Once again, Osogbo, the capital of Osun State, became the destination of many tourists as they converged on the town to witness the annual re-awakening of culture and tradition through the Osun-Osogbo festival. TUNDE BUSARI and YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE report that the economy of the state especially Osogbo, the state capital, received a boost after it witnessed a rare blend of culture, tourism and commerce.
Osogbo, the capital city of Osun state is one of the ancient towns in Nigeria that enjoys little traffic in spite of the fact that it is one of the few that is blessed with constant supply of power. The state which is largely calm usually comes alive in August, every year.
The annual boom which gives businesses a vibrant economic life is due to no other reason than the yearly Osun-Osogbo festival, which attracts people from far and wide to worship the Osun River goddess. The celebration is a two-week event that ends with a ceremony of the Arugba, a virgin girl carrying the communal calabash to the Osun shrine in the grove. It is the belief that the barren would be given children and every request made on this day would be granted by the river goddess.
The influx of people according to reports had always been massive and though Osogbo indigenes from far and wide attend the festival, the number of tourists from other countries is extremely high based on various factors: some out of curiosity, some due to interest and belief in the goddess while others just want a miracle.
An Ethiopian who was at the finale of the festival was seen struggling like many others to get to the edge of the river and despite his inability to even use his camera within the crowd, he was undeterred and his excitement was palpable as he told Nigerian Tribune that as a first time visitor, he wanted to see everything that took place.
The man who identified himself as Abanech Yunus stated that, “though I majored in psychology, I have always been interested in archeology and things that have to do with the ancient period especially traditional belief. I am a Muslim but that does not affect my belief because this is just academic work. I have been reading about this festival for long and my interest has always grown.
“What made me come this year was because I read that this grove and the festival is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and I know that there must be something unique about this. I want to see that and experience what it is about,” he said.
And like Yunus, many foreigners found their way to the 2017 edition of the Osun-Osogbo festival which is more than a celebration of the river goddess as it has evolved over the years to include more attractive packages for tourists; the ritual of cleansing the town at the beginning of the festival called Iwopo, the traditional lighting of the 600-year-old 16-point lamp, atupa oloju merindinlogun, assemblage of the crowns of past kings to be blessed by the current king, Arugba and Osun priestess called Iboriade and the carrying of the calabash containing sacrificial materials to the grove to appease the river goddess by the Arugba.
Also significant was the installment of the national coordinator of Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC), Otunba Gani Adams as Agba Akin of Osogbo on August 17 by the Ataoja of Osogbo, Oba Jimoh Oyetunji.
The Ataoja, flanked by his four wives, took his seat, greeted his guests and settled down for the formal commencement of the programme with the recitation of the national anthem, Osun State anthem and Osogbo version.
While expressing gratitude to the governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola for his commitment to the promotion of the state cultural heritage, he, however, lamented the effect of the current economic crunch on this year’s festival, a development, he added, contributed to some adjustment to the planning of the festival.
“The inclusion of youth-related activities such as inter school debate to this year’s programme has really shown that the future of our cultural heritage is in safe hands as these young ones who blew our minds during the competition have really exhibited that our culture is he cradle of development which must be preserved.
“I once again congratulate all the schools that partook in the contest and admonish other schools to join in the coming year and erase the notion that Osun-Osogbo Festival is fetish but rather imbibe the belief that it is just a celebration of our culture and heritage,” he noted..
The Iyalode of Osogbo, Alhaja Awawu Oyebamiji Asindemade called on government to further develop Osun grove to meet the standard of tourists’ sites she visited in Cuba three years ago.
“In Cuba, their culture is their stable source of income as we saw during our visit sponsored by the Ogbeni Aregbesola government three years ago. We can do the same here if government can come in. We still appreciate what has been done so far. This pavilion is befitting and it was built by the government of Aregbesola,” she said.
Indeed, the festival this year did not only have many foreigners as there was a contingent from Oyotunji, a big Yoruba community in North Carolina in the United States of America.
The just concluded 2017 edition of the festival followed this pattern but had more social contents as promised by the chairman of the Osun State Tourism Board, Mr Abimbola Daniyan, when he stated that the Osun-Osogbo festival would follow the same pattern but with more social content.
“As you know, we are going to be having a number of visitors from the Diaspora who will take advantage of this year’s Sango Festival which comes up few days before the Osun-Osogbo Festival.
“However, their coming to the festival tells us one thing about black people; we are concerned about what is going on in other places,” Daniyan said.
And like Daniyan promised, the festival went beyond the usual traditional rites, there were social events like games, fairs, sightseeing, tours and many other activities to entertain the visitors especially foreigners and expatriates
Many of the tourists, especially first timers, were seen struggling in the crowd to get a peep of happenings with their cameras sandwiched between human bodies.
While the event lasted, Nigerian Tribune interacted with those who had come to engage in commerce.
