practices in African.

Worshippers take part in the Osun Osogbo festival, or the river goddess festival, in Osogbo, capital of southwest Nigeria's Osun State, on Aug. 23, 2013. Every August in Osogbo, the festival presents an opportunity for the indigenes of Osogbo, their friends and well-wishers as well as fun-loving tourists to converge in town for the yearly celebration. The festival has gained a global recognition to such an extent that the Osun Grove was enlisted as a world heritage site in 2005. (Xinhua/Zhang Weiyi)

THE AESTHETICS IN THE OSUN OSOGBO FESTIVAL.
DRUMS
The different types of drums used during the annual osun osogbo festival ars bata, dundun, gangan, bembe, and ayan ( beaten by the Ifa drummers). The drums can be used to praise, abuse, or warn. Drums are powerful means of communication during the annual osun osogbo festival. It is the drums that announces the day of the festival.

A performer plays drum during the Osun Osogbo festival, or the river goddess festival, in Osogbo, capital of southwest Nigeria's Osun State

The drums are beaten to the praise of osun, the past Ataoja, and the present Ataoja during the annual festival. During the festival, the Aworo (osun preist) plays the dundun drums, while the osun chanters accompany them with their chants and praise songs.The Ifa drummers invoke the spirit of osun and other orisa by playing then ayan drums. The festival drums are often beaten to the rhythm of the songs in honour of osun such as the beating of a drum to the song. As the drums are beaten to the rhythm of these songs, the women, children and men begin to dance to the rhythm of the drum beat.


                         Afro-Brazilian delegation at Osun Oshogbo festival at Osun State,Nigeria

During the festival, the drums are also used to abuse and criticize the white religion i.e Islam and Christianity. The drums are beaten to the rhythm of the song which goes thus;
Nibo loni ngbe yeye mi si o (meaning)   where did he say I should put
Nibo loni ngbe yeye mi si o                   my goddess
Enilawani-osi toni nwa se mole             where did he say I should put
Nibo loni ngbe yeye mi si o                   my goddess
                                                            The man with a horrible turban
                                                            Who asked me, to embrace
                                                             Islam, where did he say I should
                                                             Put my goddess
 performer plays drum during the Osun Osogbo festival, or the river goddess festival, in Osogbo, capital of southwest Nigeria's Osun State

The festival drums are often beaten to the rhythm of the songs in honour of osun
ijo omo la njo (meaning)                          we are dancing a child rearing dance
Ijo omo la njo                                          we are dancing a child rearing dance
Kosi jo eleya lese wa                              we can never dance a shameless dance,
Ko si jo eleya lese wa                             but a dance of child rearers
Ijo omo lan jo
Generally, drums accompany songs to which the worshippers and populace dance to the drums are used during all the activities that make up the osun osogbo festival. The dancing round the sixteen point lamp is accompanied with beating of drums. On the grand finale day of the celebration, the drums are beaten through the journey from the palace to the grove and back to the palace.
These drums beats says different things during the festival like praising the Ataoja, the entire people of osogbo and the drums have different types like gangan, duru, bembe, bata, with different drummers. This songs teaches morals.

A performer dances during the Osun Osogbo festival, or the river goddess festival, in Osogbo, capital of southwest Nigeria's Osun State,

DANCE
During the Osun Osogbo festival, the Ataoja and his wives dance to the drum beats. The Arugba dances during the walk from the palace to the grove and back to the palace. The entire population of men, women and children also dance to the grove.

                              Osun devotees dance towards Osun-Oshogbo Sacred grove

 The various religious and cultural groups present dance to the rhythm of the songs and drum beats. Dance is physical aspect of the festival, in which both the performer and the people are involved. It is a physical participation in the celebration as people dance to the rhythm of the music. The dance with different steps like Bata dance, Atilogun dance and so on
Osun devotee dancing at Osun Oshogbo festival

COSTUMES
Costumes make the festival colourful. The celebration of Osun is apparent in the array of colours. The Iya Osun and other Osun devotees, chanters and singers are dressed in white attire, which symbolises purity and the authority of Osun.

Osun River goddess worshipers and their African hair styles at the just concluded Osun Osogbo festival.

 They also have their hair plaited in styles that identify them as Osun worshippers. The king’s wives are dressed in Aso-ofi and beads. They also have their hair plated, while the Ata oja dresses in Agbada made with Aso ofi. He also has beads around his neck and wrists.
Osun River goddess worshipers and their African hair styles at the just concluded Osun Osogbo festival.

 He wears the ancestral crown, which he wears only once in a year and that is on the grand finale day of the Osun festival, with the opa oba, which he has in his hand. The Arugba (Osun bowl carrier) is dressed in a white linen gown, covered with an upper golden aso ofi.
Osun River goddess worshipers and their African hair styles at the just concluded Osun Osogbo festival.

She wears beautiful beads and has her face beautifully made up. The bowl on her head is also covered with red aran (suede).

Osun River goddess worshipers and their African hair styles at the just concluded Osun Osogbo festival.

The different display of attires by the different group and their different colours add to the beauty of the festival. The unique impact of these attires is to show different groups with different performance in the festival.

