Once I step into the place, I had some feelings, seems like all the African gods inhabit this place, decorated with very creative artwork, the grove is a place to be, get close to nature, experience healing and meditation. Discovering for the first time, the landscape of the grove dotted with sanctuaries and shrines, sculptures and art works, its meandering river and vegetation in honor of “Osun” and other deities made me stand in owe and splendor. I witnessed the beauty and natural conservation of species and animals. The grove is a natural herbal pharmacy containing over 400 species of plants, some endemic, of which more than 200 species are known for their medicinal uses. Birds, reptiles, and animals are well preserved and protected. As I walked around the, I discovered signs and indications that reads: “it is forbidden, to destroy or kill any animal for food”. There are traditional activities that have been used to protect the site from any form of threats such as traditional laws, myths, taboos and customs that forbid people from fishing, hunting, poaching, felling of trees and farming inside the grove. The traditional worshippers and devotees maintain the intangible heritage through spiritualism, worship and symbolism. It is amazing how things are connected. Natures is not meant only to serve man’s economic needs.
This year’s festival attracted local, international worshipers, devotees, spectators and tourists drawn by what I see as a religious and cultural interaction. This was what pushed me as Missionary of Africa to participate at this year’s festival. These cultural and religious interaction reveals to me how interconnected we are in terms of religion, culture and nature. During the festival I felt that Traditions, religions and Nature become a mix of colors, religion, culture and sounds. The authenticity of the Grove is related to its value as a sacred place. The sacred nature of places can only be continually reinforced if that sacredness is widely respected. And this was displayed in the festival.
Over the past forty years the new sculptures in the Grove have had the effect of reinforcing the special qualities of the Grove and giving it back its spiritual qualities that imbue it with high cultural value. Devotees at the Osun-Osogbo festival believe that the sacred grove forest, situated on the outskirts of the city of Osogbo, is one of the last remaining places that the spirits, or “Orishas” reveal themselves to bless them. this actually makes me understand why such a large crowd present and active at the festival. Many fetched some water from the Osun river to drink, to wash their faces and to take it home for other uses. I met many on the way going back home with buckets and buckets of water with high esteem and trust in such a colorful water. It reminded me of the Christians coming out from NAMUGONGO’s shrine carrying also colorful holy water in bucket and bottles. I stood in awe to see such expressions of trust and faith in a cultural fiesta. Christians, Muslims, and even non-believers were present at the festival offer sacrifices around the water. Some had crosses on their neck, others came with different religious symbols. I got the chance of meeting one IFA PRIEST who allowed me to be at the scene of sacrifice and ceremony. Colas, hard traditional drinks, animals, birds like pigeons were offered by many at the riverside. The religiosity was incurable- there was something more to it as people felt into trance and were taken over by the spirit of Osun. The adoration for Osun, the deity of fertility is undeniable for the Yoruba people. It was an amazing pilgrimage.
I will say, the festival’s popularity has been growing in part because of the activism of Austrian-born artist and activist, Susanne Wenger, who rebuilt the shrines and worked to get the grove protected. Ms Wenger arrived in Nigeria in 1950s, she later divorced her husband and resolved to stay in Osogbo for the rest of her life. She was also known as Adunni Olorisha. She really entered into interaction and encounter with the culture of the Yoruba people of Osogbo.
If you love the African tradition and culture, here is your goto destination. Expect to see monkeys jumping around, and reserve some tips for the praying women at the entrance of the shrine. Feel free to pray to the river goddess, and experience walking through the first ever suspension bridge in Nigeria. You will enjoy an art village with tye and dye, paintings, wood carvings, drums and other arts and craft, amazing architecture, fantastic landscape and nature and its totally worth a visit. Above all something will take you into dialogue between religion and culture. I hope this site’s maintenance remains top-notch! Greetings from the Osun-River.