Homage to Osun the Goddess of Fertility
The Tragic Story of Osun
Osun once lived as a mortal and during her lifetime and she was married to Sango, the third king of the Oyo Kingdom. Osun was the youngest wife and it was said that she was the favorite of the King. According to Yoruba mythology, she turned into a river after her beloved husband hanged himself along with his other two wives.
The Yorubas, one of the three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria is a firm believer of Osun and acknowledged her as a powerful female character. It seems that out of all the 16 major Yoruba deities worshipped by the locals, Osun is the one and only female goddess. Albeit being known mainly as the goddess of fertility, Osun is also regarded by numerous titles - among it goddess of wealth and beauty, a healer, a giver of children, and the leader of the woman.
The Origin of the Festival
The Osun-Osogbo festival was believed to have first started over 700 years ago. It was initiated by a group of settlers, who settled by the Osun riverbank to escape famine. The group was led by a great hunter that goes by the name Olutimehin, who encountered the presence of Osun, the water goddess.
As the group was getting ready to settle down by the riverbank, Osun appeared to Olutimehin and requested the group to relocate to the upper terrace of the river. The move was necessary to avoid the incessant floods that usually affects the lower terrace of the riverbank. It turned out that the move also brought good fortune and led to the rapid growth and development of the settlers and the town they built.
The town in which the settlers built is presently known as Osogbo town, hence, the festival name Osun-Osogbo. The festival first began as a ritual whereby the settlers would offer annual sacrifices to Osun in return for her protection and the promise of her blessings on the woman folk to make them fertile and fruitful. This tradition and belief were carried forth as a practice by the new generations of the settlers, who are now known as the Yorubas.
As of today, the sacred ritual has transcended beyond offering sacrifices to Osun but celebrated as a cultural event that attracts people from all around the world. The festival has grown in scale over the years and has since become a global event with people from the United States, Canada, Brazil, Jamaica, Spain, and many other foreign countries taking part.
Celebration of Life
Every year, thousands flock to Osun state in Nigeria to participate in the Osun-Osogbo festival. The festival takes place at the Osun grove, an illustrious and sacred place, which was named as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005. The festival is a two-week-long event that happens in the month of August and is considered as a source of attraction to tourists and travelers alike, who joins in and participates in the celebration as well.
Although the Osun-Osogbo is a cultural practice, folks from all walks of life and backgrounds congregate by the Osun grove to join believers in performing the ritual. In essence, the Osun-Osogbo festival revolves around the celebration of the creation of life and nature.
Rituals and Customs of the Osun-Osogbo
There are many rituals observed during the festival and each is critically important. The festival begins with Iwopopo followed by the lighting up of Ina Olujumerindinlogun, and conclude with the Iboriade.
The rituals are carried out phase by phase and the first is called the Iwopopo, which is the traditional cleansing of the town and ridding it of evil.
After a period of three days, the town folks bring out the Ina Olujumerindinlogun, a 16-point lamp that is approximately 600 years old and lights it up.
Subsequently, the Iboriade takes place. The Iboriade entails assembling the crowns of the past kings for blessing by the current king, an ‘Arugba’, Yeye Osun and a committee of priestesses.
One of the key figures of the Osun-Osogbo festival is the ‘Arugba’ which is a virgin girl, who is selected to be the bearer of the Osun calabash. The calabash is basically a vessel that is used to contain the sacrifice offerings for the goddess Osun. The ‘Arugba’ will carry the calabash on her head and lead the people to the river. Aside from being the bearer of offerings, the ‘Arugba’ is also seen as a goddess and along the journey to the river, believers will pray and tell her problems, in hopes that she will communicate it to Osun.
Osun Itaguaí Festival 2019 Rio DE Janeiro in Brazil
Cultural Practise to Global Event
The Osun-Osogbo which begun as a cultural practice gained international attention thanks to an Austrian-born artist by the name of Susanne Wenger. Wenger’s first encounter with the ritual back in 1950 led to her lifetime devotion to the preservation of the culture and the Osun grove, which is an integral part of the Osun-Osogbo festival. She first cultivated a deep interest in the Yoruba religion and spent her day's meeting and communicating with a Yoruba priest to gain a deeper understanding of the religion.
She then, later on, got appointed as a Yoruba priestess herself and played a critical role in the preservation of the grove. She stopped people from abusing the integrity of the grove by prohibiting hunting and fishing as well as preserving the forest near the grove by not allowing the trees to be chopped off and the place kept sacred. Throughout her life, Wenger was known as an active figure contributing towards the restoration of abandoned shrines.
She personally remodeled the gods in sculpture and ceramics and made over 75 cultural gods in artful representations. Wenger dedicated her whole life to rebuilt the customary shrines and defended the grove until her death. Her dedication towards interpreting the Yoruba culture through her artistic gift and activism exposed the world to this wonderful culture.