OSOGBO, Nigeria (AA) – Traditional worshipers and tourists are flocking to Nigeria’s ancient town of Osogbo for an annual sociocultural festival celebrating the “spiritual powers” of Osun Osogbo Grove, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“The Osun Osogbo festival is an integral part of our culture as a people,” Sikiru Ayedun, the government official in charge of overseeing the event, told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday.
“This celebration is a way of keeping our history; a way of telling our story,” he added.
Osun Osogbo is celebrated every August in Nigeria’s southwestern Osun State.
It pays tribute to the “magical powers” of the “spirits” resident in Osun Osogbo Grove and the Osun River, which runs through the heart of the ancient town.
The Grove was declared a national monument in 1965. In 2005, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The river is reputed to have healing powers, including the ability to make barren women fertile, according to traditional worshipers.
Fishing and hunting near the traditional shrine, along with other activities, are regarded as blasphemous.
“It is another season of cultural reunion for our people across the world,” Ayedun said of the festival. “It is a way of attracting tourists to our state to get a sense of our culture.”
The official said that festival activities had begun a few days ago, while a grand finale will be held on Friday, including a carnival-like procession to the Grove by Osogbo residents and well-wishers.
On Monday, Osun Osogbo priests unveiled the new Arugba, a calabash-bearing virgin votary who leads the procession to the Grove, signaling the festival’s zenith.
This was preceded by the Iboriade, an assemblage of crowns of past kings of Osogbo, during which prayers are offered to – and blessings sought from – departed ancestors.
Festival organizers also light a 16-point ancestral lamp, around which the traditional monarch and his courtiers dance at intervals until dawn.
Osun State is home to a number of national monuments and historical sites, including the Opa Oranyan in Ile Ife – the ancestral home of the Yoruba, one of Nigeria’s three major tribes.
Very few local hotels have vacancies as people from across Nigeria arrive for the traditional festival.
“We already have visitors everywhere,” said Solomon David, a receptionist at Center Point Hotel, located about 1km from Isale Osun, the area the contains Osun Osogbo Grove.
“Our rooms are filled because the Osun Osogbo festival is being held in a few days,” he told AA.
Because of the recent Ebola outbreak, the state government announced over the weekend that attendance would be restricted this year to residents alone in hopes of curbing the spread of the deadly virus that has already killed five people in Nigeria.
“We used to receive visitors even from outside Nigeria,” David recalled. “But the government has asked us not to allow non-Nigerians this year.”
Despite the new restrictions, however, business is booming in the ancient city.
“We are very happy that the Osun Osogbo anniversary is here again,” Lagelu Lasisi, a taxi driver, told AA. “We make a lot of money; the entire city is a beehive of activity.”
“Most visitors will definitely need our services to move around the town,” said Lasisi. “[Is it] any wonder we want to hold this [festival] every day?”
Locals told AA that thousands more visitors were still expected when the festival peaks on Friday, when Osun devotees will converge on the magical grove to seek blessings.
Top government officials, including many from the federal administration, are expected to show up for the annual event.
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