What is Osun-Osogbo?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Osun-Osogbo is a forest in Nigeria. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 2005. Oson-Osogbo is one of the sacred forests of the Yoruba, located on the Oshun River, near the city of Osogbo.

Osun-Osogbo, a large forest in Nigeria, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Osun-Osogbo, a large forest in Nigeria, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Traditionally, most cities of the Yoruba people would have had a sacred forest just outside their limits. With expanded urbanization and rapid development, however, the bulk of these sacred forests have now been destroyed. Osun-Osogbo is unique in being a very well-protected part of the Yorbua heritage, and offers a wonderful opportunity to experience one of these sacred forests in a state very close to pristine.

Osun-Osogbo is a sacred forest viewed as being the residence of the fertility goddess, Osun. The forest itself is full of shrines, works of art, sanctuaries, and sculpture. The bulk of these offerings are devoted to Osun, but many exist in reverence of other deities within the Yoruba pantheon as well. Within Osun-Osogbo itself is the sacred grove, an area of immense spiritual importance. Osun-Osogbo has achieved a particular level of importance, as well, due to its status as perhaps the last of the Yoruba sacred groves. As a result, it is viewed as a symbol of cultural identity, and many Yoruba people travel to visit the grove.

The Osun river runs through the forest, and is peaceful and beautiful, reflecting the sacred nature of the place. The goddess of the river, Osun, is also known as Oso-igbo, and is an important figure in local mythology, credited with magical powers that were used to help settle the city and build the power of the region.

Some of the work done in Osun-Osogbo is the result of an Austrian woman who arrived in the 1950s and was accepted into the local community. She assisted locals in rebuilding many of the shrines, and in erecting new ones. Ultimately she married a local man, and was even made an Olorisha, a priestess of the region.

The nearby town of Osogbo is known for its vibrant arts and culture scene, and offers many entertaining activities for visitors. There is a relatively large, for Nigeria, ex-pat community there, and many of the locals are welcoming of foreigners who wish to steep themselves more in traditional music and arts.

Many people find visiting Nigeria a somewhat daunting task, and the tourist economy has not fully developed around visiting sites such as Osun-Osogbo yet. While some tour guides can be found in the area, the site can be difficult to understand or navigate without a bit more direction. A handful of field-work tours do exist, and it is through one of these that a visitor may find the best chance of truly experiencing the site. Under the guidance of an actual academic, and working with them hands-on with a project, Osun-Osogbo may become more comprehensible, and the deeper importance of the site may become more clear. Short of that, simply walking the site with a guide and absorbing the energy of the place can prove to be a very positive experience.

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    • Osun-Osogbo, a large forest in Nigeria, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
      Osun-Osogbo, a large forest in Nigeria, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.