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The History of the Osun-Osogbo Festival in Nigeria

The History of the Osun-Osogbo Festival in Nigeria

The History of the Osun-Osogbo Festival

There’s no place like home o! It’s beautiful when I hear people discovering the riches and beauty that lies within Nigeria’s rich culture – one being the Osun-Osogbo Festival. Osun-Osogbo is considered as the biggest annual religious event among the Yoruba people. The event attracts spectators and worshippers from all over the world in the month of August every year. Osun is a goddess of all things feminine; fertility, spirituality, emotions, sensuality, nurture and love.

The festival began approximately 600 years ago. It was started by the founders of the Osogbo community. The story told is that the founders intended to clear all the trees in the area for settlement. As soon as they began felling the trees, a spirit from the river-god Osun ordered them away. Immediately the place turned to be a sacred place of worship for the devotees. Osun – is often represented as a picturesque woman dressed in white or yellow – boasting a beautiful smile but truly broken-hearted. During the festival, people appease the goddess daily for two weeks with different performances which include playing the drums, singing, and dancing. During the singing and dancing, the people show off their costumes.

A sacred forest located in the outskirts of Osogbo is believed to be one of the forests where "Orisha", the spirit they believe blesses them, reveals itself. Devotees are led by a virgin maiden called Arugba who is a link between the community and deity. The virgin maiden leads in all sacrifices offered in the river. The Arugba (virgin maiden) carries all the sacrifices (flowers, honey, gold etc) of the community and for all those in attendance. The tradition dictates that these sacrifices be carried in a big calabash. Before all this happens, the worshippers offer a special prayer in the shrine of a priestess.

The Osun-Osogbo Festival is international. It attracts foreigners who see it as a cultural and religious connection. Tourists from Cuba, Yugoslavia and Slovenia form the majority of Orisha devotees. Over the years, foreigners have confessed openly about the importance of this festival. Across social media and television platforms, most of them have expressed their gratitude after receiving blessings. When Nigeria was under the British colonies, missionaries tried to wipe out animist beliefs but to no success. During that time, rituals included human sacrifice. This was however wiped out by the authorities.


In the 1950's, Ms Wenger, an Austrian born artist and activist, divorced her husband on arriving in Nigeria. She decided to stay in the Osogbo for the rest of her life until she died in 2009. At that time, she was 93. The festival started gaining popularity in the 1980's with Ms Wenger at the leading line with activist activities. She was then nicknamed Adunni Olorisha. In 2003, UNESCO recognised 67 acres of virgin forest that was remaining as a world heritage.

On Friday 14th August, the annual Osun-Osogbo festival of 2020 ended on a low note due to Covid-19 rules. The event that used to attracting individuals from all over the world was strongly hit by the pandemic. Only worshippers were allowed to perform the ritual but with strict adherence to Covid-19 protocols. The NAN (News Agency of Nigeria) reported that the government banned all social gatherings and activities on the festival. The representative of the state’s commissioner of Tourism and Culture pleaded with the Osogbo monarch and worshippers to bear with the state. He promised next year's celebration to be better than this.