Sacred floor: the traditional grove the place Yoruba traditions are reborn


Through the dim forest, a sluggish procession of a whole lot of individuals largely wearing white, some in a trance, others singing fervently, heads in the direction of the Osun River. As they’ve each August for 700 years, Yoruba folks collect right here on the Osun-Osogbo sacred grove, a Unesco world heritage website in south-west Nigeria, for an historical pageant celebrating their conventional spirituality.

Osun priestesses wait for the worshippers to arrive.
Yoruba traditions are still practised by a devout minority.
An arugba, or virgin, leads a procession.

  • Clockwise from prime: an Osun priestess on her method to the grove; a bunch of priestesses anticipate the worshippers to reach; an arugba, or virgin, leads a procession; Yoruba traditions are nonetheless practised by a religious minority

Yoruba spiritual practitioners, adorned with cowrie shells, some with crosses or Islamic beads, pray for defense and supply sacrifices. In a area the place Christianity and Islam are dominant, Yoruba traditions have usually been solid as demonic – a legacy of colonial violence towards Indigenous faiths – however are practised by a religious minority and maintain a large significance for folks of various faiths.

Current years have seen a rising appreciation of Yoruba spirituality among the many youthful technology, with extra younger folks changing into practitioners and Ifá clergymen.

The festival attracts visitors from across the Yoruba-dominated south-west, along with diasporas from South America and the Caribbean.

The 2-week Osun pageant attracts guests from throughout the Yoruba-dominated south-west, together with diasporas from South America and the Caribbean, in addition to vacationers. Osun, the goddess of the river, is alleged to have appeared to an historical warrior, instructing him to deliver Yoruba folks out of famine, into security in Osogbo metropolis. In return, they might supply a yearly pageant.

Osunnike Ogundele, one of the grove custodians.
Osunnike Ogundele, one of the grove custodians.

Osunnike Ogundele, 53, wears a shimmering inexperienced and gold lace gown, her hair braided with cowrie shells. “I’ve been right here all my life,” she says, explaining her mom’s affect, and her personal steerage for her kids.

“My fondest reminiscences of the grove are our moms earlier than us who handed on the data now we have now. There was a lot to study from simply observing them and we are attempting our greatest to go this on to our daughters too,” she says. “Osun solutions all prayers, nobody cries to her with out leaving with a smile.”

Osunniti Sikiru, 32, a Muslim and Osun priestess, is one in every of quite a lot of custodians of the grove. She describes how, for Yoruba folks, cultural heritage ought to be understood as predating the appearance of Abrahamic faith within the area.

Osiniti Sikiru, another grove custodian.

“Most of our forefathers weren’t Christians or Muslims,” she says. “There’s a giant false impression that as a Muslim one can’t mix it with Osun worship. Water may be very symbolic in Islam and Osun worship, each emphasise purity. I’m nonetheless a practising Muslim, I nonetheless pray 5 instances a day, my son is known as Ibrahim, however Osun worship precedes most religions in Yoruba land.”

Princess Adeola Iya Osun, 47, one other priestess, chimes in. “One in all my daughters is a pastor and my son actively goes to the church, however what I attempt to preach is a symbiotic relationship between faiths.”

Princess Adeola Iya Osun.
Princess Adeola Iya Osun.

There have been issues that the Osun River, seen as having therapeutic powers, has been contaminated, sparking fears for the well being of the worshippers who wash and drink right here. Native media investigations allegedly discovered harmful ranges of lead, lithium, aluminium and iron, attributable to the actions of artisanal miners and enormous firms.

Final 12 months, footage of the polluted river triggered uproar and calls for for presidency motion. A warning by the state authorities to not drink from the river got here on the penultimate day of this 12 months’s pageant, sparking additional anger. Some selected to drink anyway, figuring out the river was contaminated, believing they might be protected against ill-health.

An overview of the packed grove during the festival.
Water from the Osun River is believed to have healing powers.
Osun priestess prepares a sacrifice to be offered to the river goddess.
A ram is slaughtered and its blood drained into the river.

Air pollution is a critical fear for these making an attempt to take care of the integrity of the grove and its environment.

A committee of custodians leads these efforts, clearing the litter, whereas preserving the structure and stone carvings.

Osuntunmishe Oluwo, a local healer.

On the ultimate day of the pageant, guests crowd the banks of the river to satisfy clergymen and priestesses for session and prayers. Baskets are laid out stuffed with kola nuts, vegatables and fruits.

In a trance, a priestess bellows praises to the goddess, then shares messages and warnings. As devotees arrive for prayers, testimonies are shared by individuals who have attended for a number of years.

Iya Osun’s mother and father had challenges having kids, she says. “My mom got here to wish to Osun for a kid. I’m a results of that answered prayer.”

Because the pageant ends, the crowds depart the grove and the dense forest, their prayers made, hoping to return subsequent 12 months with testimonies of their very own.

Prayers at the edge of the river.

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