By Emeka Anokwuru
As the countdown has begun for the grand finale of the 2017 Osun Osogbo festival, the Ataoja of Osogbo, HRM Oba Jimoh Oyetunji Olanipekun, Larooye II, has appealed to traditional rulers in the state to plan their cultural festivals to hold around the same time with the Osun festival. He said if other festivals are planned around Osun Osogbo, tourists would have a rich, seamless experience as they would move from one part of the state to the other, enjoy themselves and also stay longer than one week as is the case now.
The Ataoja, who made the appeal during a meeting to conclude plans for this year’s edition of the renowned festival, explained that cultural synergy in the South West was desirable as it would promote unity and impact positively on the economy.
“When tourists come, they spend their money on transport, food, entertainment, and hotel accommodation. This will impact on the local economy and Nigeria as well, so, directly or indirectly, the festival can reflate the economy.
“When they visit the Osun Grove, they see artworks, which tell the history and mystery of the festival. When tourists visit, they will understand through interpretation by tour guides the messages in the motif. A deity like Sopona sits pretty in the grove and many people do not know. So, tourists improve our economy and also take away knowledge and souvenirs. I appeal to traditional rulers in Osun and beyond to emulate the Ataoja by promoting our heritage. There is no town in Yorubaland without a deity or cultural offering, be it Sango, Irene, Aragidi or Erin Ijesha Waterfall.
“Let the Kabiyesi in neighbouring communities factor their festivals into Osun, which attracts foreign visitors, in order to create a seamless experience in Osun State. If these festivals have close synergy, tourists will come and spend quality time in Osun State and the indigenes will make a lot of money within the period,” he said..
Speaking about the 2017 edition, the Ajaguna of Osogbo, High Chief Gabriel Ojo Oparanti, announced plans to hold a great festival.
The Osun Osogbo festival has been in existence since the establishment of Osogbo. The festival, according to him, is built on a covenant between the Osun deity and the ancestors of the Osogbo people. According to the history of the town, many centuries ago, hunters from a nearby village (Ipole Omu), Larooye and Olatimehin, and their subjects migrated in search of water.
They finally settled at a place very near the Osun River in present-day Osogbo. Later, Larooye became the first Ataoja (king) of Osogbo, as one of the initial builders of the settlement.
The dense forest of the Osun Sacred Grove on the outskirts of the city is one of the last remnants of primary high forest in southern Nigeria. Regarded as the abode of the goddess of fertility, Osun, the landscape of the grove and its meandering river is dotted with sanctuaries and shrines, sculptures and artworks in honour of Osun and other deities. The sacred grove, which is now seen as a symbol of identity for all Yoruba people, is probably the last in Yoruba culture. It testifies to the once widespread practice of establishing sacred groves outside all settlements. Because of high visitor traffic, the festival has become a huge opportunity for corporate organisations to showcase their products. Companies such as Nigerian Breweries, MTN and many other firms are involved in sponsoring the festival, and in the process get to push their products and brands.
Mr. Ayo Olumoko, CEO of Infogem Limited, the official marketers of the festival, said the quality of corporate sponsors that always identity with the festival is a pointer to the huge interest the festival attracts and also the fact that, each year, the festival witnesses improvement from the past edition.
Meanwhile, security at the grove has been tightened. According to sources, although no security breach is expected, the organisers are not leaving anything to chance. In line with this, both the police and the O’odua People’s Congress are collaborating to make sure the place is secure.
“The security has been tightened and it is a round-the-clock security. This is just to make sure that every thing goes well, ” he said.
Some of the other activities lined up for the year include FTAN Osun hospitality workshop, art exhibitions, golf competition, musical and theatre nights and many more. The grand event holds on August 18, 2017.