Osun Groove

Suspension Bridge over sacred Osun River constructed by British colonials in 1935 Photo:  Gbadamosi Wasiu/World Monuments Fund

Osun Groove is the worship centre of the Yoruba Impersonation of the “Waters of Life,” and the spiritual mother of the Osogbo township. To her, Osun belong the Groves, but one or the other otherwise sovereign god may take lodging on her ground. The goal of the world famous annual procession is the pond, river-altar and river-shrine Ojubo Osogbo. The procession in modern times take place around the end of August, when worship due to Sango (in the traditional four day moon week) falls on a Friday (of the seven day sun week). The Osun festival marks, to the traditional devotee, the renewal of mystic bonds between the goddess and the people of Osogbo, who then ritually represent all of humanity.

Osogbo Town

Coming from Lagos, Ibadan or Ife and arriving on Osogbo ground, the motorist can see a signboard on the right hand side of the road. At this signpost, enter the first road to the right and then turn half left, a bit uphill on a bumpy road. The right branch would lead even more directly to the Groves. This joins the main street, Station Road. Turn right on Station Road, and take the right-branch at the round-about Arriving at Oja Oba, the King’s Market, the Ataoja’s palace is on the right, and the ancient market shrine on the left. Coming to the crossroad, turn into the road on the right, so that the Central Mosque now stands on the left and the side wall of the Palace premises is on the right (Within these premises’ outer cement and brick enclosure can be seen the painted walls and carved veranda posts of the Osun Shrine in the palace). This road, which descends slightly, leads straight Into the groves. It goes first out of town and Into an area which was Illegally destroyed in the last decades of the milleneum. This area was once ritually Intensely important, containing (on the left side) the grove of Oro and (on the right side) the Igbo Epa, the hunters’ burial grove. The growing ownership had encroached on these heavily tabooed areas. With the violation of taboo, and, when an inquiry to the oracle permitted it, the forest altars, loaded with symbols, were transplanted  into the Groves’ Interior.


Osogbo township’s regal head (Oba) bears the title Ataoja. “The one who holds the fish In his hand.” From the time of his Installation until his death, the Ataoja Incarnates Osogbo’s mystic founder Laro. Oba is an ancient theocratic Institution, whose human vehicle is the psychosomatic repaired organism of a person elected from one of certain specific families. As the overlord of all religious institutions in his township, the Oba is responsible for the Sacred Groves. Because of the traditionally generous attitude towards all sacred forces, the Oba is, paradoxically enough, also the overlord of the aggressive, missionary-minded imported creeds, which aim at the destruction of that which puts him in power.

Sacred Grooves

A shrine in the Osun Groove

The adjourning road enters the Sacred Groves of Osogbo, the Osun Groves, in their present, ritually guarded extent. The teak plantation, established some time before the started New Sacred Art, is certainly no sacred area, but does not interfere with the tourist advance. The visitor’s first encounter with Orisa, the Yoruba dieties, is Igbo Oya, the Oya Grove, on the left.

Oya Groove

The original Oya Grove was in town, behind the modern Oju Ori Oba Koso, Duro Ladipo‘s mausoleum and the former Mbari Mbayo Art club. The grove was transferred long before the beginning of New Sacred Art. Now here on the spot and altar where Oya priests lay down atonement offerings, stand the magnificent statues of the goddess Oya and her beloved husband, the god Sango. The twin sculptures, (by Kasall Akaagbe) are really one, carved from a single teak tree stem (embedded In the ground) which branches into two. This symbolizes the ritual and emotional closeness of these divine personages in the oneness of Ideal marriage. The forest which surrounds Oya Grove is that of Obaluaye and Alajere, but while the Oya Groove is besies the river Obaluaye Groove reaches close to Awowo, the steep precipice where Ogun Timeyin encountered the helpers of the god of floral-magic potencies, Oseyin, an encounter which catapulted Timeyin Into divine status and beyond time. Thus Osogbo’s timeless myth lingers on here under taboo, fed by the river’s mystic prowess.

