Osun Osogbo festival: New look, same traditional rites
As the August celebration of the annual Osun Osogbo festival draws near and people look forward to the fanfare, Yejide Gbenga-Ogundare, who visited the Osun Groove in Osogbo, reports that though the event is being rebranded for wider reach by a new consultant, Esquire Global, the traditional rites which herald the event remain the same and are already on.
To many, especially tourists who have made Osogbo their destination every August to partake in the annual Osun Osogbo festival, the countdown has begun for the 2019 celebration. And for them, it is a time to have fun while some , especially the worshippers and many foreigners see it as a time to commune with their inner being through the Osun deity.
However, few people know that before the August celebrations, there are many rites that have to take place before a successful festival. Indeed, the traditional rite for the festival span a period five months as it starts in March when many people that will be a part of the festival are yet to start planning.
Though the festival is being rebranded this year for wider reach to further boost the economy of the town, spread the tentacles of the event and increase its appeal, with a new consultant; Esquire Global, taking over, the essence of the celebration remains the same.
Speaking with Nigerian Tribune, Esquire Global, the consultant for the 2019 Osun Osogbo festival, represented by Williams Derrick, stated that though they are working on various new things to further make the celebration bigger, they are not in any way touching the traditional aspect or the essence of the celebration which is steeped in traditional belief and is part of the history and heritage of Osogbo town.
According to him, Esquire Global is not just going to jump in and say it is changing the face of Osun Osogbo festival. “We are not just going to come in, jump on it and say we are bringing this and this on board. What we intend to do is to carry the people of Osogbo along because anything we are going to do, we will be using the citizens from Osun. Though we will get one or two help from outside but 80 per cent of the project we will work with will be Osogbo indigenes on ground; be it in wood work, printing, tie and dye, metal work, exhibitions or whatever.
“We are doing our homework and we will ensure we work together with the indigenes to get things in shape and retain the essence of the festival while giving it a new look. The first step is to see the Ataoja and the Ataoja- in- council to know their expectations and how best to work things out without deviating from their plans, tradition and expectations to have a fantastic outing in terms of culture, tourism and preservation of heritage.
“We have done this; we know what they want and how to blend it into our own plans. But with time, you will see the new things that will evolve and definitely, everyone will know a new consultant is on board,” Williams stated.
And indeed, for the Ataoja of Osogbo, Oba Jimoh Olanipekun Oyetunji and the Ataoja-in-council, the Osun Osogbo festival has already commenced as the Ataoja, as the custodian of the Osun Osogbo tradition and heritage, has commenced the rite in preparation for celebration.
Speaking with Nigerian Tribune on activities in preparation for the 2019 celebration, Oba Oyetunji confirmed that indeed, he has started the rites in preparation for the festival, starting with the Oro festival which observed at Ontoto, the third settlement of the Osogbo people under King Larooye Gbadewolu based on the instruction of the Osun deity.
“I did the Oro for 2019 barely a month ago. I have begun the festivities for this year’s Osun festival with the collection of River Osun bullets, we call it Ota Osun; it appears as stone but is not an ordinary stone. It is the spirit that will shape the stone in its abode deep inside the river, you cannot see that abode but the spot is where we collect water every year for delivery from sickness, infertility and the likes. The bullet is collected every year and we will keep it till the last year that human exists. The ceremony is called the Ikota Osun and it has gone and other activities will follow before the date is announced,” the Ataoja stated.
Other activities that will take place before the celebration include clearing the path that visitors would tread. This, according to the Ataoja was done in those days when Osogbo was not a city. “Every family head will send representatives of their family who will come with cutlasses and hoes to prepare the path people will take to celebrate the grand finale but the construction of roads as a result of civilization and modernization had replaced the path with big and major roads like the one from Okefia to Ilesa but the spot where the king used to sit then to receive homage from the people and visitors while this is on is the Gbemu junction, called Orita Gbemu.
“Now, the king will seat there, the chiefs will come and bless him while he will bless them in return and various groups from compound to compound and society to society and visitors from various towns will come and receive blessings from the Ataoja, then the Ataoja will trek back to the palace with singing and dancing. That is the sign that the town is set for the festival and that will officially mark the commencement of the festival, it is the scene one.
“Three days later, there will be assemblage of crowns used by the incumbent king, they will be exhibited, then sacrificed by the means best known to the Ikolaba to the Ataoja. The Ikolaba will perform the ritual aspects of that ceremony inside with the Ataoja then the beaded materials; crown, staff or sword that is the horsetail, necklace and others will be brought outside for the people to see but the normal rites would have been done. The remnant of materials used would now be brought outside for the princes, princesses, chiefs and visitors to taste out of it because the Ataoja would have tasted all before coming out. That is the assemblage of old crowns and new ones,” Oba Olanipekun explained.
This is however not the end of the rites, the Ataoja added that, “four days after which is the seventh day, we have the Iwopopo, the cleaning of the town with the atupa olojumerindinlogun, the name given to the ancient 16-point lamp that was collected by the great hunter Timehin from the spirits dwelling in the forest at the groove which they used to celebrate annually as tenants of Osun in the groove. The lamp collected is still used annually as directed by Osun and the spirits also join in the celebration to sacrifice together with the king using the lamp.
“The palm oil used in lighting the lamp is collected from the palm trees in the groove forest and that has been the practice since. I will do the same thing this year by the grace of God. This part of the rite; that is the lighting the 16-point lamp is done at night; you know spits don’t move by day. The chief in charge of the lamp is called Baale Oba; that is the head of the chiefs in the palace. He is the only one that knows where the lamp is kept, the Ataoja will not go there because having danced round with the lamp three times on three different occasions, the king will not see the lamp again until the next year, it will be in the possession of the Baale Oba who would be feeding it, consulting it and bringing its message to the Ataoja as it had been done since,” Ataoja stated.
It is indeed a lineup of traditional rites before any celebration takes place annually. This is contrary to belief in some quarters that the festival just comes up every August as routine. Confirming the reason the celebration is a must, Oba Oyetunji stated that the Osun deity must receive its homage annually because it is the reason there is Osogbo today.
“What the deity has done for the indigenes of Osogbo is beyond what can be enumerated. So annually, the Ataoja will never fail to pay homage to Osun and give her sacrifice. The Osun deity is a spirit, it remains where it is, it is static and cannot be moved, it remains where it is. Ordinary eyes can never see Osun. By divinity, Ataoja knows the time he will meet Osun where he used to meet her from time immemorial. Osun is still with me, I cannot show it to anybody. Osun is the deity my predecessors left for me as heritage and I am protecting it and preserving it for the next generation. It is a must to pay homage to the Osun deity because Osun Osogbo founded Osogbo.
And as preparations for the festival continue, Osogbo indigenes are looking forward to how Esquire Global will merge the tradition with funfair and make the 2019 celebration one with a difference without undermining the essence of the Osun Osogbo festival.