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Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove: Home of Osun deity

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By Abraham Adekunle

The grove is one of the last remnants of primary high forests in the South.

Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove (also known as Osun Sacred Grove) is a sacred grove which is along the banks of Osun River at the outskirt of Osogbo, Osun State, Nigeria. The grove is several centuries old. It is among the last of the sacred forests that once adjoined the edges of most Yoruba cities before extensive Urbanization. A century ago, there were many sacred groves in Yorubaland. Every town had one. The dense Forest of the Osun Sacred Grove is some of the last remnants of primary high forest in Southern Nigeria.

This River Osun meanders through the forest and it is the spiritual abode of the goddess Osun. There are forty shrines, sculptures, and art works set within the forest sanctuary and which are erected in honor of Osun and other Yoruba deities. Many of these artifacts were created in the past forty years; two palaces, five sacred places, and nine worship points are strung along the river banks with designated priests and priestesses. The new art which was installed in the grove has differentiated it from other groves. It is now unique in having a 20th -century sculpture created to reinforce the links between the people and the Yoruba pantheon of gods, and also in the way Yoruba towns linked their establishment and growth to the spirits of the forest.

Every year in August, the Osun-Osogbo Festival is celebrated.

The Osun-Osogbo Grove was desecrated indiscriminately in the 1950s. Shrines were neglected and priests abandoned the grove as customary responsibilities and sanctions against desecration weakened. People engaged in prohibited actions such as fishing, hunting and felling of trees until an Austrian, Susanne Wenger, helped to reinstate traditional protections. With the help of the Ataoja (the royal king of the time) and the support of concerned people, Wenger formed a movement that challenged land speculators, repelled poachers, protected the shrines, and re-established the grove again as the sacred heart of Osogbo.

Wenger was later honored with the title “Adunni Olorisha” for her custodial efforts and her consistent devotion to the gods of the grove. Ever since that year, the Osun-Osogbo Festival is celebrated at the grove in August every year. The festival attracts thousands of Osun worshippers, spectators and tourists from all over the world. The festival is believed to have a history of more than 700 years. Historically, an ancestral occurrence led to the celebration of this festival. Once, Olutimehin and other migrants settled on the bank of the Osun river to save themselves from famine. Yeye Osun appeared to Olutimehin and requested that he led the people to the present-day Osogbo town. She promised them protection in return for an annual sacrifice which is now the Osun-Osogbo Festival.

The Osun Grove is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In recognition of its global significance and cultural value, the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. The grove is an active religious site where daily, weekly and monthly worship takes place. Additionally, an annual processional festival to re-establish the mystic Bonds between the goddess and the people of the town occurs every year over 12 days in July and August, and thus sustains the living cultural traditions of the Yoruba people.

In 1965 the grove was first declared a National Monument. This original designation was amended and expanded in 1992 to protect the entire 75 hectares. According to the Nigerian Cultural Policy of 1988, “The State shall preserve as Monuments old city walls and gates, sites, palaces, shrines, public buildings, promote buildings of historical significance and monumental sculptures.” The grove had a well-developed management plan covering the period of 2004 to 2009 which was adopted by all stakeholders and the site enjoys a participatory management system.

The Osun Grove will preserve the heritage of the Osun people.

Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove is also part of National Tourism Development Master Plan that was established with World Tourism Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The grove will also serve as a model of African heritage that preserves the tangible and intangible values of the Osogbo people in particular and the entire Yoruba race. As a source of pride, the grove will remain a living thriving heritage that has traditional landmarks as well as a veritable means of transfer of traditional Religion and indigenous knowledge systems to African people in the diaspora.


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