Arugba is a virgin picked from ages 11 or 12 and dedicated to the service of the River goddess Yeye Osun, until she eventually gets matured and settled down. Usually, she would serve the town for about three to four years before she settles as a woman, but with civilisation and most of them attending schools, the Arugba now serves the town or the River goddess for over ten years,for those picked at tender ages.
Throughout this period, she is denied some self-satisfying acts, which her age-mates enjoy, as her personality, during the festival, is taken over by the dictates of the gods on one side and the people on the other side. Anyone who had witnessed the festival would understand the trivialities of the Arugba.
She is the center of attraction of the entire events, which explained the rationale behind her significance in the festival, because if there is no maiden to bear the calabash, then the main event cannot hold.
I did not intend to eulogise the Arugba, but to dissect her lifestyle during and after her reign as the calabash bearing maiden. In about 30 years before now, she is only accorded little or no attention during the festival, as the Ataoja and other chiefs shield her from the public glare, except when she is leading the procession to the groove, on the final day of the festival.
Before the reign of AtaojaOyewaleMatanmi III, Arugbawas a title all maidens ran away from, as they were not only denied basic association rights, but also education. Once one is pronounced the Arugba,such girl loses the right to go to school, then among her peers, she is depicted as being abnormal. She suffers some degrees of discrimination for being the mouth-piece of the goddess.
However, the last Ataoja injected some innovations by encouraging the maiden to attend school, though only at secondary level, as she is not allowed to go schooling outside the town, all in a bid to ‘protect her’ from being abused or losing her virginity, and avoid throwing the town into a fresh search for another scarce maiden. This is simply because many mothers would not encourage their little daughters to go into such covenant with the goddess and risked living an unfulfilled life.
I am of the opinion that the town, through the two council areas, the state or through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, should take the responsibility of taking care of the Arugba, whose lifestyle is tied to the celebration of the festival. Then it does not appeal to sense that she is eventually abandoned to her life, after she might have decided to settle down for a family life.
A typical civil servant entered into the state of Federal Civil Service at an average age of 28 and retires at the age of 60 years or after 35 years of service, during which he or she has the freedom of association of any kind, while such person is free to make family. But the life of an Arugba begins as early as 12 or 13 and lasted for about 11 to 12 years, though short compared to those in the Federal or State Civil Service, but hers is more restricted, she is not free to engage in family making and people often discriminate her from normal people, especially the male folk.
While researching for this piece, I came in contact with two previous Arugba, it is disgusting to see the condition under which they sustain their livelihood. When I engaged one of them in a serious discussion, I was made to realise that many of the former Arugbas are barely living from hand to mouth, which I believe does not befit their status as former intermediary between the gods and mankind. This situation would prevent young maiden from wanting to keep their nobility for the task, since their lives would not have any form of insurance when they might have concluded their assignments.
The one I saw, her condition was pathetic, she could not be proud of being a formerArugba as it shows in her countenance that she regretted being one and I wonder what might be going on in her mind. She is yet to get married, but her condition reflected absolute poverty and with no hope of getting a better deal any time in the future, because she had only Secondary School Leaving Certificate,without any form of entrepreneurship knowledge that could have been an alternative means of survival, putting it vividly, she had lived her life before her time.
Before the celebration of the last Osun Osogbo Festival, the palace was thrown into confusion about who would bear the calabash, because after the demise of an Ataoja, the compound from which a new monarch emerges, produces a new Arugba; but the controversy surrounding the emergence of the new Ataoja had made it impossible to get a new maiden for the task, hence the decision to persuade the current one to continue with the task for the time being. Thanks to the goddess, she did not turn down the plea, otherwise people would have realised that the Arugba is the core attraction of the festival.
In my candid opinion, the maiden’s office should be taken into cognisance by the two council areas in the state capital, which enjoy the glory the festival brings upon the town and fashion out a way of securing a social ticket for her, whether in form of gainful employment, or like the Kabiyesi, she should be given certain amount of money from the 5 percent due to the monarch from the council’s statutory allocation. After all, the money made from marketing during the festival is not usually accounted for after the festival and in most cases, the Arugba is not considered in the sharing of the accrued funds.
Now that the former Arugbas had begun to realise the mistakes in their past and start having a second thought regarding their manner of living, how long would the people in authority wait to start initiating processes that would ameliorate their condition? Maybe until the town suddenly runs out of options, I mean when an Arugba is not available, as most of the young girls would be looking at the living condition of their predecessors and vow never to live such a wasteful life or a life of regret.
The state government can even wade into the situation by creating an office for the Arugba in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, where potential past and present Arugba could always come together to fathom out a way of improving some aspects of the festival, with a view to projecting it to the developed world. This would only be one of the many areas where they could be useful to the cultural revolution in the state. They could also be relating their experiences, as well as tutor would-be Arugba on what is expected of them and endear the assignment to young and upcoming virgins, thereby discouraging immorality among young girls.
I think those in positions of authority should be the one to bring about a plan and sustainable change in the way the Arugba survive during and after the assignment bestowed on her for the entire town. We should bear in our minds that the various crises bedeviling our society today are results of forced revolution, due to prolong negligence by those in authority. We should not fold our hands on the pretense that the task is a necessity that must be bored by a virgin because she was chosen by the goddess. We should start thinking about such virgin’s will to reject such assignment and its consequences on the integrity of the festival, monarch, town, state and the country in general before the international community.