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FEATURE: Celebrating Osun Osogbo With Sober Reflections

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As the 2020 Osun Osogbo International cultural Festival kicks off, NIYI OLASINDE runs this commemorative documentary, sounding copious caution on the mood of the moment.

CONCERNING the Osun Osogbo goddess, some salient facts are unarguable. First and foremost is the fact that the Osun Osogbo festival has been with us since the founding of the city (Osogbo) itself, and has always been cause for joy and conviviality for the people and a source of spiritual refreshing for thousands of foreigners who come from all over the world every year to participate in it. As it has turned out, Osun and everything attached to it constitute the core of Osogbo and form the archetype of the people. Osun is largely regarded to be the purveyor of fertility, divine favour, healing, protection, creativity and prosperity. Although Osogbo is the home of Osun, the deity is worshipped in Yorubaland and in the Diaspora. This last development makes the festival unique, as the deity and her potency and efficacy reverberate all through the lands where she is worshipped. Osogbo stands tall as the city remains the proud host of an international festival of ever-increasing fame gravity and grandeur which is fast-turning into a staunch source of wealth for the growing State of Osun, especially, in the present drive toward her growth in the areas of culture recreation and tourism.

It has been observed, wisely, that all forms of socio-cultural developments have some attributes of celebration and thanksgiving to the Almighty God. Osun festival is not an exception in this direction. Festivals, are, therefore, regarded as important socio-cultural means of supplications to the Supreme Being, at most times through His intermediaries according to different individuals’ beliefs and according to their belief patterns. Consequently, the month of August every year has become a unique month among the people of Osogboland. It is the month of celebration, traditional cleansing of the city and cultural reunion of the people with their great ancestors and founders of the Osogbo kingdom. The celebration of Osun Osogbo Festival is a period of stocktaking and assemblage of all sons and daughters of Osogboland and most especially Yoruba-speaking people both in Nigeria and the Diaspora.

As revealed by existing historical records, literatures and artifacts, the origin of the festival can be described as an account of the legendary encounter between the early settlers/founders of Osogbo with the Osun Osogbo deity. In about 1370AD, the founder of Osogbo, Oba Gbadewolu Larooye and the great hunter Olutimehin, settled in the sacred Osun forest to establish the kingdom and cultivated a pact of association and togetherness with the River Osun deity. Since then, Osogbo has remained a peaceful, progressive and benevolent city without any ravage of war or pestilence. This pact of association, which is rekindled every year in the month of August, is the foundation of a cultural fiesta which has catapulted itself into world recognition as one of the largest tourism attraction in Nigeria. This cultural celebration tagged “Osun Osogbo Festival” has a two-week programme of events starting with the traditional cleansing of the town called Iwopopo, followed by the lightening of the 648-year-old 16-point lamp, three days later, called Atupa Olojumerindinlogun. This is followed by Iboriade some four days later, which is the assemblage of all the crowns of past rulers (Ataojas) for blessings. The Festival’s Grand Finale showcases the cultural procession of the people to the Osun Grove.

Essentially, these activities – with other associated ones – are to springboard cultural tourism development in the State of Osun and generally in Nigeria. In spite of the influence of Western education and religion, the festival has, to a very large and reasonable extent, maintained its originality, authenticity and acceptability among nations worldwide. The Osun Osogbo was enlisted officially as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Durban, South Africa to the joy, elation and trepidation of the people and Government of the State of Osun and those of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on July 25, 2005.

Corporate sponsorship and individual’s identification with any of the festival events will therefore be a rare opportunity to advance corporate relations, products and services patronage with the fulfillment of discharging corporate social responsibilities and national obligations to the Osogbo community, the State of Osun, the Government and people of Nigeria. In this connection, involvement, participation, sponsorship and investment in the events show-cased by yearly episodes of the Osun Osogbo Festival have been, on yearly basis, attracted. In other works, the interests and involvement of individuals and corporate organizations in the programme of events have been on the increase, though there is still more room for greater involvement and participation by these sponsors, stakeholders and collaborators to make the events of the festival greater successes than they currently are.

