Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

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The Osun Osogbo Grove is a UNESCO world Heritage site in Nigeria. It is one of the last remaining sacred forests in Nigeria. It is located along the bank of the Osun Osogbo river in the ever-busy city of Osogbo, Osun State, Nigeria. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The grove is one of the last remaining sacred forests in Nigeria. It has been preserved for many centuries. It is known to be the home of the goddess of fertility. The grove is adorned with beautiful landscape, lovely artworks, sculptures, high sanctuaries and shrines. In honour of the Yoruba deity Osun.

About the Grove

Thousands of years ago, sacred groves were popular and prevalent in almost every Yoruba traditional villages. With the advent of western religion and development, most of these sacred groves have either shrunk in sizes or abandoned. Most sacred groves have either been neglected, been taken over by housing development, abandoned and forgotten.

The Osun Osogbo sacred grove is still standing despite many years of its existence. The Sacred grove boasts of two palaces, five sacred centres, 9 worship points spread around the sacred grove which lies along the Osun Osogbo river bank.

The Artworks

Most of the artworks installed are within the last sixty years. The grove is a religious and sacred place while to some it is like a pilgrimage site where its worshippers visit yearly for cleansing and to appease the gods.
In the twentieth century, there was a call to revive the remains of this decaying grove and restore its past glory. This action led to a movement headed by Susanne Wenger (1915-2009) an Austrian artist who later became a Yoruba priestess to transform the Osun Osogbo grove into an artistic hub through her Sacred Art movement.

Sacred Grove

In the olden days, Sacred groves were present in almost every Yoruba settlement, there were sacred forests dedicated to the gods. Over the years most of these Sacred groves have been abandoned with the introduction of Christianity, Islam and civilization. Most of them became non-existence over time. This has made the Osun Osogbo an important tourist destination because it is the only surviving sacred grove in Yorubaland.

The Osun Osogbo River

According to Yoruba folklore, the Osun Osogbo river was a Queen married to one of the strongest Kings in the Yoruba Kingdom known as Sango (The God of Thunder) Thor probably comes to mind. She had a misunderstanding with her husband and anger, she turned into what we know today as the Osun Osogbo river. The river was first discovered by a hunter who decided to settle close to the river due to famine. The goddess promised to protect them provided they built a shrine and protect the grove. This is the legendary tale of the Osun Osogbo river goddess.

Susan Wenger Movement

In the early fifties, the sacred forest was losing its significance. It was abandoned and invaded by poachers, fishing activities, and experienced massive deforestation. An Austrian lady known as Susan Wenger visited Osun State with her husband. She fell in love with the practices and culture, so she decided to stay. Upon realizing the illegal activities going in the once-booming grove, through the local authorities. She decided to set up the New Sacred Art movement to stop the abuse and illegal activities going on within the shrine.

Her Work At the Sacred Grove

After falling in love with the practice, she decided to stay in Nigeria against her husband wishes. They divorced and she was named the Adunni Olorisa. Her presence and works lead to the popularity of the Osun Osogbo Grove. She lived all her life in the city of Osogbo with her adopted children. Susan Wenger died in 2009 at the at of 93. She became a custodian and a priestess of the Osun Osogbo grove. An act that further increased the popularity and significance of the grove. Though the history of the Osun Osogbo grove dates as far back as over 500 years. The history of the grove will not be complete without Susan Wenger.

The Osun Osogbo Festival

The Osun Osogbo grove serves as the location for the celebration of the Osun Osogbo festival. It is an annual festival in Osun State in honour of the Osun goddess. Osun Osogbo grove serves as the location of the Osun Osogbo festival which has gain popularity all over the world. This event witnessed visits from tourists, locals, international spectators, traditionalists and worshippers from all works of life who grace this yearly occasion.

The Sacred Month

The month of August is a sacred month in Osun State. It is the month for the celebration of the Osun Osogbo festival. This festival has been dated as far back as over 700 years. It is a two weeks event which starts with the traditional cleansing of the town. The process is known as Iwopopo and then followed by the lighting of the over 500-year-old sixteen point lamp called Ina Olojumerindinlogun.

On The 11th day of the festival, a virgin lady known as the Arugba or calabash carrier would carry a calabash on her head. She will have two pieces of kola nuts in her mouth and a colourful veil to cover herself. With the calabash, she will enter the innermost part of the forest. She is the intermediary between the goddess and the people. She must not speak, murmur or slip during this special ceremony. If she does any of these would mean doom for the community according to beliefs.

The content of the calabash is to sacrifice to the goddess. The high priestess of the grove would carry to the shrine to appease the water goddess. The chief host of the festival is the King of Osogbo with the title Ataoja of Oshogbo. The Osun Osogbo festival attracts thousands of visitors yearly making it one of the biggest festivals in Nigeria. Other activities at the festival include singing, dancing, display of costumes, performances and other cultural display.

The New Osun Osogbo Sacred grove

With the presence of Susan Wenger, the Osun Osogbo Grove experienced a total makeshift. The New Sacred Art movement built more compelling artworks inspired by the Yoruba traditional values to promote and replace the old artworks that have decayed. It was also done to repel poachers, hunters and wanderers. This worked and once again the shrine regained its sacredness. The artworks are made from materials like mud, wood, iron and concrete. Some of the artworks represent some deities and masquerades in Osun.

The Osun Osogbo grove has become one of the traditional religious destinations and a top tourist centre in Osun. It is open to worshippers and tourist alike. The grove has different species of plants and animals. However, poaching or killing of animals within the sacred grove is prohibited.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site

In 2005, Osun Osogbo Grove became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
UNESCO is an acronym for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It is a body under the United Nations with the responsibility of sustainable development, eradicating poverty and maintaining peace through education, science and culture. UNESCO has criteria for selecting and voting a location as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove became a National Monument in the year 1965. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005. It is one of the two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Nigeria.
Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove is also part of the WTO National Tourism Development Master plan. This master plan was developed by the World Tourism Organization (WTO). Osun Osogbo Grove is also listed under the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

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