The origin and story of Osun festival started over 700 years ago when a group of settlers led by one great hunter, Olutimehin settled on the bank of the river to escape the famine in their former dwelling place. Osun, the water goddess was said to have appeared to Olutimehin and requested him and his group to move up some bit to higher ground – the present Osogbo town. Osun pledged to protect the group and make their women fruitful if they would offer an annual sacrifice to her in return. The group agreed, vowing to sacrifice annually to the goddess trusting that she would honour her promise. Today, the annual sacrifice has gone past just offering sacrifices to a river goddess, it has become an international celebration of cultural events attracting people from all over the world.
The Osun Osogbo festival is celebrated every year, for two weeks in the month of August. The festival begins with Iwopopo, the traditional cleansing of the town of evil. After three days, the Ina Olujumerindinlogun, a 600-year-old, 16-point lamp is lighted. Following this, is the Iboriade, where all the crowns of the past kings or Ataojas are assembled for blessing by the sitting Ataoja of Osogbo, the Arugba, the Yeye Osun, and a committee of priestesses.
The ‘Arugba’ also known as the ‘Calabash carrier’ is the key figure of the Osun Osogbo festival. She is a votary virgin, a cultural version of the Virgin Mary, who bears the Osun calabash on her head. The calabash contains sacrifice for the goddess. The Arugba is not only seen as a virgin maid but also as a goddess so people pray and tell her all their problems as she leads them, with the calabash on her head to the river. The current Arugba, Osuntomi Oyetunji, is the young daughter of the sitting Ataoja of Osogbo.
The story of Osun Osogbo festival includes the role of Susanne Wenger, an Austrian who worked towards its present development and to bring it to international attention. From the early 1950’s, she devoted the rest of her life to the restoration of the abandoned shrines. She remodelled the gods in sculpture and ceramics, and made over 75 cultural gods in artful representations. Wenger stopped people from abusing the integrity of the groves and prohibited hunting, fishing, felling of trees there. She personally rebuilt the customary shrines and groves again until her death.
The Osun festival started as an annual sacrifice to the river goddess. Presently, it is an international celebration of cultural events. The Osun Osogbo festival is no longer a cultural event of the Osogbo or Yoruba people, it has become a global event with people attending from Cuba, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Spain, Canada, and the United States.
Adherents of Osun goddess travel from all over the world to attend the annual cultural event in Osogbo, Osun State. The traditional ruler of Osogbo Town, the Ataoja of Osogbo - HRM Oba Jimoh Olanpekun Larooye II, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) representing the federal government, and the Osun State government all collaborate to make the annual event a great success.