Osun Osogbo festival has its roots from the founding of Osogbo, which is connected with water and the water goddess. According to the legends, Olutimehin and Olarooye, were two great Yoruba warriors who left Ipole with their people due to scarcity of water. Olutimehin had been sent to prospect for a new settlement and on his return, advised them during the course of their journey to settle at River Osun. Larooye settled his people at the plain of the river and established his palace which he named Ile-Osun. Before settling, he had to make a dwelling agreement with the aborigins of the place and their Queen, Oso-igbo, the goddess of the River Osun. Larooye and his people enjoyed the hospitality of their new land as their farming prospered until an incident happened. While farming, a tree had fallen and damaged some spiritual earthen wares belonging to the Queen. A reprimanding voice followed, making the spiritual damage that had been done known:
“Larooye, Timehin, gbogbo ikoko aro mi ni e ti fo ta”
This loosely translates as
“Larooye, Timehin, you both have broken all my dyeing pots”.
Other spirits’ voices were heard as they commiserate with the goddess”
“Oso-igbo pele o, Oso-igbo rora o”
“Oso-igbo, we commiserate with you”
This incident strained the relationship between Larooye and the Queen and to prevent further damages to her earthen wares, the Queen directed Larooye and his people to a new environment in Osogbo.
Purpose of the Festival
The reasons for the festival are as follows:
- To show appreciation to the goddess for protection during the Fulani-Yoruba war.
- To celebrate the fertility virtue of the goddess. She is also known as a goddess of fertility (Oorisa Olomoyoyo)
- To acknowledge the healing power of the river and the goddess.
- As a thanksgiving for the abundance of water.
Protection During the Fulani-Yoruba War
Osogbo was always a peaceful town until the Fulani army invasion during the Jihad war of the 19th century. The goddess came to the aid of the Osun people, ending the war at Idi-baba. During the invasion, the goddess transformed to a young beautiful lady getting the attention of the Fulani army. She enticed them with a delicious meal, obe gbegiri, which killed all the men except their warlord who did not partake in the meal, but was spared to tell the story back home. The fame of the goddess spread making this incident one of the reasons for the festival.
To Celebrate the Fertility Power of the Goddess
The yearly Osun Osogbo festival holds to bestow fertility on participants of the festival that desire children. The goddess is believed to impart fruitfulness on women when they worshipped in her river. Every year, mothers looking forward to speedy conception, pray to her at the festival as they throw childrens toys, clothes and anything that serves as a point of contact.
The Healing Power of Osun
The river is said to have healing powers to those that bathe in it, thus thousands throng the river yearly with many bodily afflictions. The healing function of the river continues all year round and not limited to the festival.
For the abundance of water
The festival glorifies the goddess for the continuous flow of water in Osun state and to humanity.
Staging/Performance of the Festival
The annual festival is held in August over a twelve day period and typically begins with a traditional community cleansing rite called Iwopopo. The King (Ataoja) and his priests move around Osogbo town, stopping at houses where they are presented with gifts of kolanut or money by the male host of the house. The procession begins at the palace and ends at the Osun river, and is followed by the lighting of a 100 year old lamp called Atupa Olojumerindinlogun. This sixteen prong lamp is lit to ward off strange and evil spirits that reside in the town. The King performs a special dance three times around the lamp before proceeding to Idi Ogun (Ogun Shrine) where he repeats his dance. On the fourth day of the festival, the King hosts a meal for the Royal family and the following day a ritual is performed on him called Ibo-Ori, which involves a prayer for the spiritual fortification of the King. On the last day of the festival is the Arugba procession where a virgin girl (Arugba) clothed in white iro and traditional beads, is chosen from a royal family and tasked to carry the Igba Osun (calabash of prayers) from the palace to the Osun river. Seen as a demi-god, her spiritual possession affects her gait as she swaggers and wobbles to the river, while still carrying the calabash.
After all rites at the river have been concluded, the King leaves first followed by the Arugba and the priests (Olosuns).
The festival is one of the high points of tourism in Osun state serving to preserve and promote the Yoruba culture.