Along the banks of the Osun river, on the outskirts of Osogbo, the capital of Osun State, is a large undisturbed forest. With its 40 shrines and sanctuaries and two palaces, it is considered the home of the goddess Osun, the Yoruba deity of fertility. The Osun Osogbo Grove is, at 75 hectares, the largest sacred grove in Yorubaland, and one of the last few remaining.
Most of the art in the grove was created in the last 60 years, after the Austrian-Nigerian artist Suzanne Wenger and her New Sacred Art Movement began a revival process in 1961. Artists carved giant statues, meant to reinforce the links between the human and spirit worlds, and between towns and forest entities. The grove also contains art and sculptures dedicated to other deities.
In 1965, the grove was declared a national monument, a designation that was expanded in 1992 to cover the present area. In 2005, it became a World Heritage Site. To protect it further, the Osogbo Cultural Heritage Council has ensured laws as well as education on taboos and customs that forbid fishing, poaching, felling of trees, and farming.
Daily, weekly, and monthly, religious rites are carried out in the grove. But it is the annual Osun Osogbo Festival, over 12 days in July and August, that draws the most attention; processions take place, reestablishing the bond between the goddess and the people of Osogbo.
The over 400 species of plants in the grove, including 200 known for medicinal capabilities, make it a herbal trove.
The Osun Osogbo Grove has been described by UNESCO as “a tangible expression of Yoruba divinatory and cosmological systems.”
Otosirieze Obi-Young is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: art, business, entertainment, activism, health, food. He is a writer, journalist, curator, media consultant, former academic, and Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Open Country Mag, a new online platform covering African literature. In 2019, he received the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians" by Avance Media. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.