By Femi Mode Siyanbola
Like all the monumental and most spectacular natural wonders of the world which have become points of reference in world art history, some wonders before the medieval period are no longer in existence. Some of them are the Great pyramid of Giza, Hanging Garden of Babylon, and Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes and Lighthouse of Alexandra. Of all these wonders, only the Great Pyramid of Giza still exists and people are spending a lot of money to travel there to behold its greatness in Egypt.
What is worthy of note back home here is the way the monuments and the statues at the Osun Osogbo Grove were painstakingly constructed by the late famous octogenarian Austrian-born, Artist Adunni Olorisa- the Late Susan Wenger who can be likened to the two Egyptian Pharaohs, the Ramses II and the Ramses III, the third one known as the Ramses the Great died in 1225BC. This third pharaoh of the 19th dynasty built vast monuments and statues, including the two rock temples at Abu Simbel. The second pharaoh of the 20th dynasty died in 1167BC, he fought decisive battles against the Libyans and the Sea Peoples. After his death the power of Egypt declined. This piece serves as a conscious reminder to the people not to let the legacy of Late Susan Wenger and those who tirelessly work in all ramifications towards the success of the Osun grove be a wasted effort.
Why we need to rejoice and be happy is the interest the present State Government of Osun has demonstrated concerning the development and emancipation from the obsessive secrecy attached to the faith that the Yoruba culture and tradition is fetish. The minds of this category of people should be disabused that the activities we dread after all, may be a source of revenue.
For the benefits of those who are longing to be furnished with the authentic history of the grove, a need to unveil this write up for reckoning becomes important.
Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove is an organically enveloped cultural landscape associated with Yoruba traditional religion and culture. It is a world heritage site with primary rain forest vegetation covering an area of 75 hectares of land with a buffer zone of 47 hectares surrounding it.
It is located along the banks of Osun River in Osogbo local government area of the State of Osun. The Grove is situated on the margins of the southern forest of Nigeria on a raised parcel, which are about 350m above sea level.
Laro and Timehin Grammar School bound the grove in the North, while in the South is bounded by the entrance of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) which runs parallel to form the western boundary. In the East, Osun State Agric Farm Settlement also bounds it. Osun State on which the Grove is founded covers an area of about 14, 875 Sq.Km.
In Yoruba cosmology history, Osun who was one of the wives of Sango was said to have metamorphosed into river as a result of a mis-understanding between ‘Oba’ a co-wife of Sango. The river takes its source from Igede Ekiti and flows through Ilesa to Osogbo town and empty itself into Atlantic Ocean. It is believed that the goddess inhabits the Grove, while the river meander itself within and into the popular Grove called Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove.
The Grove was discovered by an elephant hunter called Olutimehin, who hailed from Ipole-Omu in Ijesaland, and this confirm the fact that the early Osogbo people were Ijesas from Ipole-Omu in Obokun area, where they were faced with the problem of draught, which prevented them from getting adequate supply of water for farming, cooking, bathing and all other domestic uses.
Timehin, the great hunter in one of his expedition came across the river in the Grove. Having discovered the Grove and the river, he reported back to Larooye, the King of Ipole-Omu and suggested that Larooye should establish his kingdom in the Grove. Larooye was the Owaroki (crown King) of Ipole-Omu- a settlement built on hilly area surrounded by a trench, dug to protect the community from external aggression.
Larooye and his people migrated from Ipole-omu to settle at the plains of river Osun, where the first palace was erected. While they were building and engaging in farming activities which involved clearing and felling of trees, one of the branches fell into the river on the DYE POT of Osun goddess, who was annoyed by this act. A loud voice came from the river shouting ‘LARO, TIMEHIN, KILODE TE FO IKOKO ARO MI” (Why did you break my dye pot). Immediately, voices from the other spirit came out from the forests which empathized with the Goddess saying ‘OSO IGBO PELE O”.(Spirit of the forest we empathize with you)’ This was the genesis of the circumstance that brought the name ‘Osogbo’ by which the town is known to date.