                                    Diasporan worshipers of Ifa at Oshogbo festival
MUSIC
During the Osun festival, musical instruments like Agogo, Sekere and Seere are used. The Osun devotees as well as the entire populace sing the praise of Osun. An example of such ptaise song is:
Seleru agbo (meaning)                            brook water portion, rain water portion
Agbara Agbo                                         Is what osun uses to nuture her children
Osun tin woo mo re ki dokita o tode.      Before the arrival of medicines
Abimo ma dara’le                                   a mother that nurses her new born
Osun lan pe leegun                                  born child without heating the
                                                               House. Osun is the one we call
                                                               Masquerade.
The women show their beautiful voices by chanting this Osun’s praise.Another praise in honour of Osun , sung during the Osun festival goes thus:
Ekore yeye o (meaning)                             praise osun goddess
E kore yeye Osun                                      praise osun goddess
Omi n be nibu osun                                    goddess remain praise
Iya n be lodo osun                                     medicinal water is reliable
Iya ye sa bami womo mi osun                    goddess will still exist in the
Onile orun bami se temi                              river, mother please take care of
Awa o le ma b’osun                                   children.
Onile orun,                                                 help solve
Ko sihun tio sawa                                       problems. We cant do withoutworshipping
Osun Omo olosun lawaje                           No evil can befall us. We are children of osun.

         Osun devotee asking for blessings from the River Goddess at Osun Oshogbo Sacred grove

The benefit of this song to the singer is to appreciate and praise Osun. The audience also sings these songs in praising the Osun goddess and the goddess on hearing this, becomes very happy with the people of Osogbo. The devotees and worshippers sing the praises of Osun, in order to honour and appreciate her presence in their lives. During the festival, the praise name of the king of Osogbo town, Oba Laroye (the first Ataoja of Osogbo) and that of the late oba Matanmi III are sung with the Adele Oba, Chief Oparanti are also sung Ataoja of Osogbo. The language used is simple and easily understood by the people present at the
celebration. This adds to the aesthetics of the festival.


MAJOR ROLES TAKEN AT THE OSUN OSOGBO FESTIVAL.
The performance of the osun festival involves the participation of the Ataoja (the king of osobgo), Arugba (osun bowl carrier), Aworo osun (osun priest),Iya osun (osun priestess) and the entire people of people of osogbo who act the audience.

                              Osogbo Osun devotee kid with his dove for sacrifice to Osun deity
THE ATAOJA
The Ataoja is the traditional head of osogbo and the representative of their ancestors. He has the final say in all the traditional matters. The date of the festival is been chosen and announced by the Ataoja. The osun osogbo festival cannot take place or does not take place without the Ataoja.

Ataoja of Oshogbo, Oba Iyiola Oyewale Matanmi III, is the current king of Oshogbo in Osun State, Nigeria

THE IYA OSUN (OSUN PRIESTESS)
The Iya osun is the osun priestess. She is the one in charge of the worship of the osun divinity everyday and at the festival period. She has the full knowledge of the secret of osun and she speaks with osun. She always sings the praise of osun
Osun priestess

THE ARUGBA OSUN (OSUN BOWL CARRIER)
The Arugba osun is a young holy lady who gives up the whole of her time and energy to the religious worship and service to osun.

                                    Arugba Osun

Traditionally, she must be a spinster and a virgin and remain so until she reach the post for marriage and she must be a daughter of the royal house which is the ruling house. She is picked by the Ifa oracle.

 It is forbidden for the Arugba to hit her foot on the rock on her way, as this is a bad sign or omen for herself and the worshippers. This is the reason why the mother and relations of the Arugba do remain restless until the Arugba safely returns from the grove. The festival cannot take place without the Arugba.
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Arugba Osun

THE AWORO OSUN (OSUN PRIEST)
Every orisha in Yorubaland has his or her own priest. Aworo osun is the osun priest . He performs in conjunction with Iya osun in the worship of osun everyday and at the Annual osun festival. He knows what sacrifice is to be offered, how it should be offered and he knows what is necessary to be done to pleaseosun both in time of peace and trouble.

                                     Osun priestess

Before any work of art to be complete and accepted as been aesthetically fulfilling, it must possess the elements discussed above. Therefore, since the osun osogbo festival possess these aesthetics element we can say that the annual osun osogbo festival has the aesthetic experience any art would need to make it a
complete work of arts. And the elements discussed above, make the festival colourful and appreciated.
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Aworo Osun

THE AUDIENCE
The audience is the combination of the entire people of the Osogbo who are the indigenes, the journalists, tourist, foreigners, worshippers, researchers and everybody witnesses the performance of the festival. The audience joins in the singing of Osun praises, they dance to the songs and drum beats.

They participate in the event by drinking the medicinal water and bathing themselves in the river. They also pray to osun, and asking her to offer them protection, fertility. They bring sacrificial items like epo (palm oil), eko (solidified pap), moimoi (beans pudding), obi (kolanut) and so on.
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Source:http://alayeogba.unilorin.edu.ng

      KEEPING THE GODDESS ALIVE
Marketing Culture and Remembering the Past in Osogbo, Nigeria
                                      By Peter Probst
The Osun Osogbo Festival is one of the most prominent cultural festivals in Nigeria. It takes place in August every year, and begins with the securing of the space where the festival takes place. The end is reached twelve days later, with a public sacrifice to the river goddess Osun at the Osun River.

Critics of the festival have lamented about the increasing folklorization of the event. Yet looking at the festival in a historical perspective, such laments seem rather an expression of nostalgia than a justified point. Thus, already in 1952, the American anthropologist, Schwab, observed “the introduction of a European type band march-ing down to the river where the most important part of the Osun ritual occurs, playing ‘Way down the Riverside’” as an example of “the more colorful innovations” which had begun “a number of years ago” (Schwab 1952: 835).What then is the Osun Osogbo Festival? Basically, it is a city festival embody-ing and fostering what Olupona (2001), following Bellah (1970), has called a“civil religion” (Olupona 2001: 46).

