The Osun-Oshogbo Festival
The unique thing about the Oshogbo people, are their traditions, beliefs, and culture that have survived through time. Their early history is founded on mythical and spiritual beliefs. While traditional festivals may have been modified over time, they are still celebrated as they should be. One of such events is the Osun-Oshogbo Festival.
Osun, the river goddess, is credited with founding and establishing Oshogbo town. She is also described by some to be Oso-Igbo, the queen of the town. As such, the Osun-Oshogbo Festival, which has been commemorated for more than six centuries, is built around the relationship between the first monarch of the Oshogbo kingdom, Oba Gbadewolu Laroye, and Osun.
The Osun-Oshogbo Festival, which is marked annually in Oshogbo, celebrates Osun the goddess of fertility. Its purpose is to renew the contract between humans and divinities – in turn, must fulfil their part of the agreement, which is to honour her sacred grove.
The Osun-Oshogbo Festival is part of a rich and religious Yoruba tradition that is one of the top ten religions in the world, practised by more than one hundred million followers. Celebrated every August in the sacred grove, the Osun-Oshogbo Festival is a two-week celebration that draws thousands of Osun worshippers, tourists, and spectators from all over the world. For the Oshogbo people, August is a month of cleansing, celebration and reunion with their ancestors and founders of the kingdom.
What Happens at the Festival?
The Osun-Oshogbo Festival starts with “Iwopopo”, which is the traditional cleansing of the town. This is followed three days later by the lighting of “Ina Olojumerindinlogun”, a six-hundred-year-old sacred sixteen-point lamp. The crowns (ibroriade) of past rulers (Ataojas of Oshogbo) of the kingdom are assembled, after the lighting of the lamp, for blessings. The sitting Ataoja(king) of Oshogbo, the Arugba, Yeye Osun and a committee of priestesses lead this part of the festival. The Arugba ritual is one of the major highlights of the festival and is led by a votary virgin who is put in spiritual seclusion before the festival begins. Clad in traditional attire, with a calabash covered with red clothing that partially veils her face, the Arugba is seen as the representative of the goddess. So, as she leads the procession of worshippers to the Osun River, people say prayers and whisper their problems to her.
It is said that to be qualified to play the role of Arugba at the festival, the maiden must be born into a royal family and a descendant of the first Ataoja of Oshogbo, Larooye. She leads the procession without speaking or communing with anyone on the four-kilometre walk from the king’s place at Oja Oba to the Osun Grove in Isale Osun area of Oshogbo town. The Oshogbo people believe that if the Arugba trips on her way to the river, it is a bad omen for herself and the worshippers. To prevent this, a group of guards armed with long whips to drive back the surging crowds, surround her as she leads all to the river where sacrifices are made. Her part is said to be very important in the festival as, without her, the celebrations will be in vain.
The Susanne Wenger Influence
While the Osun-Oshogbo Festival may have evolved from a local cultural event celebrated by the Yoruba people to an international festival that attracts people from all over the globe, the efforts of Austrian-born artist, Susanne Wenger, made the significance of the festival more entrenched in traditional worship.
In the early 1950s, Susanne Wenger and her husband, Ulli Beier were stationed at Ibadan. Hired by the University of Ibadan as a phonetician, Beier and Wenger soon relocated to Osun state. It was there that Wenger developed a deep interest in the Yoruba religion of Osun worship, and began to meet and communicate with one of the priests. Becoming a Yoruba priestess herself with the traditional title of iwinfunmi adunni olorisha (loosely translated as “the loved one who serves the deity”), Wenger was known as the white priestess.
Her influence was very remarkable in restoring and maintaining many of the shrines dedicated to the river goddess. Her ability to learn and interpret some of the intricate details of the Yoruba culture through her profound artistic gift and activism contributed much to the popularity of the annual Osun-Oshogbo Festival. Susanne Wegner also managed to preserve the forest around the grove and ensured that no hunting, fishing or felling of trees were done to preserve the sacredness of the area. In 1965, part of the grove was declared a national monument until 1992, when the entirety of the grove was declared as one. While she may have passed on in January 2009 in Oshogbo, she is still remembered by many for her work.
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