The oral account went further to say that Oba Larooye Gbadewolu entered into agreement with Osun goddess on behalf of his people that they would respect and appease the Goddess, should the goddess solve their physical and spiritual problems. The goddess (Osun) promised to multiply them if they would build a shrine for her and that a virgin girl from the royal lineage will be bringing sacrifice to her during the celebration of the agreement. This singular act of propitiation is now celebrated world wide as Osun festival. Larooye and Osogbo people accepted the pact and the promises of Osun goddess materialised.
Beyond the monumental cultural heritage of the grove, it is blessed with abundant tangible and in-tangible heritages of diverse values among which are:
Osun Osogbo sacred grove is the symbol of the development of Osogbo land from the beginning to the present. The original name of the goddess OSO IGBO (wizard of the forest has been the name of the town OSOGBO since then. The title of the king ATAOJA was derived from the first spiritual worship of the goddess by the founding king. Osun goddess sent one of the messenger to the king and he received the message from Osun messenger called “IKO (Golden fish) with his palm; this act in Yoruba means “ATEWO GBA EJA” which was later coined as ATAOJA to replace the initial Owaroki after the ceremonial act.
The root of the town (Oshogbo) lay deep in the Grove, which harbors various landmark and features in form of Shrine, Temple, Trees, Animals, Markets and Rocks, places like the first and the second palace and the river.
The grove, which is mostly kept wild, is both a sanctuary for Osun and other lesser gods that can be consulted for protection and a natural reserve with full bio-diversity that can be used for medicinal purpose.
Apart from the revenue generated from the tourists that visit the site, the grove also serves as a source of income generation for the immediate community; this could be seen through different businesses that go on within the community in which the tourist, visitors and researchers patronised.
Herbal practitioners and traditional doctors procure materials for healing and other medicinal applications from the large variety of the plant species in the grove. Example of this is the herbal preparation known as ‘SELERU’ which the manufacturer said, fifty percent of the ingredient used for the medicine are from the grove. It is used as a body immune booster. The traditional technology of using indigo dye (JELU), which is believed to have originated from the goddess, is a flourishing enterprise in Osogbo.
Buying and selling is a major attraction during the festival, as traders display good, such as kegs, local fabrics, beads ornament, food and local drinks amongst others, while dancers and drummers engage in what they know best. All these provide employment opportunity and income among the communities.
The Osun Sacred grove is directly linked with the Osun Osogbo festival which takes place in August every year, bringing Osogbo people, the Yorubas home and Diaspora and even international tourist into a rallying point of spiritual and temporal contact with their deity such as Ogun, Sango, Obatala. The grove is also a large sanctuary where people come to consult and communicate with their gods, worship them and set initiated as well.
The grove is being used by teachers, students and scholars of History, Geography, Forestry, Biology, and Art for practical lessons. It has a high potential for the study of Yoruba culture, knowledge of systems and practical as a living sanctuary of traditional knowledge and education. The grove is also regarded as school where priests and priestesses as well as devotees learn the rudiments of worship and initiation into the traditional religion. These traditional attributes have contributed immensely to deep knowledge about culture of Yoruba religion as well as bear testimonies to a living cultural tradition and civilization. Some of these practices have equally been exported to many parts of West Africa, Brazil, Cuba, North American, Britain, Trinidad and Tobago and others. It is being expected that people from this part of the world will begin to come as pilgrim to the grove.
With the continuous development of the city of Osogbo, the grove has become the closest place where a peaceful and natural environment will be accessible, without driving long distance. Therefore, the grove and the surrounding land is now being used by the people of Osogbo and tourist, as a place where one can take a breath of natural environment and a centre for leisure time activities. A section of the grove has been transformed into a meditation ground while some other areas are used for recreation and picnics.
- Siyanbola is a Senior Special Assistant to Osun Governor on Media.