Osun Osogbo sacred grove is an originally organically evolved cultural landscape associated with the Yoruba traditional religion and culture. This sacred grove, of about 75 hectares of rainforest vegetation, harbours over four-hundred species of plant of which two-hundred are found to be of high medical values to the Yoruba people and others alike who believe in its efficacy. This implies that that forest is a natural herbal pharmacy. There are also different species of animal living in the Osun River and the natural vegetation of the grove. This dense forest in South Western Nigeria on the outskirts of the city of Osogbo, the capital of the State of Osun, is one of the last remnants of primary high forest in South West Nigeria.

The grove is a highly sacred sanctuary where different shrines, sculptures and art works have been erected to honour, celebrate and remember all the Yoruba deities in the grove. Because the sacred river is a goddess, some mythical and metaphorical significance are attached to her. Inside the grove, lay the origin of the Osogbo ascendancy and kingship institution. As pointed out earlier, festivals for the deity are held in August of every year in the grove to propitiate the Osun goddess and renew the bond of spiritualism and association that was established by the great ancestors and founders of Osogbo.

Also, as pointed out earlier in this write-up, the importance of this river goddess and the series of festivals held in her honour have gone beyond the Yoruba people. It has entered the global almanac of international festivals and the ground on which it is being held is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On account of its soaring importance and significance; Osogbo has grown phenomenally. From all available sources, it is validated that the State of Osun got her name derived from the deity – the Osun goddess. The creativity inspired by Osun made Osogbo a centre of arts, where indigenous but world renowned artists and artistes emerged. It also attracted arts scholars from all over the world into the city. Thus endowed, Osogbo has become elevated to become the socio-cultural headquarters of the South-West geopolitical zone, that of the entire Yorubaland and by extension, of the entire world. This latter fact makes the Osun monument a heritage worthy of nurture and treasure.

CULTURE has been viewed unanimously across the globe as a veritable vehicle for domestic tourism development. Culture is a key component of the tourism industry.

Culture has been defined as the entire way of life of a people. It encapsulates the whole package of the people’s religion, beliefs and belief patterns, customs, traditions, costumes (dressings), manners and mannerisms, values, codes of conduct, festivals, dances, music, songs, food, drink, history, language, family systems, child-rearing practices, handicraft and hospitality, among others. Culture is very critical to tourism because one of the motivating factors to a destination is to enjoy the cultural peculiarities of the people of the local communities.  Most people are attracted either by curiosity or the desire for adventure. The cultural tourism has come to be known as one of the critical segments of the tourism industry within the capacity of attracting variety of audience from different parts of the world to a destination. As a sub-sector of the tourism industry, cultural tourism is defined as a special-interest form of tourism motivated by cultural interest such as a visit to museums, historical sites, festivals and other related cultural events. Cultural fiestas like the Brazilian Carnival, the Northing Hill Carnival in the United Kingdom, Abuja and Calabar carnivals in Nigeria, Osun Osogbo and Argungu International Fishing and Cultural festivals are good examples of cultural events that have attained international prominence.

As a country, Nigeria is richly endowed with uniquely fascinating cultural heritage which can be projected to the international community as attractive tourism products. The conservation of cultural resources and their eventual transformation into tourism products can be the real incentive fair share in the world tourism market. The onus therefore lies on the stakeholders in the tourism and hospitality industry to take advantage of the rich potentials our cultural heritage offers in developing a brand that would appeal to international audience.

Nigeria has very vast, diverse and colourful cultural heritage rich in components like festivals, dances, dresses, arts, crafts, folklore, songs and varying local cuisines all of which combine to add entertainment value to the various cultures. All these could be harnessed and packaged as a brand for promoting recreation in Nigeria.

In nonscientific usage, the term culture also refers to such personal refinements as classical music, the fine arts, world philosophy, festival which are veritable instrument fostering unity, social integration, economic development, entertainment and to a large extent, reduction of crime. Osun Osogbo Cultural Festival could be examined both as a spiritual and historical reenactment. It represents an experience by the Ataoja and his people as well a collective recollection of how modern-day Osogbo town evolved from the primordial grove to the land they occupy at present.

