Heavy footfalls rock the tarred road leading to the sacred Osun grove in Osogbo, south-western Nigeria. Engulfed in an aura of elation and anticipation, hundreds of worshippers clap and dance as they march behind Arugbá, Àdìgún Olósun and many Olósun priestesses, all clad in white apparels and having one mission in mind- to renew the mystic bond between the people of Osogbo (representing the whole of humanity), their Oba and Osun- the river goddess who endows them with fertility, protection and many blessings. The 500 year-old Àtùpà Olójúmérindínlógún had been lit, and its mystifying sixteen points are still burning with feisty flames like a wild Bàtá dancer.
- - Arugba carrying the calabash of sacrifice, covered with a big red robe at the grove
As the worshippers proceed with great vigour and passion, Arugba leads them on, although tired from the heavy weight of the sacrificial calabash, its covering of large red cloth as well as the spiritual burden invoked on her, she saunters on. The two artistically crafted gates of the grove flings open as the throng enters the vicinity. The ambience of the grove unavoidably inundates the visitor with an intimidating spell- one that is further accentuated by the eerie sculptures and bizarre figures lining the road down the grove which seem to shield the forest from the outer world. The forest canopies ostentatiously blow their verdant shades as if to announce the arrival of Arugba, the votary maid carrying the sacrificial calabash on her head.
The tarred road through the main gate and down the grove halts at the foot of another gate which leads to an adroitly sculptured mud gateway with relief images of various deities etched on it and palm fronds crossing overhead; these images possess bulging and intimidating eyes that seem to focus directly on anyone approaching it.
Just beyond this entrance, the landscape takes a gentle descent to the banks of the picturesque Osun River meandering through the 75ha ring-fenced grove where it exacts its spiritual authority across the expanse. This afternoon, the water glistens like a sheet of dust-brown glass, its gentle waves seems to mimic the rhythm of bata and gangan drumbeats permeating the air; against rock outcrops punctuating the river course as well as labyrinths of gigantic tree roots lining the river banks, the waters rolled with low swishing sounds.
As soon as the crowd descends into the milieu, Arugba is led into the ancient Osun-Osogbo palace located a few metres from the river edge, where she is allowed to rest for a while under the supervision of the chief priest and priestesses, the sacrificial calabash is taken from her and carried down to the river banks where its contents of concoction are poured into the water as an offering to Osun, the goddess of fertility, healing and protection. As soon as this is done, everyone rushes down to the river edge to take a portion of the water- some in bottles while others in jerry cans; some just stoop to scoop a handful with their palms to wash their heads and faces while they pray to Osun for productivity in their business, protection for the enclave of Osogbo and fertility for the barren among their women. Some even throw different objects into the water such as money, to serve as gifts to appease the river goddess.
Iwopopo (traditional cleansing of Osogbo town) had been carried out; even Eke (traditional wrestling final) and Ayo Olopon Contest had taken place three days ago. Today, the 26th day of August, 2011 has waken up to witness the grand finale of this year’s annual Osun Osogbo festival- a 12-day event that takes place in the ancient town of Osogbo, Osun State, in the month of August and is regarded by most people as the biggest festival in Nigeria as it is regarded as the most venerated and attended as it draws devotees of the deity from Jamaica, United States, to Brazil, Cuba and other parts of the world. The annual festival serves as a renewal of the bond between the entire Yoruba people, their culture and their history.
On the outskirts of Osogbo town, the grove sprawls across a large expanse, punctuated with forty shrines, nine worship points along the river as well as several sculptures and art works in honour of Osun and other deities among which several of them can be credited to Susan Wenger- the Austrian artist who helped in reviving the grove.
Osun-Osogbo festival 2011 was successfully concluded on Tuesday, 30th of August, with the Ìkósìnrodò which featured a session of dancing and thanksgiving at the grove, and at which Arugba- the votary maid and the people of Oshogbo show their appreciation to the river goddess for her acceptance of their sacrifice and prayers, as well as in anticipation of a peaceful and wonderful year ahead.
– Arugba- The Votary Maid who carries the calabash of sacrifice to the Osun grove
*Photos by Ayanyemi Ayanniyi (-for Naijatreks)