For one of them who sold souvenirs and also transported visitors to the venue of the event, it was a windfall. “I am happy to be alive to witness another festival. I thank Osun our mother for this grace. I make so much during this period. I have been making money annually from this festival but this year is one with a difference maybe because of the number of foreigners or because I was better prepared for this,” Kazeem Omilabu told Nigerian Tribune.
Indeed, Osogbo became the hub for culture and tourism in the last two weeks as people travelled from countries like the United States of America, Germany, Brazil, Ethiopia, Cuba, UK and many other countries across the globe to witness the festival and in most cases, reconnect with their roots and celebrate a cultural heritage that continues to evolve with time and trends.
“We never expected that the crowd would be this large especially from within Nigeria because of the economic recession. I am actually amazed that we have so many foreigners as well as local people at this year’s event,” Gbemi Durosaro, a cook in one of the hotels stated.
“I have been a part of this for five years but I have not seen it this massive; the foreigners are many and I can’t even place so many languages. This is not the Osogbo that I know,” she said.
Security operatives made up of the police, Department State Service and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), rose to the occasion, especially on the suspicion of possible break down of law by some unidentified criminal elements, who were said to have almost disrupted the event.
Apparently against this backdrop, it was also learnt that the NSCDC deployed 2,000 personnel to strategic places as a pre-emptive measure against trouble makers.
The state commandant of the corps, Philip Ayodele, said the figure was his command’s resolve to ensure a hitch-free festival devoid of any form of tension. As projected no major incident of clash was recorded, except only the reports of pickpockets who stole mobile phones and other light items from unsuspecting spectators.
That the festival brings a boom in economic activities seems to be an undisputable fact as many residents take up other vocations at this period, In order to make money, both residents and non-residents engage in catering, sales, production of souvenirs, and car hire services. Thus culture and tourism become a source of livelihood to many both old and young in the two weeks that the festival lasts.
And it is against this background that the Osun state government led by Rauf Aregbesola, gives great support and financial consideration to the project which they believe is critical to the development of the state as it not only gives the state international recognition but also opens it up as a tourist zone which can generate revenue for the state and its people.
The state governor has continued to project culture and tourism as a means of wealth creation, creation of avenue for foreign exchange, employment generation and investment opportunities. He reiterated the commitment of his administration to utilise the platform of culture and tourism to the economic development of the state and its people while maintaining the cultural heritage at the just concluded festival.
Indeed, Aregesola continues to insist on the fact that tourism is one of the silent money-spinning economic activities that bring in foreign exchange and his commitment to packaging the uniqueness of Osun-Osogbo festival to the advantage of the state and its people.
And for the foreigners, the reason for their visits is many and diverse; it is as simple as a search for adventure and for some, a need to discover themselves. Nathaniel Adalbert, a German who flew in from Austria with his partner of 10 years, Samantha, though not married, fall within this category. Both of them believe they have African roots.
“I have read about many sites in Africa but none pulls my heartstrings. I took it upon myself to research and once I read about the Osun grove, there was a kind of connection, I couldn’t rest again. I told Sam, my partner and she caught the bug more than I did. So we started planning. Though, we have not been able to have a personal communion like we hoped due to the crowd, we are contented and we will stay back for the crowd to disperse for that personal connection to take root before we go back,” Nathaniel stated.
For Samantha, it is a journey of the soul. “Since we started our plans to come here, I had a kind of inner peace. Since we came, I felt like I am home. Indeed, we connected with something in the grove and I want to further explore it. I feel accomplished and it will be an annual retreat for us because it has affected me in a way that I never expected. I am at peace and I am happy,” she said.
The couple expressed a deep sense of satisfaction that the culture of the festival and its heritage has not been eroded by modernity, adding that they never thought the jamboree of the festival would not affect the natural environment and the core tradition of the festival and the powers of the river goddess.
“The goddess needs to be celebrated as it is done. I actually like the respect that people show in the grove, it is a deep spiritual exercise and not a pageant,” Samantha stated.
Nathaniel concluded that he has had a memorable visit so far as the people of Osogbo were friendly, accommodating and willing to help though they had communication barriers. “Often we couldn’t communicate with the people but they were friendly and usually we got what we desire after gesticulating. I learnt so much about tradition and communal living which is good,” he said.
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of INFOGEM, the official marketing consultant of the festival, Otunba Ayo Olumoko, also appreciated the corporate sponsors but implored the federal government to revitalise the nation’s economy in order to encourage other companies to participate in the festival.
“INFOGEM has been around for quite some time. In fact, we are synonymous with this festival and our commitment has not wavered. We are going to get there. The nation itself is passing through same challenges. But I am assuring you that there is no cause for alarm,” he said.
In his remark, the Araba of Osogbo, Ifayemi Elebuibon, prayed for the progenitors of the town, the Ataoja, chiefs, indigenes, guests, Osun State government and Federal Government of Nigeria.
Elebuibon said he was looking forward to another successful festival, urging all stakeholders to continue on the path to make the festival greater and become more popular. “We thank Eledumare for seeing us through another year. We seek his support to host many more in sound health and wealth and peace,” he prayed
– Nigerian Tribune