Monday, 26 August 2013

Echoes from 2013 Osun Osogbo festival

Arugba of Osun Photo By Osun Defender

 The excitement has reach its crescendo today at the grand finale of the celebration of Osun Osogbo festival and over 200,000 visitors from all walks of life are expected to grace the event.
Celebrated in Osun State, Nigeria, the ancient Osun Sacred Grove, symbol of African culture and religion is among the events and festivals that attract large number of people around the world, that is why it is the second Heritage Site in Nigeria sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, (UNESCO).
In fact, the celebration is associated with spiritual healing and fertility for the believers. This year’s festival is believed to be more successful based on the relationship that existed between Osun, a Yoruba river goddess and an ancient Osogbo king, Oba Gbadewolu Laroye inside the Osun Grove with the participation of the Ogbeni Rauf administration and some private companies including MTN, Lagos Airport Hotel and many more.
The pre festival began on Tuesday, July 16, 2013 with Osun Festival Corporate Forum in Lagos. Also, there was Knock-out stage Football and Festival Advocacy from May 18 – August 5, 2013.
Other highlights include: stakeholders advocacy. Iwopopo (Traditional cleansing of the city) Iwopopo Cultural Town Storming PMAN’s performance day, Olojumerindinlogun (Lighting of + 500 years 16-points Lamp) Festival Music Concert on Thursday, August 15, 2013 and Golfers Cocktail Nite (Arrival), Micom-Ada on Friday, August 16, 2013.
On Monday, August 19, there was Iboriade (Ataoja’s Crown Assemblage followed by  Arugba’s Berth and Association of Nigerian Theatre Practitioners (ANTP) which took place on Tuesday, August 20, while Susanne Wenger’s Sacred Colloquim, Osogbo Festival Art Exhibion was held on Wednesday, August 23, 2013.
On Thursday, August 22, 2013, there was Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) Campaign, followed by WADIMSisi Osun Cultural Pageant. (The state government promised to donate condoms and conduct free HIV/AIDS tests during the Osun Osogbo Festival grand finale. And, the chairperson, Osun Osogbo HIV/AIDS Prevention Committee, Dr Temitope Ilori, said the initiative was aimed at checking the spread of the disease during the festival).
The celebration today, Friday, August 23, 2013 include the Osun Osogbo Festival Grand Finale Procession and Royal Reception (Strictly by Invitation).
Earlier on, Osun State Commissioner for Home Affairs, Culture and Tourism, Mr. Sikiru Ayedun, said that this year’s edition of the festival would be a memorable one, adding that the festival had placed Osogbo and the state as a whole on the world map.
He added that this year’s event would attract more tourists and investors to experience the rich tourism, arts and culture of the people of the state.
“There were plans for the festival to give it moral and financial supports to make it a successful one. There would be series of side attractions whereby tourists and visitors will be entertained by indigenes on the rich cultural heritage of the state. The celebration of Osun-Osogbo festival is known among the indigenes, the state and the country as a whole as a major festival and rendezvous,’’ the commissioner said.
According to him, the festival brings all sons and daughters of Osogbo land from within and in the Diaspora to their roots. “The festival has over the years become a unifying event and a tool for social and economic development of the state. It is the mandatory duty of the state ministry of culture and tourism to preserve the cultural heritage of its people. The Arugba (calabash carrier) day is usually regarded as the most important aspect of the festival. The Arugba attracts tourists from across the globe,’’ he said.
Also speaking, Osun State government revealed in a statement that it would immortalise late German cultural legend, Mrs. Susanne Wenger and few others who have contributed immensely to the development of arts and culture in the state. The government also said that it would put in place a hall of fame to immortalise both living and dead cultural icons for their various contributions to cultural development in the state.
 Special Adviser to Governor Rauf Aregbesola on Culture and Tourism, Mr. Oladipo Soyode said that though Susanne Wenger who died about four years ago has not had any monument named after her, the state government has always been celebrating her during the annual Osun Osogbo festival.
Wenger died at the age of 94; spending more than half of that time on Nigerian soil dedicated to reviving the traditions of the pre-Christian Yoruba gods, “the orishas.
 One of the great Nigerian artists who got inspired by Wenger is Chief Mrs. Nike Okundaye.
Okundaye said Late Mama Susanne came to Nigeria in 1950s. “Originally, she came to study and know more about African people. Before she came, she was already a professional painter. But she came for the love of arts and Africa. When she saw the beauty of African culture and arts, she decided to stay here and gave her whole life dedicated to it. One thing that everyone knows is that she was not pretending.  Before she died, she dedicated everything including her whole life to the Osun goddess. Through her work, she put a lot of life to Osun River. Her work and activism have made Osun (Grove) one of the UNESCO recognized heritage. She once stayed in Ede and before she died, she was an Obatala priestess.
“As I am talking with you, Osun has been recognized world over. She put Osogbo on the world tourism map. Nigerians should always be grateful for her. She has also done a lot for me. She helped to ensure that all the artists in Osogbo and Nigeria could forge ahead as one. During her life time, when you asked Mama Susanne where her family is, she would always say the artists are the member of her family. She is truly a mother to all the artists. And she prefers Nigerian artists than going back to Austria, her home country. To me, growing up with her gave me the greatest inspirations. What I am today is as a result of the inspiration that I got from her. You know, because of her dedication to Yoruba culture, the late Ataoja of Osogbo admitted her as a full citizen and native though she is a white woman.”
