The Osun Osogbo festival is one of the oldest festivals in Nigeria. It’s been practised for so many years. And this tradition is being passed down from generation to generation. The significance of a festival is in its continuity. This has awarded the Osun-Osogbo festival as the most celebrated ritual in the Southwest. Undoubtedly, festivals are intricate social events you want to be a part of. It covers a period when people and organizations are engaged in a range of activities in different locations. In Nigeria, festivals play a significant role in marking history and culture. Although, the earliest history of the communities where cultural festivals are celebrated may be found in the majority of African nations.
Still, traditional festival celebrations serve as occasions for cultural analysis. This gives room for people to recall significant moments in their communities’ past and devise modifications where necessary. Beyond excitement, drums and dancing, cultural festivals are a traditional way for you to learn about Yoruba communities.
Where is Osun-Osogbo located?
Osun-Osogbo is located in the Southwestern region of Nigeria. It is about four hour drive from Nigeria’s commercial capital-Lagos. Osun Osogbo is located in Osun State. The state is regarded as the founding home of the Yoruba. It is the location of Ile Ife. The founding home of the progenitor of the Yoruba race.
The origin of the Osun-Osogbo Festival
The annual Osun Osogbo festival is a two-week-long celebration that includes twelve days of rituals, entertainment and cultural preservation. The first festival was recorded 700 years ago. The origin of the Osun-Osogbo festival is linked to the prominent role played by the Osun goddess in the establishment and settlement of Osogbo.
The Osun goddess is highly revered as the goddess of fertility, giver of prosperity, goddess of children, a healer and a diviner by the Osun people. Women expecting children often attend the festival to seek fruit of the womb.
A long time ago, after the ancestors of Osogbo discovered a new colony, they decided to liberate and develop the regions. All they had in mind was a habitation for themselves and their descendants.
However, in the process of doing this, they came in touch with the “Oso Igbo” which means wizard of the forest. This happened when the ancestors cleared out a portion of land. A tree was cut down and it dropped on the river. It was recorded in history that the goddess was angry because of this and decided to appear to the wrongdoers.
As a way to appease the goddess of the river for the distortion, the ancestors of Osogbo decided to offer a sacrifice. Thankfully, the river goddess received the sacrifice and made a pact with the people of Osogbo.
Another notable occurrence was the representative that the goddess sent to the people of Osun. This messenger came in form of a fish and it was received on the palms of the traditional ruler at that time.
The agreement was that the sacrifice would be done annually. In return, the Osun goddess promised to support and protect the inhabitants of Osun-Osogbo. The instructions were given to the people of Osogbo as a condition for their growth, wealth, safety and establishment. The inhabitants of Osun have since kept their part of the deal. Traditional rulers that have emerged, continue to offer sacrifices to the Osun goddess yearly.
Location of Osun-Osogbo Festival, The Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove
With a history dating back several centuries, the Osun-Osogbo Grove is one of the last remaining sacred forests in Nigeria. Sacred groves previously bordered most Yoruba settlements before widespread civilization. This has led to the destruction of most sacred groves.
The Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 in recognition of its importance on a worldwide scale and its cultural significance. It is one of the two UNESCO world heritage sites in Nigeria.
The Osun-Osogbo Grove was profaned in the 1950s when grove shrines were disregarded and priests left the area as traditional obligations and punishments decreased. Thanks to Susanne Wenger who brought back the glory of this once glorious heritage.
Date of The Osun Osogbo Festival
The date for the Osun Osogbo festival is usually celebrated in August every year.
Remarkable Happenings at the Osun Osogbo Festival
Despite the presence of other ancestral festivals in Osogbo, the Osun-Osogbo festival is the most popular and exceptional in the entire region. To add to this, the celebration is particularly well-liked not just among the Yoruba tribe in southwest Nigeria, but it is also globally renowned. It should be noted that the Osun festival is an orderly ceremony. Therefore, you need to understand the basis of the event and all there is to this exceptional practice. The festival is attended by tourists from different countries of the world,
Here are the remarkable events that take place at the festival and all you should know about them;
The road cleansing sacrifice
The Osun Osogbo festival opens yearly in August with a road cleansing sacrifice- ‘Iwó Pópó’. This is a replica of the historical path clearing that took place years ago.