As Olupona notes, civil religions provide the framework by which political entities are able to understand their historical experience in religious terms. In the case of Osogbo, this historical experience is based upon the rituals and beliefs centered on Osun. Most often Osun is characterized as a water or fertility deity, but the notions associated with Osun are much wider, embracing equally imageries of healing, femininity, motherhood, sexuality, wealth, wisdom, knowledge, beauty, art, and power. In fact, Osun has different identities, resulting from the various conditions under which people have lent meaning to her. Consequently, the ideas and imageries of Osun in Osogbo are different from those found in other Yoruba towns, and the various places in the Americas where Osun is equally honored, as a result of the mass enslavement of Yoruba men and women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

 Even in Osogbo, the conceptualization of Osun changed. The current fashioning of Osun as being responsible for the advent of Osogbo as a center for the fine arts is a result of the changes that have taken place in the mid-twentieth century.Nevertheless a number of core themes and elements can be delineated. In the elaborate oral traditions attributed to Osun, she is explained as being the only female divinity among the seventeen spiritual beings once sent by the Supreme Creator spirit, Oludumare, to organize and carry out the human in habitation of the world.

 In the course of this task, Osun moved from what was originally, a rather marginal role into the center of importance. By her special female qualities, she not only linked up with the other male divinities,thereby acquiring central knowledge like that of divination, she also made her-self indispensable, in that she provided—and still provides—the divinity of Obatala with the water that he uses to smooth the clay with which he moulds the human beings. In other words, Osun controls water as the source of pro-creation, and the representation of the life giving principle par excellence.Considering this crucial position in the Yoruba pantheon, Murphy’s and Sanford’s recent remark that Osun is related to the word orisun, meaning “the source of a river, a people, or of children” points to the profound political role of Osun (2001: 2).

Indeed, as Verger has noted, Osun is praised—among other ways—as the one who “dances to take the crown without asking” (1959: 426).Given the political history of Osogbo, on the one hand, and the Osun Osogbo Festival, on the other, it seems feasible that Osun was originally a fertility cult,practiced by the autochthonous population, but then turned into a cult of power and kingship. At least, a number of ritual events taking place in the course of the festival indicate that the latter was possibly transformed from an agricultural New Year festival into a ritual of kingship, commemorating the foundation of the city and legitimizing the authority of its ruler. Be that as it may, the seizing of power and the taking over of rulership does constitute a prime feature in the narratives told about the origin of Osogbo.

 According to these traditions, an Ijesa prince, Laroye, was the official founder of Osogbo.Together with a small group of people, he had left the village of Ipole because of a shortage of water. When they came to Osogbo they discovered the Osun River. They tried to settle there, but the area was inhabited by wizards. Laroye managed to defeat the wizards by seizing a sixteen-point lamp, an act that essentially paved the way for the establishment of Osogbo as an Ijesa settlement. It is because of this that Laroye and Osun, the river goddess, made a pactof mutual protection. Just as Laroye promised to protect the land of Osun, the latter promised to protect Laroye and his people. A very similar story is narrated about Osun.

 According to this tradition, the sixteen-point lamp is said to have belonged to Osanyin, a Yoruba deity, responsible for herbs and healing. Osun, however, managed to defeat Osanyin, and made him part of her divine kingdom. Taking these two traditions together, it seems as if the Ijesa cohort, under Laroye, overtook the territory from the autochthonous population, and installed the cult of Osun as symbol of power and rulership. Over time, the goddess developed into the most important factor of integration of the town, and with the growing number of its adherents, her influence,political status, and power increased.

 A crucial role in this context was played by the Fulani wars in the late 1830s (see Gbadamosi 1978). Unlike Ilorin and Oyo, Osogbo was not sacked by the Muslim forces, but succeeded in fighting back the aggressors. The defeat of the Fulani meant that the refugees who had left the region to seek shelter in Osogbo remained in the city. Their incorporation into the urban community took place through Osun. To bind them to the royal house,the king of Osogbo, being equally the chief priest of the Osun cult, provided the refugee families with single refractions of Osun, together with a place inside the Osun grove as a private place of worship and sacrifice to these minor deities.

Though the victory over Fulani did not stop the expansion of Islam, Osun was able to maintain its integrative function. With the advent of Christianity, how-ever, the situation changed. The first missionaries had arrived in Yorubaland already in the first half of the nineteenth century, but in Osogbo, the impact of Christianity was effectively felt only some fifty years later. Instead of multiple religious loyalties that characterized the process of Islamization in Osogbo, the missionaries made it clear that there is no alternative to the gospel. Combined with the effects of an increasing dominance of British colonial rule, their efforts turned out to be successful, and in the early 1930s, roughly a hundred years after the Fulani war, the mission forced the king to give up his office as the chief priest of the Osun cult.

                                 Orisa worship at Osun goddess presence

With the introduction of the aworo (today the male counterpart of iya osun, the Osun priestess)a new office was created whose incumbent now took over the ritual duties of the king within the Osun cult, leaving the king mainly with representative functions. In other words, the “innovations” Schwab had observed during his time of research were already part of an ongoing ritual transformation, whose dominant characteristic seems to have been an increasing outwards orientation, produced and prompted by the incorporation of the Osun cult into the colonial world and its regime of meaning.

                                                   Osun Oshogbo sacred grove water
Osogbo Modern
In what Enwezor (2001: 10–16) has named “the short century,” the processes of decolonization he refers to with his phrase found their most acute expressions often in the field of arts.

Osogbo is commonly seen as having played a crucial role in this “short century.” After all, it was in Osogbo where the confrontation with modernism did result in an influential art movement, which explicitly attacked and contested the epistemic foundations of the colonial project.

Susanne Wenger and her colleague. The 94-year-old Austrian has lived in Osogbo for 58 years and has become a high priestess of Osun.

