Trip to: Osogbo, Susanne Wenger and the Sacred Osun Groves
Date: 19 & 20 January 2008
Trip leader: Robin and Hugh Campbell
Trip report: Rania Najjar
It was quite a smooth ride of less than four hours that our seven-car convoy made to Osogbo, the capital of Osun State. With a happy rhythm, skilful dance and a cheerful crowd chanting Ekabo, meaning welcome in the Yoruba language, we were received in Nike’s guest house from where we started our interesting journey in Suzanne Wenger’s world and the sacred groves of the river goddess Osun “The waters of life”.
With this warm welcome we settled down each in our room and then we enjoyed lunch on the terrace while Robin Campbell briefed us on the program for the day. So we headed to the house of the Austrian artist, Suzanne Wenger, picked up her daughter and High Priestess, Chief Adedoyin Tabali Faniyi, our guide, and proceeded to the Sacred Groves.
An interesting walk it was, reflecting Susanne’s love of nature, specially the forest that abodes of spirits and the supernatural beings, in conformity with the Yoruba belief that she adopted since her arrival to Nigeria in 1950. It is in the Sacred Groves of Osogbo where she has integrated her art into nature and where it is now protecting nature from the expanding urbanization.
These areas of unspoilt forests are sanctuaries for the Orisha, the Yoruba gods in the traditional concept. The shrines provide for them a ceremonial home, the sculptures embody their myths.
Suzanne’s art work is described as a mixture of architecture and sculpture that makes you appreciate creativity and natural endowment. As a renowned artist her works are different and unique. Although the bulging eyes are typical Yoruba signs of spiritual power in mythology and religious experiences depicting a higher consciousness, her larger than life size figures are not.
While admiring her sculptures I could not but think of the work of Picasso, Gaudi and their fantasy world.
It is remarkable how Suzanne has dedicated her art to the religious aspect of Yoruba culture and to the preservation of the sacred groves, as she got them on the UNESCO world Heritage list. Thanks to her that the Osun shrine and the groves are still preserved.
A group of her friends have combined their efforts and founded the Adunni Olorisha Trust to ensure the maintenance and perpetuity of the Sacred Groves, her house and all her attainments.
After this cultural scoop we headed back to our guest house and at dusk we took a walk to the village nearby, occupied by a friendly independent family growing crop and keeping goats and cattle. No electricity, no running water. The only sign of modernity are two mobile phones on the thatched roof.
The evening was quite special, starting with delicious Nigerian specialities and followed by unexpected lively entertainment, big smiles, happy music, nice costumes, energetic dances, and thousands of burnt calories! I could not really believe the energy spend on this performance. The dancers went on and on till my eyes felt tired trying to catch up with them.
After a good night sleep a group of us enjoyed an African dancing class in the pleasant garden of the guest house. A good excersise followed by a healthy breakfast among peacocks and huge turtels.
The second activity of the day was the tour in Suzanne Wenger’s house shadowed by a huge tree that hosts around 30 sleeping bats. The house is the only high stone building in the area, offering a good view on the city of Osogbo. There is a lot to see and to appreciate as the house is full with wooden, cement and metal artworks. The stone sculptures are made by Buraimoh Gbadamosi, one of the Sacred Artists who lives next door.
Next stop on the tour is Nike’s gallery, where we were received with more dancing and Ekabo (welcome) was certainly not forgotten. There we learnt how Nigerian cloths are coloured with indigo plant and watched skilful hands bring the wax on the textiles. A lot of work it is. I guess each one of us managed to buy him/herself a nice souvenir from the gallery before we headed back to Lagos, where we are savouring our thoughts of a lovely trip.
Thanks Robin and Hugh for organizing this trip.