The Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove is a cultural spectacle which the Yoruba people of South-West Nigeria, and indeed Nigerians at large, hold very dear. Basically, this grove is a dense forest featuring sacred huts, shrines and wooden, metal and clay works of art. Strategically located at the outskirts of Osogbo, just by the Osun River in Osun State of Nigeria, the sacred grove is not just a tourist site, but a living fossil which has preserved history which dates half a millennium ago.
On the course of the River Osun, which is inextricably linked to the sacred grove, one can find several brilliant artworks that are hundreds of years old. Many shrines which served as sacrificial sites several decades ago are also a common sight in the dense tropical forest that gives this grove its serene feel.
In times past, virtually every Yoruba city had a grove at one of its edges where priests carried out their duties in sacred shrines. Often famed as one of the most conservative tribes in Nigeria especially on traditional matters, the Yorubas take this celebration seriously as it reminds them of one of the only surviving sites of their cultural heritage. These groves were usually not inhabited by average citizens, unless divinely ordained to serve a given deity. In most such cities, these forests were held in high regards as no form of commercial or regular activities such as fishing, hunting, fruit gathering and farming, were allowed in them. It was believed that the spirits of the dead inhabit these groves and protects the city with magical powers.
However, the inevitability of civilization and urbanization led to the destruction of many Yoruban sacred forests and groves. In fact, most were destroyed in the 1950s as the country was getting ready for independence from British colonization. The Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove survived thanks to timely intervention by a visiting art revivalist, Susanne Wenger. Her efforts preserved and restored the grove allowing this site of cultural significance to be accessible to tourists and the Yoruba people of Nigeria today.
The Sacred Grove and the Sacred Festival
It is difficult to talk about the Osun Sacred Grove without mentioning the annual Osun Festival. Starting from the 14th century, down to this day, the Yoruba people of Osun State of Nigeria, and anyone who shares in the heritage of the Yoruba people come together once a year to celebrate the age-old Osun Festival. Usually celebrated in August, this festival attracts tourists, and lovers of art, culture and history from every corner of the world.
This festival is celebrated in honor of Osun, the river and fertility goddess, as an appreciation of bountiful yield and productivity in the land. The Queen goddess, who is believed to be the founder of the Osogbo people is expected to bless barren women with children on the day of the festival. Many sick people also drink or bathe with the water in the hopes that they get healing from the goddess.
But, of the many traditional rites that happen on the day of the celebration, the most important is the sacred procession to the grove. The Arugba, a maid dedicated to the goddess, leads a procession that ends with her emptying the contents of a special calabash into the River Osun.
Important Sites at the Sacred Grove
It is an exciting walk from the entrance to the tail end of this grove. But tourists and art enthusiasts may want to take note of these particularly historic sites:
Oya Bush : In the grove, there are many sites dedicated to several deities. In the aforementioned site, a small shrine is dedicated to Oya, one of the famed three wives of Sango, the Yoruba god of Thunder.
Oja Ontoto Shrine : This shrine is eponymous with the first market in the Osogbo locale. Legend has it that humans and spirits did interact in this market in times past. Inasmuch as this fact remains very difficult to verify, the presence of objects reminiscent of the earliest market days point to the true existence of a market at the site.
The Ataoja Palace : There is a dilapidated building at one end of the main courtyard of the grove which is believed to the first palace to be built in Osogbo.
African Themed Huts : Tourists can expect to see a couple of huts in the grove. With clay walls and thatch roofs, these huts serve as relaxation centres for visitors to the grove. Refreshment, in the real African sense can be obtained in these groves too.So, should you ever want to explore the artistic heritage of the Yorubas in your next visit to Nigeria, be sure to explore the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove. The feeling of walking through it is best understood through experience.
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