In one of the foundation myths of Osogbo, Olutimehin and Larooye migrated from the Ijesa town of Ipole, driven by drought and famine. It was in the course of the expedition that Osun grove and the reverine flood plains of the Osun River were discovered. Both friends left Ipole with their people to settle within the grove where Larooye; who had assumed leadership built the first palace called “Ile-Osun” i.e. house of Osun by the water front. Osun was popular for dyeing clothes, a trade for which Osogbo people are still known today.

It is placed on record how the role of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) in showcasing Osun Osogbo Cultural Festival and also advertising the credentials of Osogbo in the cultural heritage of the black man cannot be overemphasized. No doubt, Osun Osogbo, amidst other 75 festivals had been held under the aegis of the corporation since it began to have a new leadership in August 2006 and, in addition, the Osun Osogbo Festival has since got listed and included on the corporation’s calendar of festivals. In addition to this, it has been acknowledged by the commission that the statistics of attendance, tourist expenditure pattern, tourists’ inflow, hotel occupancy ratio and other concomitant economic effects of the festival on the people of Osogbo have enjoyed continuous analysis by the Corporation for both local and international tourist demands and consumption.

In view of the foregoing, there is no gainsaying the fact that since the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) has not left out domestic tourism promotion and since it has not reneged in its effort at taking inventory of Nigeria’s vast tourism resources. Records substantiate it that on a regular basis, inventory of Nigeria’s vast tourism resources have always been taken. This inventory-taking, which includes events and festivals held for Osun Osogbo, is followed by research field trips to these attractions with a view to providing first-hand knowledge and guide on these attractions to curious tourists and Nigerians as well. It is also confirmed from authoritative and impeccable sources that the corporation has always ensured that tourism souvenirs are made available to visiting tourists for their consumption. It is also revealed how, through the efforts of the corporation, the whole world had been drafted into the orbit of the Osun Osogbo cultural festival as the attendance at the festival is always drawn from the seven continents of the world. The implication is that Osun Osogbo Cultural Festival remains the cultural melting pot for blacks and indeed a rallying point for all lovers of culture around the world.

It is an acknowledged fact that the Osun Osogbo Festival provides a veritable platform for reenacting the past in the present thereby bringing into collective and individual memories, the spiritual umbilical cord that links the two locations and episodes in time and space, spiritual and temporal. This is demonstrated through the huge and suffocating procession of indigenes, visitors and tourists in a surging crowd led by the Ataoja and a votary maid (Arugba) from the royal clan trekking through sacred paths that terminated the primordial palace where the Ataoja sits on stool to perform the annual rituals to appease the ancestors. The crowd goes into a frenzy of prayers and supplication with devotees who rush to fetch Osun water into jerry cans after the Ataoja would have completed the ritual feeding of the Osun. Thus the Osun Osogbo Festival can be interpreted as a cyclic rite as well as a rite of passage. The festival is a fixed ceremony that celebrates the foundation of the Osogbo Kingdom and ritual renewal of the sacred instruments that constitute the irrevocable plans behind the authority and office of the Ataoja.

JUST as  it was in Year 2011 and 2014, the Year 2020 episode of the International Osun Osogbo Festival wears some semblance of peculiarities. The Year 2011 grand finale of Osun Osogbo festival coincided with the twentieth year anniversary of the creation of the State of Osun, having been created on Tuesday, August 27, 1991. The year 2011 episode of the Osun Osogbo festival was significant and symbolic in two other ways; apart from the just-mentioned one. Firstly, the 2011 Osun Osogbo Festival was the very first celebrated with the newly-installed monarch, His Royal Majesty, Oba Jimoh Oyetunji Abidemi Olanipekun Larooye II on the throne as the Ataoja of Osogboland. Secondly, another first recorded was that the said episode marked the very first that met Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola on the seat of governance of the State of Osun.

