The mysterious Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove is a landmass covering about 75 hectares of land and is dedicated to the Osun goddess of fertility. Located in Osogbo, a city in Osun State in Nigeria, Africa, this forest area is home to various sacred shrines devoted to different deities in Yoruba land. The area is considered sacred with a connection of different spiritual paths that link the major divisions together. The area seems perfectly created for sacred rituals as the Osun river cuts across the area and gives an ambiance of spiritual presence. There used to be similar popular places for rituals in Yoruba land but over time most of them were converted and only a few remain, the most important being the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove. It is for this reason that it was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2005 and stands out as one out of the two World Heritage sites in Nigeria at present.
The Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove is believed to house about forty shrines spread across the various parts of the forest and representing several different deities. The sacred nature of the grove makes it an attractive place for spiritual practices. As a sacred area, such activities as farming, hunting, and fishing are highly prohibited and only traditional healers are allowed to gather plants that grow there for use in their practices. The grove gets several visits per year from both the Yoruba worshipers who are consistent in their local worship and those who visit the place as a tourist center. Rituals are performed at the different shrines regularly by ardent worshippers of the different deities. There are many varieties of wild animals present in the forest area and they continue to increase in their numbers due to the banning of hunting activities and any form of disturbance from external influence.
History of the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove
There are several folktales connected to the origin of the Osun-Osogbo sacred grove. However, what is certain is that its history is highly connected to the history of the Yoruba culture and traditional religion in general. In Yoruba land, there is a belief in a supreme being, Olodumare, and several deities through which the people worship Olodumare. The people call the deities Orisa and attribute titles of different activities to them, for example, Orisa of thunder, Orisa of fertility, and so on. One of the myths tells the story of a group of people who came to live there as their permanent settlement and carried out all their activities very close to the river area. They were suddenly disrupted during one of their tree-cutting adventures when the voice of the goddess of Osun echoed and asked them to leave the land. They obeyed and moved to higher settlements and only came back around the area for worship and ritual purposes, thus, making the place a sacred area.
Another myth has it that a certain hunter who wanted to save his people from slavery and famine approached the goddess of the Osun river for help and in return would dedicate the entire area to the goddess and continue worshipping her as a way of repaying her kindness as requested by the goddess. The grove eventually grew into a large community that has become the arena of the sacred grove. The Osun river has always been significant to the people of Osun as it was the center of worship and religious practice and had been known for its defensive function in the city. It is for this reason that the Osun-Osogbo grove is ever more interesting and attractive to the worshippers of different deities.
It is true that the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove has always maintained a sacred identity over the years, however, it had not always been that way. At a certain point, there were disturbances in the forest area as people began to desecrate the area, and maintenance of the area became poor. It was through the work and perseverance of Austrian Susanne Wenger and her husband that the grove reclaimed its sacred nature and liveliness. As an artist, she reawakened the sense of art and brought about transformations through the help of her husband. It is important to note that most of the most ardent worshippers at the sacred grove are foreigners from other countries who travel to visit the grove regularly at least once a year during the Osun-Osogbo festival.
The Osun-Osogbo Festival
This is one of the most significant festivals in the area and attracts thousands of tourists from different parts of the world. The festival is held in annually in August and there are several activities during the festival periods. The Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove is believed to have the highest number of visits during this festival period as it is held within the area and serves as an interesting opportunity to pay mass obeisance to the deities. The main event which is celebrated each year in the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove is the annual sacrifice to the Osun river goddess as promised by the first people who received protection from the goddess.
Other celebrations go on around the city of Osogbo making the festival a point of interest filled with unique activities that fill up to two weeks. There is a ritual cleansing of the city and a reunion of the people with their ancestors. There is a lighting of the sixteen-point lamp which is believed to be over 500 years old and the crowns of the past rulers are gathered together for blessings. All these activities are embedded with spiritual meanings for the worshippers of the different deities. The festival reaches a climax where the people gather in a procession at one of the shrines in the sacred grove with dancing, singing, poetry, and other activities which accompany the sacrifice to the deity.
Over time, the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove has been a uniting factor between worshippers from different parts of the world. Some foreigners believe strongly that they have an origin there and they take the religious practices seriously even when they return to their home countries. There are dedicated worshippers in the grove who take care of the environment and also look after the artifacts. They are also responsible for the maintenance of structures and other necessary things when they have funds available. These people are herbalists, shamans and others versed in spiritual practices. They contribute to the sacred ambiance of the environment that makes it conducive for initiation procedures, rituals, and other forms of spiritual practices