HISTORY OF THE ARUGBA OF OSUN OSOGBO FESTIVAL

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The Arugba Ritual: This is one of the major highlights of Osun Osogbo festival. A calabash containing the sacrifice materials that would be used to appease and worship the goddess is carried across town by a votary virgin, on her head. As she leads the procession to the river, the people, seeing her as a representative of the goddess, cast their problems on her and say prayers.

Arugba carries the symbolic calabash containing the sacrificial items for the
sacrifice. This calabash is believed to have been handed to the ancestors of Osogbo by
Osun goddess who instructed that a royal virgin lady must carry it to the grove on the day of the festival. The Arugba is carefully guarded on her way to and from the grove by the Olose (i.e. Whip Boys) because she must not hit her foot on a stump or stone as this would be a bad signal for the people.

Therefore, the success of the festival is dependent greatly on the hitch-free walk of the Arugba from the palace to the groove. It must be mentioned that the sacred rituals of Osun festival which reaffirm the sacred bond and renew the pathway between the goddess and the people of Osogbo are conducted in seclusion by the Ataoja and the Osun priests and priestesses inside the sanctuary at the Osun grove. However, after the sacred rituals have been carried out at the inner sanctum of the grove by the initiates (Ataoja, Osun priestess and other priests), the stage is set for the secular ritual drama during which reenactments of some historical events take place to the admiration of the general public witnessing the festival. Upon receiving the sacrifice from the Osun priestess and Osun priest, the Ataoja sits on the stone of authority in a special location at the grove, communes with his ancestors and feeds the goddess with the sacrificial items.

Significantly, this act is a reenactment of the events of the early history of Osogbo.

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First, the stone on which the incumbent Ataoja sits is the same stone which Olarooye, the first Ataoja, sat on when he was to offer the first sacrifice to the goddess during the settlement of Osogbo. Also, in the same way that Olarooye communed with Osun goddess before and after offering the initial sacrifice to the goddess, the incumbent Ataoja communes with the goddess and seeks his continued support and protection in the coming year.

Finally, the Ataoja feeds the goddess like his ancestor and receives good tidings just as Olarooye received god-fish on his palm which earned him the title ‘Atewogbeja’ shortened to ‘Ataoja’. The feeding of the goddess by the Ataoja marks the end of the
rituals of Osun festival and this confirms that the waters of the river are blessed.

Thus, people begin to shout ‘Ore Yeye Osun’ meaning ‘We adore you Osun the Great Mother’. People also begin to drink water from the river, draw water from the river into all sorts of containers while some wash their faces in it. The belief of the people is that the blessed waters of the river immediately after the sacrifice have curative powers for all diseases such as barrenness, infertility, chronic headache and other forms of ailments.

What followed after is the return of the Ataoja and other people to the palace where singing, drumming and other forms of entertainment continue. The whole Osogbo town is thrown into festive mood afterwards. One of the important aspects of the celebration of Osun festival is the singing of Osun praise poems (Oriki Osun) and festival songs (Orin Odun) which have a lot of historical contents.

Among the Yoruba, poems and songs are very important and there is no occasion in
Yoruba life that is not accompanied by traditional songs of lyrical beauty. As a matter of fact, music for the Yoruba represents a mirror through which their culture in its totality can be understood as they are not only used to preserve and transmit their history but also used to invoke the spirits of their different Orisa. At different times and places during the two week period of Osun celebration, Osun worshippers and devotees sing the praise and invoke the spirit of Osun goddess. As indicated earlier, Osun praise poems and songs have a lot of historical content pointing to the place of Osun goddess in Yoruba cosmic mythology and in the history of Osogbo. One of such poems that point to Osun’s importance in Osogbo’s history is excerpted below:

Sholagbade Ewuji,
mo kore Yeye f’Osun
Taa ni o momo p’Osun Osogbo
Nii b’Oba selu Osogbo o?
Osun Osogbo ni o ba mi
Seyi ni temi.

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Meaning: Solagbade Ewuji,
I salute the Great Mother, Osun
Who does not know that it is the Osun Osogbo
Who helps the Oba manage or rule Osogbo
Osun Osogbo is the one who will help me Accomplish this one of mine.

The poem above contains some verses which show her historic contributions to the founding, growth and development of Osogbo.

First, Osun as the ‘Great Mother’ (Yeye) in the poem denotes the ability of the goddess to heal all forms of human diseases particularly those that affect mothers and children. It also connotes her ability to give children to barren women and infertile men.

In fact, in Osogbo traditions, it is said that the goddess helped Olarooye, the first Ataoja, whose wife had problem of conception of a child, to have children after drinking from the water of the river. This was the origin of the belief that the goddess had power of curing barrenness and infertility and women looking for children use to throng to the grove during the celebration of the festival. Also, the clause that “it is Osun who helps the Oba rule Osogbo” in the poem signifies the motherly role played by the goddess in the settlement and growth of Osogbo. It is believed by the people of Osogbo that Osun goddess graciously allowed their ancestors to settle on her land and continued to give protection and security to the town since then. It is further said that the fact that Osogbo had never been defeated or conquered during a war is due to the influence of the continued support and protection of the goddess.

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The people of Osogbo even hold that the goddess, in fulfilment of her promise to continue to protect Osogbo from invaders, participated actively in the famous battle of Osogbo between Ibadan warriors and Fulani
Jihadists by disguising as a food vendor who sold poisoned bean cake to the Jihadists leading to their incapacitation.

Source: Kufo TV

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