Sometime in July 2004, photographer Amaize Ojeikere and I travelled to Osogbo, Osun State. The Osun-Osogbo festival was some six weeks away, but we’d both decided much earlier in the year to storm the town when it would be in its natural elements: no tourists, no crowds and no extra security personnel maintaining order. Reaching the town in the early afternoon, we made straight for the grove and met a heartwarming reception from the onsite guides.
Amaize and I had travelled around in some cities in Nigeria previously; we’d covered a couple of festivals together, and we thoroughly enjoyed the one-writer-one-photographer combo. It made planning and movement a lot less stressful. Needless to say that we’d seen fascinating places on our journeys. But the ambience of the grove was beyong anything we both could have ever imagined; it was soothing blend of nature and man-made artistry.
We explored the grove on both sides as the locals, students and farmers in the main, marched up and down of the sole pathway. Along the way we came to a spot called “16 Points”, where the guide told us was the collective shrine set up in honour of the many gods of Yorubaland.
Amaize, bedecked with multiple cameras and lens, simply clicked away as the guides reeled off stories of the grove’s general make-up. of course, I took notes.
Our first day having gone well, we were certain of an even better tomorrow. We spent a few more days combing the town, and with each passing day our knowledge of Osogbo increased. I interviewed chiefs and the people on the streets, uncovering even more astounding stories with every new encounter, not least of which were references to osogbo’s seven palaces, which have survived the ages.
And we did returne to Osogbo a few more times that same year (and the year after that), capping our adventure with a coverage of the Osun-Osogbo Festival grand Finale . You will find some of his exclusive shots in this edition, illustrating my original article from that watershed year.
I would later be priviledged to interview the late Austrian artist and Osun Priestess Suzanne Wenger in her studio. It is already public knowlege that is thanks to her decades-long devotion to Yoruba culture and beliefs that the Osun Grove is now a world-acclaimed tourist destination and UNESCO World heritage Site.
This edition is partly a tribute to her selfless service and those of the many local hands she engaged in the fight to preserve a matchless Nigerian heritage.
On August 24 tourists from around the globe will pour into Osogbo to mark’s this year’s festival in honour of the goddess Osun. If you’ve never once been to see the festival, this is your opportunity to go see and savour a slice of Africa’s spectacular tradition. Before the day, however, our special focus should whet your appetite sufficiently.
Editor’s Note: Awofeso is a recent winner of the CNN/Multichoice African Journalists Awards (Tourism)