 Embodying this modernism, and thus very much in the center of the confrontation, were two expatriates, Ulli Beier and Susanne Wenger. Both had come to Nigeria in 1950—Beier as a phonetics lecturer at the university of Ibadan, and Wenger as an artist (see Ogundele 2003). Both had met the year before in Paris, where Wenger had gone in search of new inspirations in her artistic work.

                                Osun devotees fetching holy water from Osun river

 However, disappointed by what she considered to be the too‘intellectual’ understanding of art by her French colleagues, she accepted Beier’s offer to accompany him to Africa. Their ambitions were shaped by a rejection of the politics and ideologies that they believed contributed to the onset of traditions that had led to World War II, and when they arrived in Ibadan, both refused to conform to the expectations of the colonial establishment.

While Beier invested his energies into projects that aimed to ‘reanimate’African traditions of artistic expression, Wenger immersed herself in traditional Yoruba religion. When, in 1958, after a phase of searching and learning, they finally settled in Osogbo, they made the city the center of their individual projects. Thus, Beier founded the famous Mbari Mbayo club, in which he organized readings and art workshops, curated exhibitions, and initiated theatre performances.
Osun River goddess worshipers and their African hair styles at the just concluded Osun Osogbo festival.

Whereas Wenger made it her life task to preserve and reshape the grove of the local guardian deity Osun with new shrines and sculptures.The immediate occasion provided the condition of the Osun grove. The traditional taboos on hunting and fishing were not enforced any longer. Farmers and businessmen had started to use the grove for commercial purposes. In addition, a primary school had been erected on an important ritual site in the grove. Last but not least, the most important building in the grove, the main Osun shrine, a modest mud building situated by the river, showed clear signs of decay. White ants had begun to affect the structures.

                           Osun devotee exhibiting his body painting

 Public support to change the situation did not exist. Active membership in the cult had declined considerably, and therefore money to restore the shrine was not available. Against this background, the Osun cult officials turned to Wenger for help. The move was a very pragmatic one. For the Osun cult officials, Wenger was seen as an attractive ally. Already familiar with Yoruba religion, Wenger became a member of the Obatala cult and the Ogboni society. Since coming to Osogbo,her membership in these two ritual institutions legitimately allowed her to join also the town’s small ritual community.

Right from the start, she developed an interest in the ritual landscape of Osogbo. Many of the shrines had already col-lapsed, yet their sites were still remembered, and some sacred functions were still carried out on them. For Wenger, they provided the opportunity to rebuild them according to her own artistic ideas of traditional Yoruba religion. In fact,even before she started the Osun grove project, she had rebuilt an old shrine of her own cult group along the outskirts of Osogbo. With its dynamic form, the result differed from the plain appearance of traditional Yoruba architecture.

Nevertheless, the ritual site had a proper structure. Coupled with the realization of Wenger’s status as an expatriate, and the importance of having access to the outside world that this status offered, the Osun cult officials approached Wenger to ask for help in the grove. Expectedly, the strategy worked. Wenger was able to gain financial support from the department of antiquities in Lagos and the work began. Wenger’s commission was restricted to the eradication of the ants in the Osun shrine by the river. Soon after this was achieved, however,the work extended to other parts of the grove. Together with a handful of local craftsmen, mostly bricklayers and carpenters, Wenger started to build a mud wall decorated with relief images of important religious and historical figures to protect the inner sanctum of the grove.
Iya osun

 Next came the reshaping of the Osun shrine itself, followed by the erection of a robust cement sculpture representing Osun right at the riverbank. The work on the shrine led to further projects in other parts of the grove. In the course of time, this profusion of architectural and sculptural structures throughout the grove became known as “The New Sacred Art” (see Beier 1975); “Sacred” because all of the works were devoted to Yoruba deities; “New” because the bold and expressionistic style of the work stood in sharp contrast to the serenity of traditional Yoruba sculpture; and“Art” because Wenger conceived of the project as being indebted to the creative mind of their producers.

                                      Osun Oshogbo sculptural work

Wenger’s reshaping of the grove took place at the same time as Beier’s activities in the Mbari Mbayo Club. Both Beier and Wenger shared the same perception and understanding of art as being basically, a self-referential process brought forward by a single, autonomous mind, disentangled from the past. Yet both differed in their approach to the stimulation of artistic expressions. While the so-called ‘Osogbo School,’ promoted by Beier, had its roots quite deliberately outside of what was seen as ‘tradition,’ Wenger concentrated her efforts in creating a movement that was equally embedded within it as well as transcending it.Given the political context of the time, with Nigeria having reached independence in 1960, Osogbo became a synonym for the successful attempt to the overcoming of the oppressive bonds of colonialism.

In fact, as Beier himself has remarked: “on the international scene acceptance and rejection were often determined by political rather than artistic considerations” (2000: 48). Significantly, the first museum exhibiting the work of the Osogbo artists in Europe was the Naprstek Muzeum in Prague, in 1965. With the help of newspaper and television, Osogbo also became celebrated in the ‘West’ as well. More and more visitors came to Nigeria to witness and report about the ‘rebirth’ of Yoruba art and culture.
Ulli Beier, Susanne Wenger `s former husband.

 For the actual representatives of this ‘rebirth,’ the gro-ing popularity of the town improved their situation. Artists such as Twins Seven Seven, Nike Davis, or Rufus Ogundele, who had come out of the art workshops organized by Beier, soon became part of the global art world. The same held true for members of Wenger’s group. Some of the former helpers, like Adebisi Akanji, were able to make a career on their own. Others were less successful.Not promoted by Wenger, they could either leave the group or had to remain in the lower ranks, doing mainly maintenance work.

