Monday, December 8, 2008

The Serene Sacred Groves of Osogbo

The quiet town of Osogbo in Osun State (about four hours north of Lagos) is world renowned for two things: its vibrant art galleries and the serene Sacred Groves. It has been on my travel agenda since I came to Nigeria and finally with some other VSO volunteers, we finally managed to go!

As the name suggests, the 75-acre Osun Sacred Groves is a cool green oasis is adorned with sculptures and shrines of Yoruba deities, particularly the river Goddess Osun (Mother of Osogbo) who according to legend, promised the protection of the town. The area of the forest was home to early settlers and founders of Osogbo 400 years ago where the history of the town was recorded. Each sculpture and shrine created by local and international artists (primarily Austrian Susanne Wenger settled in Nigeria since the 50s) represents the activities, lives and preoccupations of the Gods and Goddesses of the Groves. The forest was declared a world heritage site in 2005 by UNESCO. The annual Osun Festival held in August attracts thousands of visitors from Nigeria and abroad.

We had a delightful albeit restricted walk through the forest along with a guide (who was stumped by our barrage of questions). I will make a feeble attempt to explain the sculptures and shrines given my bad memory with the tight lipped guide.

Below is the Goddess of Fertility, with many babies & children sculpted with her.

We then walked through a large opening with a sculpted gate that led to the Oba's (King) palace below.

Just beyond the palace is the Osun river. Below is the Osun Goddess with a fish shaped bottom. During the festival, the Oba sits in the special seat and accepts the water from the mouth of fish who apparently come to that spot only during the festival.

Wandering forward, we came upon a colonial swingy suspension bridge built in 1935 by a Welsh District Officer. The oracle grove at the end of the bridge was closed to us reserved only for the diviners or oracle.
In another part of the forests, were four rather complicated large sculptures. The first one you see is the Goddess called "Iya Maapo", the protector and patroness of all women's craft and trade including child birth. Her three outstretched hands symbolize advice, blessing and regrets.
The next one imposing statue is the tall, elegant and slender ELA portraying dynamism of the Ifa God. The upwardly hands denotes his offering/ pleading to the Gods above.

The last of the massive trios was the most complicated in design and symbolism--the youthful and intricate force God of Alajere and representing the chicken pox!

On our way out, we saw the same stream of surreal sculptures along the road.

Along with the black monkeys and butterflies, the forests were a live walk through the rich and diverse history of the divine lives of the Yorubas.

Below you see the well known and eerie home of Suzanne Wenger which also houses a more random collection of sculptures, art and other traditional trinkets some of which were in our budget range!


satish said...

This is AWESOME work !!
Cannot ask for a more exhaustive report on your experiences, Manali !



Geeta said...

Thank you Manali, and I am more inspired to go volunteering !!!!