In this year’s festival, a lot of innovations were put in place to spice up the annual event which attracts tourists and visitors from many parts of the world. Singer, St. Janet was part of the lineup of artistes that performed at the festival. Also, Fuji crooner and Regal Dry Gin, Pasuma will perform at the grand finale of the annual Osun Osogbo festival today.
Born Alhaji Wasiu Alabi, the Fuji musician promised to thrill the crowd and to make people happy at the festival.
Similarly, an Osun State and Ara Entertainment Productions film project, Osunfunke (a movie, developed around the cultural phenomenon of ‘Arugba’; a prominent female symbol of the Osun-Osogbo festival and one of Osun’s fascinating traditional lore, will be premiered at the festival.
Female talking drummer and singer, Ara, played lead role as Osun Funke in the movie. According to her, I choose Osun Funke as the title for the movie because the movie is centered on the sight and sounds of Osun State, especially its arts, culture and tourism. It is based on the story of Arugba, a ceremony that takes place during the Osun Osogbo festival. Osun Funke hailed from the prestigious Arugba family, unfortunately for her, she was raped so she could not carry the sacred calabash that year and her younger sister carried it. The story goes on from there. I wrote the story and played the lead, that is, the river goddess.  It was scripted by Tunde Babalola.”
Meanwhile, the Consultant, Osun Osogbo Festival, Chief Ayo Olumoko, assured visitors that this year’s event will be memorable and hitch-free.
According to Ayo Olumoko, Chief Executive Officer of INFOGEM Limited, organisers of the festival, the cultural festival as a brand event in which they bring the best entertainment packages to visitors and tourists from within and outside Nigeria who visit the state for the festival. Exciting places are Erin Ijesha Waterfalls and Miccom Golf Resort.
According to some scholars, Osun Osogbo festival is not just a celebration but a remembrance of the day the town came into existence and observance of the pact the first monarch of the town had with the deity. The celebration is equally a means of appreciating the goddess for her protection over the community by preventing it from external aggression and insurrection.
History of the Osun Oshogbo festival, according to a website, the Nigeria Galleria, the festival, Osogbo town in Yoruba land was founded around 400 years and it’s divided into 16 kingdoms  ruled by the children of Oduduwa, the founder, whose abode at Ile-Ife, south-east of Osogbo, is still regarded as the spiritual home of the Yoruba people.
The Fulani Jihad made Osogbo  to become a refugee town for people fleeing the Jihad in the 1840s, as it moved south from what is now northern Nigeria. The Yoruba retreated further south into the forests and Osogbo, right at the northern edge of the forest, became an important centre for northern Yorubaland. The Fulani attacks on Osogbo were repelled and, as a result, Osogbo has become a symbol of pride for all the Yoruba.
During the first half of the 20th century, the town of Osogbo expanded considerably. In 1914 British colonial rule begun. As it was delivered under a system of indirect rule through traditional rulers, the authority of the Oba and priests were sustained. A greater change was brought about from the middle of the 19th century through the introduction of both Islam and Christianity. Islam became the religion of traders and ruling houses - as it gave contacts to northern trade routes and links to returning enslaves from Central and South America. For a while all three religions co-existed but as time went by it became less fashionable to be identified with the Ogboni and Osun cults.
By the 1950s the combined political and religious changes were having a marked detrimental effect on the Grove: customary responsibilities and sanctions were weakening, shrines were becoming neglected and traditional priests began to disappear. All this was exacerbated by a rise in the looting of statues and movable sculptures to feed an antiquities market. At around this time part of the Grove was acquired by the Department of Agriculture and Forestry for agricultural experiments. Trees were felled and teak plantations established; sculptures were reportedly stolen and hunting and fishing begun to be recorded - previously forbidden in the sacred Grove.
It was at this crucial point in the history of the Grove that Austrian born Suzanne Wenger moved to Osogbo and, with the encouragement of the Oba and the support from local people, formed the New Sacred Art movement to challenge land speculators, repel poachers, protect shrines and begin the long process of bringing the sacred place back to life through once again establishing it as the sacred heart of Osogbo.
The artists deliberately created large, heavy and fixed sculptures in iron cement and mud, as opposed to the smaller traditional wooden ones, in order that their intimidating architectural forms would help to protect the Grove and stop thefts. All the sculptures have been done in full respect for the spirit of the place, with inspiration from Yoruba mythology and in consultations with the gods in a traditional context.
The new work has made the Grove a symbol of identity for the Yoruba people. Many from the African Diaspora now undertake a pilgrimage to the annual festival.
In 1965 part of the Grove was declared a national monument. This was extended in 1992 so that now the whole 75 hectares are protected.

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