From the 1980s onwards,however, the boom declined. Though the stream of the visitors coming to Osogbo remained unbroken, the market for Osogbo art changed. The interest of the national as well as international public shifted, and began to focus more on the Osun festival. As a result, the political processes in Osogbo itself shifted as well; as the opening address of the king of Osogbo indicates, the realm of art still plays an important factor for the communal identity of Osogbo. But at the same time, this identity has become more fragmented, making it more difficult to maintain a sense of communal coherence.

Marketing Osun
Both a result, as well as a medium, of this process is the Osun Festival Committee and the Osogbo Cultural Heritage Council. The duty of the two bodies is to organize the festival and provide information material for the public. Both of the two bodies have their offices at the palace. Membership overlaps, but is not identical. For example, while the two leading ritual officials of the Osun cult are part of the Festival Committee, they are not part of the Heritage Council.The Festival Committee is the older of the two institutions. It was founded in the mid-1970s. One of its founding members was Jimoh Buraimoh who has been on the committee ever since. Born in Osogbo in 1943, Buraimoh belongs to the first generation of the so-called Osogbo artists. Although he was unsuccessful in reaching the inner circle of those promoted by Beier and his colleagues, he ha sbecome the local icon of ‘Osogbo Art.’
The Ataoja of Oshogbo, Oba Iyiola Oyewale Matanmi III, is the current king of Oshogbo in Osun State, Nigeria

The street he is living in bears his name;the palace, the house of assembly, as well as several private and company houses in Osogbo are decorated with his mosaics. He sits in numerous clubs and committees, including the Rotary Club, the Osun Festival Committee, the Osogbo Cultural Heritage Council, the Progressive Union, and the Confederation of Professional Artists in Osogbo of which he is the president. In addition, he carries the chieftaincy title of asoju oba, signifying his status as leader of one of the  fourteen quarters Osogbo consists of. Last not least, Buraimoh is also a successful businessman. Sensing the growing tourist potential of the town and the international attention it received, he early invested his money in the building of a nightclub and hotel. Over the years, the business kept flourishing and expanding.
Iya Osun

As a result, both the hotel and the night club have not only become a popular address for foreign tourists visiting Osogbo and the Osun festival,they represent, also, a favorite meeting place for local politicians, bankers, and businessmen. As Buraimoh admits, he owed his nomination to the committee to the present king of Osogbo, Matanmi III, who had been installed in July 1976. In contrast to his predecessor, Matanmi had no intimate knowledge of the cult and the festival. He had been raised as a Muslim, and was working as an accountant in Lagos when he ascended the throne. To set up a Festival Committee suited not only the modern bureaucratic milieu he had been living in, it was also a way of exercising control over a realm he felt detached from. To achieve this, he gathered a number of young people around him whom he considered reliable. As a cousin of Matanmi, Jimoh Buraimoh was one of them. Matanmi considered Buraimoh to be particularly qualified for the work of the committee. He was part of the art movement, and knew the latest developments in Osogbo much better than Matanmi. Right from the start, Wenger’s activities in the grove had been met with resistance. Religious reasons were interwoven with economic ones. Being a commercial center with lots of immigrants, Osogbo—like all Yoruba cities—was, and is up to now, short of land. Thus, farmers and businessmen had moved into the grove, thereby violating the pact the founder of Osogbo had made with the goddess. In order to prevent further damage, Wenger and her followers appealed to the state. The appeal was successful, and in 1975, the Nigerian Government declared the Osun grove a National Monument, and obliged the king of Osogbo to oversee and conduct the festival.

                     Osun Oshogbo traditional title holder

The land was officially measured, and signs were put up in the forest forbidding farming, building, the hunting of animals,and tree felling. Although the protection the grove received under its new status of a national monument turned out to be effective, the conflicts did not stop;they merely shifted from the grove to the festival.The main problem now became the meaning and significance of the festival.With the involvement of the Nigerian state, the importance of grove and the festival had been transferred from a local to a national framework, within which both institutions became objects of a policy that stressed the dignity and strength of Nigerian culture in particular, and African culture in general. The definitive climax of this development constituted the legendary International Festival of African Arts and Culture (FESTAC), held in Lagos in 1977.

Financed by oil money, the FESTAC was a spectacle and political demonstration of a new postcolonial self-esteem (Apter 1996). Its international success sparked off anew kind of ethnic and religious tourism, with people of African ancestry com-ing to Nigeria to seek and revitalize their ethnic and cultural roots.In Osogbo itself, the development led to the formation of the Osogbo Cultural Heritage Council. Founded in 1986, with Jimoh Buraimoh again one of its founding members—the official tasks of the Council were “to identify, fully revive and develop the historical monuments and activities into tourist attractions”(Osogbo Heritage Council 1986: 9). The economic enthusiasm was great.Thus, it was planned to erect kiosks, restaurants, parking spaces, and even an amusement park in and around the grove.

