OSUN OSOGBO FESTIVAL
The Osun Osogbo festival is believed to be the oldest known festival in Nigeria and indeed Africa that still exists in its original forms and practices from inception till date without adulteration or modifications.
The history of the Osogbo people is largely surrounded by mystical and spiritual beliefs along the lines of the traditions of the Yorubas in the South-West of Nigeria. History has it that the Osun river goddess was responsible for the founding and establishment of Osogbo town. Some accounts described her as the Oso – Igbo, the queen, and founder of Osogbo town; hence the Osun Osogbo festival, which has been celebrated for about six hundred centuries, was built around the relationship between the river goddess Osun and the first Monarch of Osogbo kingdom, Oba Gbadewolu Laroye.
The Osun Osogbo festival epitomizes the sacredness of the African Cultural traditions when one considers how the people of Osogbo have carefully guarded and preserved the norms of this festival since 1370 when their forefathers bequeathed the age-long tradition to them.
The Osogbo people gather annually every August to celebrate what they called their ‘Founder’s Day’ as a mark of the bond that was established between a river goddess, Osun and Oba Gbadewolu Laroye inside the Osun Grove, where lies the origin of the Osogbo ascendancy and kingship institution, since over six centuries ago.
The event is perhaps the grandest and colorful festival organized at the ‘Osun’ sacred groves in Osogbo. It draws tens and thousands of believers and tourists from both within and outside Nigeria. The custodian and priestess of this grove is a German-born devotee of the Osun deity, named Susan Wenger in her early eighties, and popularly called “Aduni Olorisa” or “Iya Osun” by the believers. The Osun devotees dress traditionally in white cloths during the period of the festival and hold the belief that the river goddess brings divine favor and has healing and fertility powers.
Despite the proximity of the forest to human habitation, the grove is traditionally maintained and protected by the indigenous people using the myths and belief system. This prevents any form of encroachment regarded as blasphemous and offensive to the gods and the goddess. Osun Grove first gained recognition by UNESCO in 2005 as a World Heritage Site and this was linked to the consistencies the festival has enjoyed over the years along with the protection of the values of the Grove by the Osun people.
Justifying the recognition of the Site by UNESCO, Oluremi Funso Adebayo, Co-Coordinator of National Museum stated, ‘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 1370AD has remained what it was originally despite modernity; there has not been any adulteration; everything has been in its original state and structures that were put in the place that forms the foundation of Osun Osogbo kingdom are still in existence in the grove.
The two weeks long festivals usually commence with traditional cleansing of the town called “Iwopopo”. This is followed by the lighting of a Five hundred-year-old sixteen points lamb called “Olojomerindinlogun” three days later. The lighting is followed by “Ibiroriade”, an assemblage of the crowns of the past rulers (Ataojas) for blessings rite led by the Ataoja, 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 signifying purity.
- National Institute for Cultural Orientation, 2016
- Adebayo, Oluremi F., National Museum, 2007
- Ogunfuyi, Kunle, Nigeria: Osun Osogbo – Honoring the river goddess, This Day, Sept 6, 2008