Clement Adeyi, Osogbo
For the people of Osogbo, Osun State, August is a month of celebration, traditional cleansing of the city and cultural reunion of the people with their ancestors. That is the very month Osun-Osogbo Festival is annually celebrated.
During the grand finale of the month-long cultural event, thousands of participants in the company of the Arugba and traditional priests, priestesses and adherents marched to the Osun River within the groove to pay homage to Osun, the river goddess, where they offered prayers for blessings.
Osogbo was a Mecca of some sorts when thousands of the indigenes, local and foreign tourists trooped out in droves to Isale Osun where the sacred Osun-Osogbo Groove, the enclave of the festival, is located. Not only has the festival attained a global recognition, the groove gained recognition as a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) since 2005.
It was full of spiritual, traditional and cultural displays and enthusiasts and participants savoured every bit of the festival. The Ataoja of Osogbo, who is the custodian of Osogbo’s culture and tradition and the Arugba, the virgin-maiden, who bears the calabash to and from the shrine during the celebration, are central figures, who dictate the cultural processes and or rites as well as the beauty of the episode.
The Arugba, the virgin maiden, was led in a long walk by the most senior Osun priestess and Aworo Osun from the premises of the palace of the Ataoja of Osogbo, Oba Jimoh Olanipekun, to the groove.
She was enveloped on both sides by a formidable human fence to ensure that she got to her destination (the Osun River) without any incident and with the calabash intact. The Arugba is the personification of the Osun goddess and must not stumble.
After prayers were offered, the Arugba retraced her steps to the palace amid pomp. At the peak of the event, the groove and its surroundings had a mass of humans in dominant white attires with an amazing spectacle.
The prayers included helping the barren to be fertile, protecting the town against any form of aggression and invasion by enemies. Tourists came from foreign countries including Japan, America, Brazil, Slovenia and Peru. To demonstrate their passion for the Yoruba culture and tradition, scores of them donned ankara, aso-oke and adire attires. They watched the series of the cultural and traditional rituals showcased to mark the festival.
Mr. Adward from Slovenia, said: “Osun-Osogbo Festival is always a pleasant experience. We look forward to enjoying it every year. There is Osun shrine in Slovenia where I come from. That is why we came all the way to Osogbo every year to enjoy the festival and take messages and lessons back home to continue to promote the rich cultural heritage. We won’t be tired of showing this passion. It is good for us.”
A Japanese tourist said: “Our own goddess like Osun goddess is called Racia. From what we can see in the Osun-Osogbo shrine, both of them have many things in common in terms of the cultural affinity. This makes everything very interesting. That is why we have a burning passion that drives our participation in the Osun-Osogbo Festival every year.” Mrs. Scirocco, another Japanese said she came to familiarise herself with the Yoruba’s rich culture and to understand the cultural diversities in Africa.
This year’s edition of the festival, however, came with some discontentment from the perspectives of the economic values that it has always added to the lives of the people. Unlike in the past when traders who hawked wares such as beads, jerry cans, local pots, aso-oke, adire, native caps and hats used to smile to the banks during and after the festival following huge patronage. They regretted low sales attributed to low turn out of participants and economic hardship.
A devotee, Osunbunmi Adeniyi, has been attending the festival for about 15 years: “We are always happy when we bring our goods to the festival. There is no much market this year and we don’t know what Osun goddess has for us this year. She knows more than us. So, we cannot complain.”
Mrs. Iyaafin Ojikutu said: “I have been coming to Osun for over 10 years because the water goddess is good to me and my family. But this year is hard because, no much sales. Last year, I knew how much I counted in my pocket. The white people really patronised me but the story is different this year.”
Another trader who pleaded anonymity said: “This year is the worst ever since I have been coming to Osun-Osogbo Festival to sell my goods. I have been coming for the past 15 years and it has never been like this. May be, it is because of the bad economic situation of the country. There is no much turn out like before.”
With a view to adding more verve to the festival to help maintain its global acceptability and maximise its economic potential, Governor Gboyega Oyetola promised to transform it to a foreign exchange earner. He made the pledge during the grand finale.
He assured that his administration would continue to support the festival for its sustainability and growth. Oyetola who added that the festival was strategic to his government insisted that his administration would secure partnership with the Federal Government to optimally tap into the tourism benefits that the festival provides.
“The Osun-Osogbo festival is important to the government and people of Osun as it is a common cultural heritage and our window and voice to the world. We are aware of the power of tourism to market our culture to the world, foster cultural communication and harmony and engender national and international peace and cooperation.
“It is our intention to develop, promote and project the Osun-Osogbo festival to global prominence to compete with other world renowned cultural festivals. We shall transform the festival to a foreign exchange earner and a major driver of our economy through tourism.”
Oba Olanipekun thanked the partners and sponsors who made the festival a success, as well as dignitaries, royal fathers and people both from Nigeria and abroad, who participated in the cultural event. He went down memory lane to tell the story of how Osogbo, as a town and city, was established and how the first king was the first Osun deity worshipper.
He explained that the festival was in fulfillment of the promise to Yeye Osun, the goddess of River Osun. He stressed that over the years, it had grown in stature and reputation to merit a listing by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2005 as a world heritage site.
The monarch called on the Federal Government to synergise in promoting the cultural event and make it one of the country’s tourism development hubs: “There is strong power and authority of God in the Osun Osogbo deity. The renowned German, the late Susan Wenger, promoted Osun Osogbo. Her name would remain indelible, including her husband, Uli Beier. Anybody and corporate organisation that promotes Osun Osogbo Festival would record success in his or her endeavour.”
Former Commissioner for Information and Culture in Oyo State, Mr. Toye Arulogun, said the major objective was to make the Osun-Osogbo a contemporary festival without losing the myth, mystic and mysticism that come with it.
Mr. Simeon Okeke, a representative of MTN, which is one of the sponsors, said that the organisation would continue to partner with the Ataoja on Osun Osogbo to take the festival to the next level. He enthused that the festival had attained a global position on the world map.