             Adunni Olorisa (Susan Wenger), Osun`s greater devotee of Caucasian extraction

These processes of cultural reification and ‘objectivization’ that have under-pinned the development of the grove and the festival could be understood to be a result of the global forces of commercialization and secularization. The truth,however, is that both of these forces seemed to have bypassed Osogbo. Tourism,the dream of the 1970s, turned out to be an illusion. The fame of Osogbo as a city of arts has begun to dwindle, leaving only the grove and festival as the main attractions. Certainly, the festival did become a global event, but the twelve days the festival lasts were not enough to create a viable tourist industry.  Equally false is the secularization thesis. Rather than a decline of religion, Osogbo has seen an enormous increase of Christian churches and Islamic sects that have become a serious threat to the religious pluralism and syncretism that characterized Yoruba society in the past. Indeed, a religious polarization has set in, with ardent Christians and Muslims rejecting the festival as an expression of paganism, and a rather diffuse majority of the population embracing and sup-porting it as a symbol of belonging and local identity (Ogungbile 1999).Caught between these two fractions, the king of Osogbo found himself in a precarious situation. While representatives of the Islamic sects reminded him of his Muslim identity and urged him to close down the grove and forbid the festival, the king-makers and ritual officials of the Osun cult made it clear that the history of his office demanded his active participation in the performance of the rituals devoted to the goddess.
Osun devotees

In order to counter the criticism on the side of the Muslims, King Matanmi and his personal consultants opted for a policy of enhancement and desacralization, by which they tried to reduce the religious content of the festival, and represented it as a social event and a festival of commemoration and remembrance. An indication of this are the publications of the heritage center. In the course of the last twenty years, they have shifted the frame of reference in their public advertising of the festival. While in the 1980s, the places the Council referred to in its publications were religious centers like “Mecca” and “Jerusalem,” from the 1990s on-wards, these places have become more and more substituted by  references to global entertainment centers, like “Las Vegas” or “Hollywood.”

The ritual maiden of Osun carrying Osun’s sacrificial apparel during the Osun festival (Photo: Peter Probst 2002)

The policy was made quite explicit in 1993 when, in his opening speech of the Osun festival, Matanmi III declared: “Osun Osogbo Festival is a festival. That isall. It is the celebration of the birth of Osogbo and the remembrance of the events that led to the founding of the town. The occasion is an attempt on our part to look back into the life our forefathers which we can still appreciate and hope to hand over to generations after us. It is not religion per se but a remembrance festival” (Osogbo Heritage Council 1993: 2)The bluntness of this statement caused an outcry of protest in Osogbo.

                                               Osun devotees

 Members of the diverse religious cults were furious, and insisted that the Osun festival did indeed express core religious values and beliefs. For them, the festival was not a matter of remembrance, but one of homage to the goddess. They insisted that the reality of the powers of Osun were without question, and that any attempt to deny it would provoke the anger of the goddess who would withdraw her protection from the town. The fear proved to be groundless though, as nothing serious happened. Yet even now, one can hear many disgruntled comments about the lack of interest the king is showing in the grove and the festival.
Osun devotee

Competing Claims
What we find in Osogbo today, is a highly fragmented setting, with numerous actors playing different roles and pursuing different agendas. In order to make the situation transparent, I will reduce the complexity by focusing on three main groups and individuals.The first one is Ibrahim Mukanda, whom many people in Osogbo today consider to be the number one opponent of the grove and the festival. Indeed,Mukanda does not endorse the activities associated with the grove, and rejects and condemns them wholeheartedly. Much of this opinion rests upon the long-standing feud between Mukanda and Wenger.
SUSANNE WENGER, Nigeria’s Mystical White High Priestess
                                  Abayimo Susanne Wenger

A constant quarrel in this feud concerns the Islamic school, which Mukanda built in 1968 at the southern end of the grove. As Mukanda stresses, the school was meant to be a deliberate signof religious righteousness in the middle of idolatry and pagan practices. As a result, Mukanda and his followers repeatedly destroyed the structures created by Wenger and her collaborators. Although, in the mid-1970s, Wenger achieved a partial victory by convincing the Nigerian government to declare the grove and its image works a national monument, this did not stop the conflicts.Rather, it ventilated them, for the state—being the new owner of the land—has not yet compensated the former owners. Mukanda is bitter when he talks about these issues. He makes it clear that he had acquired the land legally from members of the royal family whose head, after all, is a Muslim like Mukanda him-self. But instead of closing down the grove and the festival, Mukanda laments that the king supports the pagans.A close ally of the palace is the Osogbo museum. Established in 1993, the museum took over the task to protect and maintain the grove from Wenger and her collaborators. In fact, before the opening of the museum, Wenger had always opposed the attempts of the palace and the local heritage council to‘develop’ and ‘modernize’ the grove.

 Respective plans had led to serious conflicts between Wenger, on the one side, and the heritage council and the palace on the other. While none of these plans were implemented, the tensions remained. The artists and caretakers that Wenger had gathered around her to continue her project, were paid by Wenger herself. However, with the opening up of the museum, the situation changed, as suddenly the artists working formerly for Wenger now found themselves on the payroll of the museum. In the course of time, the museum directors leaned more and more toward the palace.

                                   Osun devotee

Money was and still is an important factor; the grove and festival do generate rather substantial sums. Stemming from a variety of sponsors, such as the Nigerian state, private citizens, and business companies, the money flows into the palace where it is distributed—but not always according to the plans of the sponsors.

Yet even apart from such economic motives, the position of the museum is different from that of Wenger and her group. As the present director stresses, for him the image works in the grove are monuments; that is, their purpose is to remind the general Nigerian public of its rich cultural heritage. Unfortunately, he says, his efforts to maintain this heritage, and make it understandable and intelligible to outsiders are often faced with critique on the side of those he calls ‘traditionalists.’The composition of these ‘traditionalists’ is another interesting feature. About half of them are members of the Orisha Trust Fund, a private philanthropic organization whose members show an active interest in the work of Wenger, and whose aim is to help her financially. Most of its members live in Lagos and Austria, but some also reside in the U.S., one even in Australia.