The visitor is advised against roaming about unguided in this and other parts of the Sacred Groves. This warning should not be disregarded. The visitor who treats frivolously what is felt to be serious is not welcome in the precincts of worship. There has been words also about poisonous snakes (in the service of the gods, like all that lives there). Safely, the visitor may follow the guide.

Oro Groove

As one advances uphill nearly ascending the height of Ontotoo, the teak plantation recedes. The teak replaced what were once the Groves of Egbe. Between this plantation sector and the present Oro grove, a path branches off. On this intersection of three paths (all the roads were once forest paths) Is Idi Esu. Esu Is always ritually remembered on crossroads, which physically correlate with his meta-intellectual complex of multidimensional assignments. Esu is responsible for regulating traffic among the Illimitable thought complexes of his friend, the oracular Ifa. The Oro Grove Is separated from the premises of Ogbonla by a path which belongs to the teak plantation but Is also used by visitors to reach Oja Ontotoo, without Intruding into Iledi Ontotoo. Oro and Ogbonla are closely linked In ritual. This Is why the walls are adorned together, as one work of Sacred Art, with representations of the Egungun (sacred masks) by the artist Ojewale Amoo, the first Osogbo person to produce New Sacred Art.

Sango, Oya, Obatala & other mystics

Facing Igbo Oro across the main road are the premises of Obatala (Orisaala or Orisa nla, “The Great Orisa”), whose buildings house symbols of some of the “white gods,” a multi- branched cult complex of endurlngly creative sacred-force Impersonations. The building which is taller on Its left wing and deeply sculptured on the front, Is the Shrine of Orisa Aajagemo. It Is named Aye Dakun Yipada, “World, I beg you to reconsider your ways.” The artwork represents the embrace of Obatala and Sango, a metaphysically contradictory embrace in which the two gods simultaneously meet and part.

Flanking the anterior room of the Obatala altars and, either through the right or the left hand wings, lead passages towards the actual Alajere premises and shrine. This building is a dwelling place, which the god-and occasionally his priests, humans and snakes, may take physically as an abode and dwelling place, finding furniture, such as the bed and cupboard sculptured artistically from clay ready for their use. The front of the building is sculptured with thorny creepers, sacred to the god for their psychodynamlc qualities. Alajere’s living quarters are furnished with an earthen bed, shelf and cupboard in the inner room, and a floral altar whose abrupt position, shockingly near the the god’s pubescent unpredictability.

Outside, between sculptures representing elements of Alajere’s myth, a path leads away to the god’s meditation sites. Where the path bends to the right towards Awowo, there stands a statue of Obatala gesturing atonement and welcome to Alajere, his ideational son. The path is crossed by two scissor-like pythons, who probe the purity of one’s intentions. (Symbolic reality is passive, so the truth of this statement is relative). The height of the Awowo-precipice  is flanked by two statues of Alajere, as unlike in character as the different sides of his nature. Here, on the brink, he dances lyrically for Osun, who as the river, silently flows by far below. There, he jumps over the cliff. This death-life, life-death motion represents the flow back and forth into the universe from where he comes and to where he goes impersonating the, to the Yoruba typical, ambivalence of a sacred force as such.

The visitor may now be guided back across the road to the premises of Iledi Ontotoo, the club house and ritual site of the earth cult, the Ogboni “Secret Society.” Visitors are advised to refrain from entering (with or without a guide) if ritual is in progress. At other times, they can enter, together with the guide, but only as far as the first room of the right-hand entrance. At the back of the Iledi premises, along this forest path, there is a flat rock, Oja Ontotoo. Oja Ontotoo is a market for gods, subterranean and supernatural beings, angels and clairvoyant humans, i.e. those humans who “see” gods and spirits. It is an amphitheater where earthly and heavenly beings are actors and audience combined[i].

[i] TEMPO August 17, 1995

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer