Osun Urban Renewal And Shuttle In The Forest
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OSUN State government has commenced an aggressive urban renewal project to transform nine cities in the state. The cities are: Osogbo, Ile-Ife, Iwo, Ila-Orangun, Ikirun, Ikire, Ede and Ilesa. The tourism potentials of these cities are to be upgraded to attract tourists and investors.
Dilapidated houses are to be demolished and a one-kilometre radius to the city centre in each of these cities is to be rebuilt. Low-cost houses are being planned, while structures and plants that beautify their landscape have begun, and clearly seen as one enters the state from Ibadan.
The ancient Osun groove is one of the tourist’s centres undergoing transformation. The Guardian recently embarked on a shuttle through Osogbo, capital of the state, as well as the Osun groove to capture the emerging beautification.
There was also a chat with Governor Rauf Aregbesola, who appeared surprised that the interview centred on studies conducted by urban experts 18 years ago on the degeneration of Osogbo town and what should be done to improve the city and it inhabitants.
Conducted by Profs. A.G Onibokun and A.J Kumuyi of the Centre for Africa Settlement Studies and Development (CASSAD) based in Ibadan, study, entitled, Urban poverty in Nigeria; Towards sustainable strategies for its Alleviation, discovered, “increasing ageing of houses” in Osogbo. The authors noted that houses more than 25 years old constituted 39 per cent the town. Sadly, until now, no other government addressed the issue of ageing houses and urban poverty, as it affects tourism in the state.
Governor Aregbesola confirmed that his government has put together a team of professionals such as Town Planners, Engineers, Architects, Quantity Surveyors, Land Surveyors, and Sociologists, to check the strict rules of engagement over demolition of ageing houses and given Osogbo and other cities a facelift to attract tourists.
The visit to the Osun groove turned out to be a memorable cultural encounter through a tourist’s haven, which has become one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
Mr. Olanrewaju Babawale, a staff at the site, led the reporter to discover the footprints and impacts of the Osun administration, which has been making some construction works inside the groove, to facilitate cultural discovery by tourists.
Momentarily, one imagined one was a hunter looking for a game. But one quickly realised that one did not have any hunting skills like Prof. Wole Soyinka, who, with his circle of friends, hunted partridge in those days at the University of Ife when one was an undergraduate.
More importantly, even if one had any hunting skill, killing of animals and cutting of trees are forbidden in the forest of Osun. You dare not hunt or cut trees here. It has been like that for hundreds of years even before the quest to protect trees because of global warming and climate change became a global concern.
One spotted the white-throated monkey jumping from tree to tree. The primates seem aware that no hunter dares to shoot them.
The forest area has trees dating back to the 13th Century. One of them stood with mighty roots spread across the earth.
HOW did Osogbo come into existence? Babawale, the guide, took one through the ancient forest, the history of the Osun River and that of Osogbo, a coinage from ‘Oso-Igbo’ (the wizards-of-the-forest), as the goddess of Osun River reportedly described the people, who once settled around the groove, and who “destroyed all the earthen-pots that I (goddess) used to make dye.”
The story: Once upon a time, there was water problem in a town called Ipole near Ibokun in Ilesa. The king of Ibokun was worried and he called one of his friends, Oguntimehin, a great hunter, to help search for any flowing river that lasts the dry season, during his hunting expedition.
In one of his expeditions thereafter, Oguntimehin heard the sound of flowing water not far away and he went in search of the river. The first place where he found the river was called Lakokan. Later, he told the king his discovery and the people moved down to the flowing river and settled there.
One day, while the people were farming, a tree fell into the river and the goddess of the river reportedly said,“Eyin Oso igbo, gbogbo Ikoko aro mi ni e ti fo tan (meaning, you wizards of the forest, you have destroyed all the earthen-pots that I used to make dye).
The people were startled. They pleaded with her to bear with them. They were there for a while. But it’s difficult for forest spirit and human beings to hive together for long.
However, when the people wanted a name for their new abode after the goddess, who had promised to protect them, and be a source of their happiness wherever they were, asked them to move far away from her immediate environment, the people picked ‘Oso-Igbo’. “That was where Osogbo, capital of Osun State, got its name,” said Babawale.
