Africa is so beautiful, Nigeria the giant isn’t left out! – my visit to Osun Oshogbo Festival affirmed that. The culture is so rich – from food, music, dressing, language, and festivals, all in its abundance.
I write from the midst of one of Nigeria’s biggest spiritual festivals the Osun Oshogbo Festival- a mix of spirituality, divination, history and vibes!
Osun is in the South West of Nigeria, the ancestral home of the supreme deity of the Yoruba race Oduduwa.
The Osun Oshogbo Festival climaxes at the Osun Oshogbo sacred grove one of UNESCO’s Heritage Site .
The Osun Oshogbo Festival
The one-month-long festival is believed to be a covenant between the indigenes and the water goddess, herein, the indigenes thank the water goddess for the peace, tranquillity and prosperity bestowed on the town by the goddess and also ask for more favours for the incoming year.
The festival is laced with many cultural displays and commences yearly with the Iwopopo, the traditional cleansing of the town, followed three days later by the lighting of the 500-year-old 16-point lamp called ‘Ina Olojumerindinlogun’.
How It Went For Me
I saw spirituality and religion meet up; With over 10,000 souls in there ready to renew their contracts with the Goddess of Osun, the queen of fertility, it was a sight to behold.
My journey from Lagos to the city of Oshogbo, Osun state took about 4 hours, on getting into my hotel already booked by Tramango, I immediately stormed for the festival – on a bike looking for how to penetrate this crowded city.
Streets before the shrine had numerous roadblocks with party canopies for various “Agboles” set on both sides of the road before the main path to the shrine.
Almost everyone clothed in white as white was the order of the day, the symbol of purity. From the path of the shrine, the mammoth crowd on this pilgrimage on a full stretch into the sacred grove with numerous carved deities ready to welcome you as you proceed into the holy land.
The main point of the festival is the river, yes the Osun river where a lot of spiritual proceedings are carried out!
I felt out of place for not appearing in a white apparel but later shook it off as I didn’t wear black which is forbidden to wear as I heard.
The showcase of guns mostly local guns fired into the air and a great number of people reaching to the river to have a scoop of the Osun river which has been described to have healing powers. With music at every point going on at designated shrines at the grove, with ongoing prayers from everyone ready to put on their needs to the goddess of the river!
I took a walk after so much struggle amidst the crowd to the river. At the bank, I was asked to divinate with a kola nut with various priestesses ready to help purchase two kola nuts, I proceeded on the divination with a priestess who addressed a major concern of mine plus acknowledged a recurring feature, with slight awe that was a confirmation.
At the river bank, prayers were on the high with numerous items thrown into the river – from calabash of fruits to sweets to doves amongst others signifying the sacrifices made to renew the contract with the goddess.
There were a couple of intriguing things happening at the festival; from ladies falling to the ground, screaming Oreeee Yeye oh! with perceived long noise in their ears – as I was informed, this is a transitioning phase that happens when you get intoxicated by the spirit of the goddess through which a message is delivered via the intoxicated. This phase can sometimes be scary as the intoxicated ladies could be seen wrapping legs together or exhibiting movements like fishes trying to swim or birds trying to fly or outrightly overpowered, sometimes with stern eyes!
This action is no respecter of religion as I saw ladies of obvious religions get intoxicated, from Christians to Muslims to Traditionalists all fall under the intense toxication of this spirit. When anyone comes under this spirit, you are instructed to pour on the influenced water from the river to get revived, such an experience!
Asake said “Taka Oshi Danu” and I am sure he had this picture in mind because at frequent points there was “waving of the hands backwards above the head” this is said to be rejecting all evil and bad deeds to the past – when a person starts this, the crowd follows as no one wants to be left with another person’s evil deed, Asake didn’t lie.
Igbo and Shayo
This is a proper festival as there are live parties around the grove with alcohol, cigarettes, weed and all manner of drugs publicly hawked for consumption coupled with skewed meat with persons in circles according to familiarity amongst others; this is like a Yoruba Family party with drums left and right from different bands hailing persons situated all around! Burna didn’t lie when he said you need Igbo and Shayo, as that was seen here as almost everyone was on one trip or the other to properly sync into the aura of the spiritual festival.
The Arugba – why we are here, the virgin
The Arugba is a young woman, a votary virgin, chosen to lead the Osun-Oshogbo festival procession.
According to tradition, she must be of royal blood and a virgin, and without her, the procession and the festival cannot happen. The Arugba bears upon her head a broad-rimmed calabash to the Osun sacred grove followed by the whole town and dignitaries from all over.
As the central icon of the festival, the Arugba is plainly the attraction for the more than 200,000 visitors who have come all the way to Oshogbo.
The Arugba is led by the most senior Osun priestess Adunni Olorisa and the Aworo Osun from the premises of the palace of the reigning Ataoja of Oshogbo to the grove, with a very strong human fence around the virgin ensuring nothing happens to the virgin and most importantly the calabash. The virgin chosen ‘’is the personification of the goddess Osun” and must not stumble.
Once inside the grove, she takes a spiritual rest at the first-ever palace in Oshogboland now the Osun temple before the short stroll to the edge of the Osun River, where the necessary prayers are said. When the vital assignment is done, the Arugba then retraces her steps back to the palace amidst the crowd. By this time, the grove and its surroundings have a mass of humans in dominant white attires and the sight is just amazing.
The role of the Arugba is so important as she is carefully chosen by the priests. Sources say that as soon as these votary maids are picked, they live under the watchful eyes of the Ataoja during the periods that they serve as Arugba. Once an Arugba is picked, she more or less becomes the Kabiyesi’s (king) daughter. She lives under the care and watchful eyes of the Kabiyesi.
This is because she must not know any man while she still bears the Osun calabash, so they don’t enjoy some freedom that their mates enjoy. The Arugba’s are allowed to quit when they are mature enough to get married.
The festival is graced with a lot of significant Yoruba cultural leaders, Gani Adams of OPC; the largest pan-African cult-like association, Dr Nike of Nike Art Gallery, and MC OLUMO the Ex-NURTW Lagos state chairman to show the Yoruba togetherness across all calibres.
Osun Oshogbo festival is one that you shouldn’t miss out on! Experience culture and spirituality at its peak – would i stop by again?! Yes!
The economic impact
Nigeria is sitting on an underexplored sector; the tourism sector – one that kills two birds with a stone; where the culture can be preserved while getting revenue into the economy, not like its counterpart; crude oil one which the environment suffers for barrels.
Osun Oshogbo festival is one of the biggest festivals that attract people home and abroad annually and as a result, boosts the state and national economies as well as preserves and promotes our cultural heritage.