                Semior Iya Osun and an adopted daughter of Abayimo Susanne Wenger

For them, the Osun grove reshaped by Wenger and her group is a symbol of the power of art to stop the negative and disruptive effects of Western culture and civilization. They see Wenger and her image works primarily as a glorious and unique synthesis of ‘traditional’ African religion and Western Modernity that is worth saving.The other half of the ‘traditionalists’ has quite a different position. Consisting of the few remaining priests and active adherents of the traditional Yoruba cults that still exist in Osogbo, their attitude toward the image works standing in the grove is predominantly positive. Some of the priests still remember the arrival of Wenger in the late 1950s.

                      Ifa initiate making their way into Osun Osogbo sacred grove

 As they recall, at the time Wenger came, the grove was practically devoid of any sculptures. The only structure was the main temple near the river. Occasionally, there were mud sculptures erected to mark the individual places where the various families in Osogbo conducted their private rituals and sacrifices to the various refractions of Osun. In contrast to the temple, which belonged to the palace, these sculptures did not last long.But the image works erected by Wenger and her collaborators were made of cement; they were made to last. The priests do not mind them. In fact, they welcome them.

                             Osun devotees on their way to Osun Osogbo sacred grove

As they point out, without them, the Osun grove probably would not have survived. However, when asked whether the cement sculptures and architectures can be considered as ritual objects, they get angry. Ritual objects, they stress, are secret. Not everybody can see them, and if people can see them, then only on certain occasions. With the images in the grove, this is different. They are public. Everybody can see them at any time.

                                            Osun sculptural art

In addition, they say, and more importantly, to serve a ritual function it would have been necessary ‘to wash’ the works. ‘Washing’ refers here to a particular procedure by which persons become images just as images become per-sons. That is, both objects and persons change their status, by being washed with particular herbs and addressed with certain chants. The aim of these activities is to imbue the object or the person with the energy of the deity. If done properly and approached in the right way, the deity will ‘appear’ before the ‘inner eye’ of the beholder, who is then able to communicate with the deity.
Osun Priest (aworo) renewing the painting on a figure representing Laroye.The figure is housed at the palace and is only taken out once a year in November on theoccasion of the so-called festival of images. (Photo: Adigun Ajani 2002)

The image works that stand in the grove have never been‘washed.’ For the priests, they are just ‘monuments.’ As such what they refer to and remind of is a different history, a different remembrance to the one the priests are interested in. In other words, the public they appeal to is different from the one the priests feel belonging to.The priests’ ambivalence toward the image works links up with a com-plaint, whose basis is not so much rooted in religious but in political issues.In contrast to the complaints about the desacralization policy, these comments are rather hidden and hardly ever fully articulated. It is more a rather diffuse uneasiness and discomfort.

 The context in which I came across it was during the discussions about the publications of the Heritage Council. What turned out to be a delicate issue was the representation of the history of Osogbo given in the brochures. Often, the explanations given to the various places in the grove formed the occasion for expressing a careful critique, concerning the correctness of the information given in the texts.

                         Osun devotees

Discussing the matter in detail it soon became apparent that the palace is using the brochures to exclude rivaling claims and competing historical traditions in favor of the ruling royal lineage.While such a process of a political centralization is far from being extraordinary in African society, what is interesting in the case of Osogbo is that here the written media through which this process operates is based upon visual media.That is, the history of Osogbo, which is given in the brochures, is narrated along the shrines and sculptures standing in the grove. Thus, what has taken place is the creation of a double representation, with the written representations using the visual and verbal ones as their legitimization and point of reference.
File:Templo Osun3.jpg
A shrine in the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove, in Osogbo, Osun state , Nigeria

Media, Meaning, and Memory
In Yoruba society, the question whether Yoruba divinities are either deified humans who had once achieved fame and prestige, or represent an independent and autonomous principle of spiritual force and power is not an ontological but a pragmatic issue. Both perspectives hold, but the question of when to opt for what is decided along political lines.
After all, political legitimacy of a Yoruba kingdom requires a direct link with the divinities, Oduduwa, the progenitor, is said to have sent from heaven to populate the earth.The history of Osogbo told in the brochures of the Heritage Council is a casein point. Two genres of histories are distinguished: a “legendary” and a “traditional” history. The former focuses on the goddess, Osun, who is described as a beautiful queen, credited with magical powers.
Named also Oso Igbo, translated as ‘wizard of the forest,’ the foundation of Osogbo is attributed to her. The actual time of this event is left open. It is only mentioned that all of this took place “as early as the period of Oduduwa” (Aofolau 1999: 6). The “traditional history” starts with the coming of two people, Laroye and Timehin, whose appearance is situated in the seventeenth century. Both Laroye and Timehin are said to have come with their followers in search of new land. While the discovery of the Osun River, and the first interaction with the goddess residing in the water is credited to Timehin, Laroye is said to be the one who established permanent contacts with the goddess and her people by founding a settlement.As time passed on, regular floods caused a problem
. Laroye’s people consulted the Ifa oracle, which stated that the floods were sent by Osun, who had become angry about the immigrants’ devastation of her land. A sacrifice was made and Osun showed them a new place to settle. The new domain prospered, more and more people came, and soon the place became too small. Thus, another place was sought and once again the people moved. This time, they settled way up the Osun River where they stayed up to now.Both of the genres use the image works created by Wenger and her collaborators as an organizational principle of their narratives. That is to say, the various shrines and sculptures standing both inside and outside the grove provide the occasions for explaining the different episodes of the migration history. For example, some of the shrines located along the Osun River are said to represent the officials who worked at the royal court of Osun before the advent of Laroye and Timehin.
Other structures are said to be markers of the various palaces Laroye built on his way from the banks of the river up the present site. In other words, the text reinforces the structuring of the social space marked by the images. As such, the content of the text differs, however, from the explanations Wenger herself has given to the structures.From the 1970s on-wards, she began to explain her project in a number of publications (Denk 1985; Wenger 1977; Wenger 1990; Wenger and Chesi 1981).

