There are those to whom the Osun grove means no more than a tourist attraction site; some however see or seek a deeper connection with the grove, having recognized its spiritual essence. Although the latter are in the minority, it is mainly by their efforts that the Osun tradition has not disappeared along with other deities whose traditions were extinguished by the acceptance of western values.
I must hasten here to add that I belong to the former group. My visit therefore was to satisfy my journalistic curiosity. One woman stimulates this curiosity beyond measure, her name is Susan Wenger. Susan Wenger it was who left her native Germany at age thirty-five in 1950, to settle in Nigeria. She later got in touch with the Osun tradition and has dedicated her life to the service of Osun ever since, until her death in 2009.
I consider this strange, for what would make a white woman leave the comfort and security of Europe to settle in a rural part of Nigeria? What was she looking for or running away from? Before you knew it, I was at the shrine.
Prior to my arrival, I had thought that a UNESCO-recognized tourist site would be well maintained with a wide, motorable road ushering in a beautiful and serene environment in the least, but this proved to be a fragment of my imagination and no more, for what I saw defied all sense of responsibility on the part of Nigerians. The road leading there is in a bad state, even the walls are begging for repairs.
I was conducted round the premises and lectured on what the shrine stands for and its essence. Starting from the main gate, my guide explained the meaning of the figures on the gate. The cowries depict our ancient means of exchange, while the drummer stands for our cultural way of entertainment. The mermaid (half-human and half-fish) represents the water goddess- Osun. There is a virgin girl with a sacrifice also. This girl (Arugba) must come from a royal family. Her task is to carry the sacrifice at Osun Oshogbo festival. A man with a broken bone praying for health portrays the healing power of the Osun goddess. A hunter who discovered the place by name Oguntimehin was also carved alongside the first king of Oshogbo, Lanroye Gbadewolu.
The whole land mass is about 75 hectares of virgin land bisected by the Osun river. All buildings are mud structures.
The inside is no less impressive than the outside. The building by the left is called Iyemo house. This building with a curious shape serves as a by-pass for the virgin girl carrying the sacrifice. Located in front of Iyemo house, by the right, on the wall is a twig of ornamental plant called peregun. I was told that this peregun was planted hundreds of years ago and the curious shape of the building was fashioned to imitate flowers because Iyemo likes flowers.
Along the path, I saw figures of humans. The first being Susan Wenger and her dog followed by Baba Olayiwola olosun, Baba Alin onisekere and Ayansola onilu. Susan Wenger later divorced her husband and married Ayansola onilu. We moved over to a molded figure with children attached to every part of her body. This figure represents Osun olomoyoyo. This is where the barren comes to offer sacrifices for children. After this, we came to the end of the by-pass where the virgin girl with the sacrifice emerges. Presently we were confronted by another molded figure of Ibeji and Esu (the bringer of evil). Leaving this behind, we came to a flight of steps approaching the shrine where the Osun priest and priestess stay- the very first place.
Some things were forbidden for those entering. First, they must remove their foot wears, cameras are not allowed and menstruating girls were told not to enter. Those entering were told not to step on a particular spot.
Curious about the forbidden, I directed some questions to the priest. Why aren’t we allowed to take pictures inside? Why can’t we step on that particular spot? The pots where Osun worshippers take some kind of fluids what are their constituents? And lastly, why did the priest plait his hair?
In response he maintained that the pictures taken inside the shrine would not show well. The forbidden spot is where the first king sat. And according to him, nobody knows how the mysterious liquid medicine got into the pots. The plaited hair has a personal reason and it is not prerequisite to becoming an Osun priest.
My main quarry for the day escaped as I was told that Susan Wenger was too old and would not be responsive, besides she was busy preparing for the Osun Oshogbo festival which was only a few days away.
Some months later, I heard of Susan Wenger’s death. She was 94 years old. Adunni Olorisa, as she was fondly called, had been bedridden since 2006 due to old age. The last time she was sighted at a public function was in 2006 during her birthday celebration.
So ended the life of an artist who represented a bridge across continents and across cultures. An enigma, who cannot but be acknowledged when and wherever the Osun culture is mentioned. So exited the white priestess, and with her exit the exit of Osun culture?
Well, only time can tell.