Besides, King Gbadewolu, who was on the throne in the beginning, according to oral traditional, used to lead the people to receive water and other goodies from the mouth of the mysterious a fish that the river goddess sent.
As such, the king was given the title, Atewo-Gba-Ore-Lenu-Eja (the one who receives goodies from the mouth of the fish). This was shortened over the years to Ataoja, the title given to kings of Osogbo.
There are many relics and images in the Osun groove. The first one we saw indicated Osun goddess as a “giver-of-children.” Archaeologists from the United States have carried out studies on the site. Babawale was with them during excavation. The study indicated that apart from Ile-Ife, the cradle of Yoruba race, Osogbo was a great place for bead making.
We saw the symbol of a fish at the river and the guide informed us that the symbol was used to depict the fish that brought goodies from the goddess in ancient times.
There was another one known as Oke Obatedo (Obatedo Hill). It was said that this hill prevented invaders from attacking or capturing Osogbo. It’s pertinent to mention that when Fulani jihadists were capturing towns and warring towards the Atlantic Ocean, it was at Osogbo that they were stopped and repelled.
Osun River flowed from Igede Ekiti, Ekiti State. According to oral traditional, the Osun was a woman before she transformed into a river. In the beginning, she used to appear in human form.
We came across the Osun temple. The priest and priestess were there. Not far away was a symbol of vultures. In Yoruba traditional religion, the belief is that vultures were the carriers of sacrifices to appease Eledumare (the Almighty) in heaven. This area, according to Babawale, was the spot where anyone who had completed studies on Ifa graduated. It’s like the convocation ground of Ifa graduates.
“This must be the University of Ifa one said, telling the guide one’s former Vice-Chancellor at University of Ife, Prof. Wande Abimbola, the renowned Yoruba Culture and Literature expert, used to say “Ifa” was the one who founded Varsity (‘Ifafiti’); hence the English language corruption of University.
According to Abimbola, Ifa was endowed with so much knowledge that he was the only one that could set up a varsity or citadel where advance learning and knowledge in about the unknown could take place.
Across the Osun River was a suspended bridge built in 1935 by the British Colonial Army and Nigerian counterparts. The king on the throne at the time made it compulsory for males to make financial contributions to construct the bridge, which helped farmers to convey goods across from their farmland.
The story of Susanne Wenger, the Austrian, was closely linked to other symbols. Across the tarred road inside the forest was a site where she had created many images to depict and tell the story of the genesis of the Yoruba people from the rich oral tradition she got from people over many years.
(One thought about Susanne Wenger, the Osun devotee, who passed on few years ago in her 90s. Wenger, who was called Aduni Olorisa’ (Aduni-the-Osun-devotee), had come to Nigeria with her husband, renowned Ulli Bier, who was a friend of Prof. Wole Soyinka.
She was young and the quest for cultural discovery was there. She saw many things and in the end became converted to worship the Osun River. Wenger did not return to Austria. Nigeria became her home and her final resting place.)
Orunmila in Yoruba is known as the father of Ifa (knowledge). According to Babawale, that’s what the Yoruba called Jesus Christ. There was an image of someone in supplication and carrying sacrifices to the Almighty to appease Him.
Interesting, there was a symbol depicting how God created the earth. According to the Yoruba, there was a mighty chameleon, a snail, a fowl and sand. When the Almighty Creator was sending Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba race, to the earth, he was given instructions with these items: the chameleon, the snail, a fowl and the sand.
“The earth was originally full of water, and the sand was to be dumped on the earth,” said Babawale. “The chameleon was to step on it gingerly and confirm if the land would sink Oduduwa. That’s why the chameleon still walks with fear that the place it steps on might sink. The foul was to spread the sand, and that’s why till date, you still see fowl scattering the soil with its digits.”
The story of the chameleon struck one; thus, telling Babawale that when we watched Neil Armstrong in 1970, as he stepped on the moon gingerly for the first time, he probably was afraid like the chameleon that the soil of the moon might cave-in.
“Neil Armstrong was probably acting like a chameleon sent by Olodumare,” one volunteered.