This Day (Lagos)

2 July 2005

Nigeria: At Adunni Olorisa's Sacred Grove

Lagos — One of the greatest tourist attractions Nigeria has is the Osun Grove, a tourist site created by Susanne Wenger before it was taken over by the Osun State government. Clementina Olomu, who was in Osogbo courtesy of the Tour Shop, a tourist agency, writes on the grove.

To those who have visited Osun Grove, she is the mystery woman behind the wonderful and unique sculptural works of the Grove. Seeing the works of Susanne makes one appreciates creativity and natural endowment. As a renown artist Susanne Wenger's works are different and unique.

Though the reporter had visited the grove with school children who were on tour, courtesy of the Tour Shop, event managers on tourism and arts promotion.

At the entrance of the grove is an inscription "Sacredgrove, citadel of Osogbo history. Following this is an instruction from the National Commission for Museums and Monument which reads, "Please don't destroy or deface our historical monuments, sculpture and structures. Obey traditional norms, cultural rules and regulation. Treat our animal and plants with care. Do not kill or harm them. Osun shrine gate, courtesy the tourism department of Osun State government".

The gate of the grove is made of iron with the three men who founded Osogbo, Oguntimehin, Laroye and Anishola embodied on it with each carrying his instrument that he brought to Osogbo. While one is beating the drum, another is carrying his gun. This grove now known as Osun Grove is where Susan Wenger Popularly known as Adunni Olorisa stayed when she came to Osogbo from Ede.

The first house she stayed in the grove was designed by her. Currently it is also one of the tourist attraction in the grove, the design is unique. But the house itself is small.

Susanne came to Nigeria at the age of 35 in 1950 from Austria, her home country, driven by a sense of adventure and a yearning to fulfill a seeming gap in her spiritual reconnection.

Her book, "Adunni" A Portrait of Susanne Wenger, reveals the interview conducted by Rolf Brockman and Gerd Hotter in the early nineties. They recounted how through her encounter with famous patrons of Nigerian artist, Ulli Beier, she found herself walking the path of African cultural milieu.

Her link with ancestral sculptural works could be linked with her stay in Ede, according to the book, her real transformation began when she encountered a sadly disappearing generation of priest who inspite of their usual protection of their spiritual empire were reluctant to admit women into their cult. When she eventually succeeded in becoming a member she discovered within her a love for the gods. She grew more entrenched in the cult of the ancestors. Another could be the great the prophetic words of Aajagemo, one of the last great Olorisa who told her she will build a petesi ( storey building ) for the Olorisa. This eventually came to pass when she started building the many shrines that now dot the Osun grove landscape.

Awofesan Busayo and Niran Alade of the National Museum took the children round, explaining the significance of some of the things in the grove. Wenger's works are interesting they show that her level of imagination and creativity is quite high.

There are sections for traditional Ifa and Orisa worshippers who the students were told hold meetings regularly.

How did the people react to Wenger at first, being a white woman who choose the forest as her home? Busayo said at the initial stage people ran away from her. People started associating with her when she married Anishola Onilu the drummer.

The journey had started from the first house IIeagba. On festival days when the devotees are coming out they pass through Ileagba.

Another interesting works of Wenger's is Osun Olomoyoyo, another Osun Goddess linked with fertility. It is the belief of the people that she gives children to barren women and people still come round bringing their problems to her, most especially on festival days.

Another interesting edifice in the grove is "Iyamagbo". This is a sculptural work made with iron. One of the guides said Iyamagbo, in days gone by, was reputed for foreknowledge of external attacks. She informs Osun and the birds. The birds takes poisonous food prepared by Osun to the spot where the attackers are. Since hunger must have set in, coming from a from a far distance they ignorantly eat this food and die. Thegod's major job is protection. Those who need protection also visit this spot in the grove. The first palace in Osogbo is inside the grove. It's a small house, looking at the structure. The grove is beehive of activities on festival days.

People from all works of life, far and near visit. Apart from these group tourist also come in to see some of Susane's works. Other places of interest in the grove is the Osun river which flows from an unknown source, through the grove to other places in Osun state. The people of Osogbo believe that those who need spiritual help come to the river and their prayers are answered.

Based on what the group was told, the grove itself is an atmosphere of special powers. The guides said those who take oaths always make sure they fulfill them. Most of the fulfilled promises are thrown into the river.

Another historical site in Osogbo is Nike Gallery, founded by Nike Davies Okundaye. She occupies one of the major areas in Osogbo town where her works ranging from adire (indigo pattern dying), batik, paintings, sculptural works of different designs are found. She also has a workshop which serves as training institutes, with over 150 pupil.

Another interesting place in the grove is the Jungle Communication Centre (JCC) run by Okonfo Rao Kawawa. Kawawa had his education in Ghana. He came back to Osogbo in 1969 and travelled again in 1971 to Germany and stayed 15 years before returning to Osogbo again with his German wives and children. One of his wives died in Nigeria while the other relocated with her three grown up children. The fourth is still with Okonfo at the jungle centre where they entertain guests with different African songs and dances.

The group also paid a visit to the Oba's palace, Alayeluwa Oba Iyiola Oyewale Matami 111. Whose office was commissioned on the 8th of April 1980 by the late Bola Ige who was then governor of Oyo State on the fourth of December 1982. At the entrance of the main palace are photographs of previous Ataojas.

As part of activities to mark the 90th birthday of Susanne, the Ataoja of Osogbo and the people of Osogbo will mark her birthday at the palace.

Not only are the people of Osogbo celebrating her, other dignitaries from all works of life in Nigeria and abroad, most especially those who have not been to grove will use the opportunity provided by the event to visit the historical site.

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