This happening starts with the traditional clearing of the unwanted plants and trees along the central path of the community. It is necessary to prevent anything that might impede the inflow of visitors to Osogbo and demonstrates ancestral protection. Once this is completed, the Osun festival can begin in its full glory.
Majorly, all the acts conducted at the festival are repetitions of the events that took place in Osogbo years ago.
The role of the Traditional ruler- Ataoja, Osun priest and priestess
It must be mentioned that the sacred rituals of the Osun Osogbo festival re-establish the spiritual union and renew the pathway between the goddess and the people of Osogbo.
The Ataoja is the title of the traditional ruler in Osogbo. It is the short form of ‘Atéwógbeja’. This means the palms stretched out to receive the fish. I mentioned this in the history of the Osun festival. The king is the one who seeks the blessings of the Osun goddess on behalf of the people and his kingdom.
Hence, the ritual is conducted in secrecy by the Ataoja and the Osun priests and priestesses. It takes place within the sanctuary at the Osun grove. The priests are the eyes of the goddess. You must have seen the way a mediator tries to make peace between two people. Well, that is exactly what the priests do at the Osun Osogbo festival.
The priests and the king both enter the inner parts of the sacred grove. Here, the king sits on an ancient stone and communicates with the goddess. The Ataoja prays for peace, security continuous support, growth and expansion of the Osun-Osogbo community.
After doing this, the king feeds the items of the ritual to the goddess. Once this is accepted without any problem, it implies the main accomplishment of the festival.
The one who carries the sacrifice- Arugba
The Arugba is a chosen noble virgin that bears the sacrifice. The choice of a virgin explains the sacredness of the practice.
The selection of a royal virgin is done according to the instructions given by the Osun goddess. To maintain the sanctity of the festival, the maiden is chosen beforehand and prepared for the task ahead. Her responsibility is to ensure that the calabash that contains the ritual items is safely guarded. The Arugba does this by carrying the calabash on her head.
Similarly, she is escorted by ‘Olose’, a group of able-bodied men, this is to keep the bulging crowd away. With an emphasis on the successful completion of the ritual, nothing must happen to the calabash. This will automatically ruin the essence of the festival. If the calabash touches the ground or breaks while with the Arugba, it is a sign of bad luck.
Also, the Arugba must not strike a foot against a stone or stub. If this happens, the people of Osun get a dangerous indication. This hint could mean that the sacrifice will not be accepted or the goddess is angry.
To put things in place, even though a lot of people accompany the Arugba, she must also take responsibility for the role. The calabash must get to the sacred grove, and then the Ataoja- the traditional ruler takes it up from there.
The lighting of Atupa Olójúmérìndinlógún (the sixteen-point lamp)
The lighting of the ancient lamp also known as the Atupa Olojumerindinlogun can be translated as loosely as the lamp with the sixteen lighting points.
History of the Atupa Olójúmérìndinlógún
Great stories have been recounted from generation to generation. You should know that storytelling is a part of the Yoruba culture.
The history of the Àtùpà Olójúmérìndinlógún is traced to a great hunter and one of the co-founders of Osogbo called Olutimehin. He was reported to have gone on a hunting adventure. Olutimehin the hunter saw spirits of the forest dancing and celebrating a lamp with 16 steps. Quite fascinating to him, he grabbed the lamp and brought it back with him to Osogbo.
This lamp which has been existing for 500 years has sixteen points. It is made of brass and the sixteen pots are the spots on which palm oil and cotton are positioned.
The history of the Osogbo people is preserved by the impressive lamp celebration event that takes place during the festival.
The celebration of the Àtùpà Olójúmérìndinlógún
The celebration of the lamp comes up nine days to the end of the festival as directed by the Osun goddess. The lamps are lighted on Thursday evening after sunset and kept burning till daybreak on Friday. A very important practice that must be done a week before the grand finale of the Osun festival.
On this day, the Ataoja, his wives, attendants, the Osun priestess and other Osun devotees dance around the lighted lamp three times. This accompanies the prayers and chants inside the Osun shrine at the Ataoja’s palace.
Afterwards, the Ataoja, accompanied by his relatives and traditional chiefs are also expected to dance around the market square before he finally returns to the palace. Hunters lead the procession and are seen firing rifle shots in the air continuously. Then, the sound of drums, singing and dancing accompany the ceremony. This is one of the reasons why this is a glorious ceremony.