Yet conflicts still simmer. What is depicted in the brochures as a more or less linear history of political evolution is actually a complex and rather fragile matter.
Up to now, there are lineages in Osogbo whose origin goes back to the indigenous population. Although they have become fully incorporated into the political body of the immigrants of which they feel a constitutive part, their ritual duties and positions during the installation ceremonies and the annual sacrifice at the Osun river reflect their historical status; some of them possessed particular places in the grove where they met for family rituals. Others were in charge of small shrines for deities under Osun, which were later built anew by Wenger and her collaborators. In the course of the last decades, however, these lineages have lost their ritual importance. The ruling family has skipped somof the rituals at the river, leaving the shrines as a politically empty monument.
                    Arugba (middle), carrying the Osun-Osogbo Calabash covered. PHOTO: OYASAF

But resentment toward the strategy of centralization prevails not only among those whose position has become difficult in Osogbo. It is also a matter of concern among those who have made a career out of Yoruba religion and ritual.A vivid example is Chief Elebuibon, a priest of the Ifa oracle, and by far the most successful religious entrepreneur of Orisha worship in Osogbo (see O’Connor and Fayola 1999). Elebuibon started his career in the late 1960s by producing radio programs based upon the Ifa divination corpus. The production of books, audio cassettes, and video films, all devoted to various aspects of Yoruba religion followed. In fact, the regularly expressed plans on the side of the Heritage Council and the Tourist Department to turn the grove into a“Nigerian Hollywood” are mainly due to his activities.
In the late 1980s, not the least through contacts made with visitors who had attended the Osun festival,Elebuibon expanded his business ventures to the U.S. and Latin America where he established himself as a poet, film maker, and authority of Ifa divination.Today, he sits in various committees organizing and co-coordinating the various versions of Yoruba religion on an international level. He receives visitors from abroad; just as regularly, he himself flies to the U.S. to see clients, give lectures,and attend conferences. Having thus become a global player of Yoruba religion,Elebuibon still has a keen interest in local history and politics. The basis for this is his genealogy, which is said to go all the way back to Timehin, the cofounder of Osogbo. Elebuibon criticizes the palace for not giving enough credit to the role of Timehin in the history of Osogbo.
In his view, the historical texts published by the Heritage Council are highly misleading and need to be rewritten again. Indeed, he is planning to produce a video on the history of Timehin,which he intends to shoot in the grove, using the shrines and sculptures standing therein as part of the scenario.Even though the palace knows of Elebuibon’s political claims, both sides cooperate with one another on the basis of mutual profit. In terms of money and prestige, this year’s festival, for example, was particularly successful. As a member of the organizing committee of the 2001 world conference of Orisha religion, Elebuibon arranged to incorporate the Osun festival into the program of the conference which was held in Ife, the historical and religious centers of Yorubal and, about 40 kilometers south of Osogbo. In view of the great numbers
Reading through the material, it is evident that the ritual practices and oral traditions connected to Osun were sensibly realized as representing an elaborate religious and political landscape. Seeing that this landscape was about to be destroyed, Wenger set out to preserve it by erecting new structures  embodying the events of the past. Compared to the old images, these new ones differed not only in material and shape but also in nature. Whereas before the advent of Wenger, the effigies used for ritual purposes were either ephemeral or secret, the new structures were public and permanent.
Osun Osogbo worshipers performing one of the rituals of the festival, during the 2011 edition. PHOTO: OYASAF

The difference is crucial, for it has given way to a process of freezing in a discursive political milieu,that which was formerly in state of constant flux.In view of the course of events that have taken place in the grove, it seems fair to state that both Wenger and the palace were quite aware of these implications. After all, just as Wenger used the creation of new shrines and sculptures strategically to protect the land of the grove from the encroachment of religious zeal and economic interests, the palace, too, has used Wenger’s structures to consolidate its hegemony.
Osun-Osogbo purification ritual being performed at the Osun river during the 2011 edition. PHOTO: OYASAF

 Thus, it is hardly a coincidence that the first of the historical brochures published by the Osogbo Cultural Heritage Council appeared in 1994, just shortly after Osogbo had been made the capital of the newly created Osun state. The brochure testified not only the historical importance of the new capital, but also legitimized new claims based upon the newly acquired administrative status.

 In the view of great numbers of foreign visitors attending the festival, the king of Osogbo commented upon the fame and importance of the town as one of the most important centers of Nigerian arts and culture and renewed his request vis-à-vis the invited representatives of the state to build a university in Osogbo.
(http://www.academia.edu/457550/Keeping_the_Goddess_Alive)


Yeye Siju Osunyemi, Priestess of Osun

Osunyemi is blessed by the Iya Osun in the Osun Temple.


Osunyemi walks to the Osun River to be bathed in an ancient rite.


Till date, Osun goddess is still deified and this is quite visible from her oriki (panegyrics):
Oshun, Oshun, Oshun, The deity of love, wealth, beauty, sensuality, healing and fertility,
The female irunmole (deity or spirit) who accompanied the 16 male irunmoles to aye (Earth) to establish order and balance,
Olodumare (the Creator) warned all the 16 male orishas that their plans will fail,
If they do not include her in their deliberations…
Oshun, Oshun, Oshun…
Yeye Omi (Mother of the Rivers)
Yeye Wa Gbogbo (Mother of Us All)
SUSANNE WENGER, Nigeria’s Mystical White High Priestess

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