The previous Osun Osogbo Festival held in year 2010 took off barely two weeks after the immediate past monarch; His Royal Majesty Oba Harazeem Iyiola Oyewale Matanmi III joined his ancestors. In the light of that development, all statutory and ritual roles of a sitting monarch at the festival were played by proxy by the next in rank among the Osogbo traditional chiefs, the Ajagunna of Osogboland, High Chief G.O. Oparanti.

The Year 2014 edition of the celebrations could not be held with pomp, owing to the Ebola scare that hit the world then. Similarly, this year’s episode is limited due to the constraints imposed by the Coronaviurus pandemic. Like other religious festivals and other ceremonies before it, this year’s episode will be held, bereft of all fanfare that should characterize the event. It is therefore cautioned that Osun adherents, tourists, residents and culture enthusiasts should give due observance to all COVID-19 regulations in order to help prevent the spread of the scourge and flatten the curve.,

The State of Osun, located in the South-Western part of Nigeria, covers an area of approximately 14, 875 square kilometres, and it lies between longitude 04 00 E and latitude 05 558″, and is bounded by Ogun in the South, Kwara in the North, Oyo in the West, Ondo and Ekiti states in the East. Clearly, as already alluded to in earlier parts of this report, the state derived its name from the legendary river goddess of Osun, the very reason for this season of festivities in the state capital, Osogbo.

The state has an approximate population of 3.2 million people (going by 2006 population census) and has the unique feature of being a state with the highest number of historic towns and natural artifacts in Nigeria, some dating back to the creation of human race. The historical significance of the State of Osun lies in the fact that the cradle of human race is located in the state i.e. Ile-Ife and one of the most culturally endowed groves in the state is located in the state’s capital of Osogbo.

The indigenes of the state belong to the Yoruba tribe and are composed of the Ifes, Ijesas, Oyos, Igbominas and Ibolos. However, non-indigenes from all parts of Nigeria and foreigners reside in the state, living together in harmony. Yoruba and English are the languages of the people for official and business transactions. The state is blessed with highly literate and articulate populace who constitute a virile and productive workforce. Traditionally, the people engage in agriculture and produce sufficient food and cash crops for domestic consumption and as inputs for agro-allied industries and for export. A reasonable segment of the populace is also engaged in trading and artisanship. Other occupations of the people include hand-weaving, mat-making, dyeing, soap-making, and wood-carving, among many others.

The people have a rich cultural heritage which is eloquently demonstrated in all areas of their lives. Their culture finds expression in their arts, literature, music and other social activities. It is marvelous being among the people, savouring the beauty of their well-acclaimed cultural inheritance. Tourist centres abound across the state. Some of the popular ones are the Oranmiyan Staff; Ife Museum Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Zoological Gardens, Ile-Ife; Yeyemolu and Oduduwa shrines and groves – all at Ile-Ife. Others include Osun Osogbo Shrine, which is the venue of the internationally-recognized Osun Osogbo Festival; the Mbari Mbayo Cultural Heritage; Idi-Baba Cultural Centre; Adunni Susuan Wenger Centre; and Nike Arts Gallery; all based in Osogbo. There are also the Olumirin Waterfalls at Erin-Ijesa; Igbo Sango at Ede; and the Ayikunnugba Waterfalls at Oke Ila.

Since the creation of the State of Osun, there had been succession of leaders for the state. The past leaders of the state include Colonel (later Brigadier-General) Leo Segun Ajiborisa (the pioneer Military Administrator of the State); late Alhaji Isiaka Adetunji Adeleke (the first democratically-elected Governor of the state); Colonel A.F.K. Akale (who governed the state in the capacity of Acting Military Administrator when democratic rule was truncated and aborted in 1993); Navy Captain Anthony Udofia; Colonel Anthony U. Obi; and Colonel Theophilus O. Bamigboye; who handed over to Chief Bisi Akande upon return to civilian administration in 1999. Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and Mr. Adegboyega Oyetola (the incumbent governor) took turns in the saddle since 2003 till date

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