Another great part of the Osun Osogbo festival to be handled by the Ataoja is the gathering of crowns of past rulers and their wives for prayers. The Iboade is crucial and is believed to assist the present king so he will not make the mistakes his forefathers made. Also, the blessings that previous rulers have enjoyed are released to the new king by virtue of this great ritual.
Susanne Wenger- Glory restored to the grove
Susanne Wenger is an Austrian citizen who left her country to fully dedicate her life to Osun Osogbo grove. Before Susanne Wenger, traditional restrictions against prohibited activities including fishing, hunting, and tree felling in the grove were reinstated. This was in tune with the backing and encouragement of the reigning Ataoja at that time, as well as the backing of the worried residents.
Wenger “founded the New Sacred Art movement to confront land speculators, fend off illegal activities, safeguard shrines, and start the lengthy process of bringing the sacred site back to life by reestablishing it as the sacred core of Osogbo”
Wenger who died in 2009 later earned the title “Adunni Olorisha” in recognition of her diligent caretaking and steadfast devotion to the sacred grove’s.
The Osun River and the Osun supporters
The Osun devotees come from all over the world to witness this great event. These people are among the crowds you will meet at the festival. It is quite easy to identify them as they are the ones who sing, praise the goddess, dance and celebrate the success of the ritual.
Also, different historical poems and songs are recited in praise of the Osun goddess. In addition, there are claims that the Osun River is highly therapeutic. It is known for its healing and restorative powers. Immediately the river has been blessed by the offering of sacrifice, the water is declared fit.
Consequently, anyone who wishes to drink, bathe or fetch the water for use is allowed. The Osun river is believed to have potent remedies for severe diseases. Yeye Osun is the goddess of fertility. The queen mother gives children without holding them back. This is why barren women also use the opportunity to seek children at the river.
Asides from all of the above, the goddess is believed to be powerful and gives tremendous wealth. Therefore, participants at the festival are seen offering prayers according to their heart desires.
Osun festival contests and entertainment
The major contests that take place at the Osun festival are the beauty pageantry and Ayo Olopon.
The festival is an outstanding record for the Osun state government. Several organizations also sponsor these competitions and award prizes to the winners.
One of the companies that have contributed to the success of the Ayo Olopon contest is Seaman Schnapps. Over the years, the company has continued to support and also create awareness with their involvement in the festival.
Ayo Olopon is a local game greatly cherished by the Yoruba people. It is played by youths and elders. The game can be played by two contestants at a time. It is a game of calculations, skills and focus.
Nonetheless, the people of Osogbo adopt this as a means to entertain themselves at the festival and also appreciate culture.
Similarly, there is the beauty pageantry contest where at least 20 young ladies are selected to compete. These ladies are beautifully dressed in native attires and are made to parade the stage.
After competing against each other, the ‘Omidan Osun’ also known as Miss Osun is chosen. The selection of the Omidan is mostly based on knowledge, poise and beauty.
In a way to celebrate traditions before civilization, renowned musicians like the JuJu, Apala, Fuji singers also grace the event. Alternatively, this does not exclude masquerades from coming out to dance and entertain the guests.
The global celebration of the Osun Osogbo Festival
Finally, I need to add that the celebration of the Osun Osogbo festival welcomes everyone both home and abroad. This serves as an avenue for the town to showcase its amazing cultural heritage. The sights, markets, indigenous delicacies, culture and traditions of Osogbo are showcased for all to see. People come from different countries such as the United States of America, Europe, South Africa, Asia, Brazil, Austria, Trinidad and Tobago and so on to participate in this great event. For Nigeria’s tourism industry, the festival is incredibly beneficial. It makes it possible for the locals to promote their culture to visitors from all over the world and from within the nation.
Recognized companies such as MTN, Nigerian bottling company, Seaman, Fuman and so on have sponsored the events at a point. In addition, the annual celebration of the river goddess, known as the Osun-Osogbo festival, acts as a potent unifying force in Osogbo territory, bringing together people of all social, economic, religious, and political persuasions.
Osun Osogbo festival has remained one of the notable festivals in Nigeria.