The Yorubas (south-west Nigerian tribe) have through the ages and times managed to keep their cultural legacies. Although most of the methods of celebration have been tweaked as a result of modernaisation, the essence of the legacies have not been lost. One of these cultures is the Osun Osogbo festival, a traditional celebration that is observed by the people of Osun state till date.
This festival thought to be about 600 years old lasts for two weeks and is considered to be the biggest annual traditional religious event of the Yoruba people. It started with the founders of Osogbo town and years later attracts thousands of worshippers and spectators not just from Nigeria but from all over the world.
According to folk tales, the ancient founders upon settlement had planned to build their houses by the river bank, but as they began felling trees, the spirit of the river-god Osun called out to them, ordering them away. The grove has been a sacred area of worship for the spirit’s devotees ever since.
Devotees at the Osun-Osogbo festival hold the belief that the sacred grove forest, situated on the outskirts of the city of Osogbo (the state’s capital), is one of the last remaining places that the spirits, or “Orishas” (pronounced oh-ree-sha) reveal themselves to bless them.
During the festival there is the daily performance of people dancing, singing, playing the drums and showing off elaborate costumes to appease “Osun” (pronounced aww-shoon), the goddess of fertility.
For these devotees, the main attraction of the festival is the “Arugba” (pronounced ahh-roo-gba),a virgin maiden who is supposed to help the people communicate with the deity. She is the one who leads a procession to offer sacrifices to the river.
The Arugba, also known as the ‘calabash carrier’, has the responsibility of carrying a large calabash on her head underneath a colourful veil made with the local fabric, aso-oke. Every Arugba has to remain a virgin during her time in the role.
It is said that the calabash contains the sacrifices of the entire community and those offered by the people in attendance. Before the procession to the river, worshippers offer prayers at the priestess’ shrine.
Years before civilisation reached the land, human sacrifices were involved in the celebration but as people became exposed to modern way of life, the practice was put to a stop.
In 2003, the last remaining 67 acres of virgin forest in the area, was recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage Site.
It is amazing how the people of Osogbo have evolved through the years and yet still maintaining their cultural heritage.
What does your cultural festivity mean to you? Please share with us in the comment section.