“It is imperative for the sake of posterity that diligent records in black and white are kept henceforth for history to prevail. Everyone needs to know what each festival symbolises in order to pass it to generations unborn. This will help them to have a sense of history and they can continue to propagate our culture.”
Those were the words of the Ooni of Ile-Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Babatunde Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, at this year’s celebration of Osaara festival. Just like every other festival, Osaara would come and go as each year passes by. Osaara festival begins the annual Orisa calendar in Ile-Ife, Osun State. Its celebration often takes five days.
In time past, two days were often set aside for the people of Ile-Ife to visit the neighbouring communities of Okeigbo and Ifetedo to get male palm fond to be used as costumes. The festival is usually celebrated shortly after the Olokun festival. The peak of the celebration, usually at commencement is characterised by thunder spells and rainfall often invoked by the Oonirisa after the appeasement to the god and prayers to Olodumare using pigeon and water as part of the offering.
The miracle of immediate thunder spell and downpour has been the order of the day since its reactivation in 2016. It was the first Osaara celebrated by Ooni Ogunwusi since his ascension to the throne. The same downpour was the peak of this year’s celebration on May 5.
Ile-Ife has a calendar of 365 less a day in respect to its festivals and worship of deities; deities are messengers of God. It is therefore worthy of note that, “Ife Oodaye kan! Ife Ooyelagbo kan! Ile-Ife Oduduwa kan! – Ojo kan;Oosa kan ni Ile-Ife.” These exclamatory statements imply that, “there existed three dynasties in the Yoruba kingdom; the first dynasty being the Ife Oodaye, the second was Ife Ooyelagbo and the third which still exists to date is Ile-Ife Oduduwa.” Oduduwa was the first king, the incumbent Oonirisa remains the 51st king of Oduduwa kingdom.
Osaara, which means Lagoon, became the second wife of Oduduwa after the first wife, Olokun (Ocean) could not conceive. Oba Ogunwusi made reference to the reverted to the Bible while explaining the existence of Osaara as one of the five water-bodies referred to in Genesis 2:10-14. He claimed that one other water body is Olokun the source of the remaining four water-bodies: Osun, Osaara, Esinmirin and Yeyemolu. These five later became deities.
Gbemisola Bisi-Taiwo, a doctoral candidate at Maynooth University, Republic of Ireland, took up the narration from the Ooni: “Osaara became the choicest wife of Oduduwa after she gave birth to their only son, Akanbi. Akanbi would later give birth to the seven children of Oduduwa.
The first wife, Olokun, felt undermined by the development considering the fact that she advised her husband to marry Osaara, her best friend for the reason of procreation. Therefore, the superiority battle began. It was quite bad that Oduduwa arranged a meeting in which he invited the chiefs-in-council to mediate between the wives.
“In a typical women display, both wives decided to show-off their substance at the meeting. Olokun who was extremely beautiful and wealthy (she made and traded in beads) adored herself in beautiful and shinning Aso-Oke and beads.
“She also decorated the meeting venue with lovely ornaments and made mouth-watering dishes for the people. The people in consonance with Olokun came up with the idea of ‘Olobe lo l’oko,’ meaning ‘a good cook is the husband’s favourite.’
“Osaara heard the news of Olokun’s display of beauty and fame. She decided to showcase her most prized possession, her children as a clap-back. She adored her children in fine attire accompanied with palm fond (agbon seed) on their arms and feet. They danced to the meeting place chanting ‘Olomo lo l’aye o, Osaara mo gbomo de o’ meaning, ‘a fruitful wife rules the world, here comes Osaara with her children.’ This song had since become an anthem during Osaara festival.
“This unhealthy rivalry would mark the beginning of the end to these adorable queens of the Oduduwa kingdom. Osaara became the spectacle as she was joined by the crowd from Lakoro’s Compound near the Ife Market. At the junction of Oriyangi near the palace she chanted ‘agbon ro’ and her followers’ responded ‘ro’ meaning the palm fond has descended and they continued chanting the Osaara anthem and making musical sounds with the agbon. The Osaara- agbon followers still chant through the shrine to the Ooni’s Palace during the Osaara festival till date.
“The group marvelled the king and all the audience so much that they were accorded a standing ovation. Osaara was such a good dancer! However, the children and the entire followers of Osaara danced so much that they shattered the ornaments displayed by Olokun. This got Olokun angry so much that she swore, never again to have any dealings with Osaara.
“On the contrary, Osaara promised never to desert Olokun. Lest I forget, in contrast to all the mouth-watering dishes made by Olokun, Osaara could only afford to offer her followers with bean cake; reason ‘Ekuru’ is a must at every Osaara festival.
“It became a pity-party as Olokun distributed all her material goods and substances to the children of Osaara before she embarked on this journey of no return. Lots of Aso-Oke and beads were handed to the children of Osaara. This explains why worshippers of Osaara usually have Aso-Oke tied around their waists and beads on their necks.
“On the other hand, Osaara was not ready to back down on the promise to always be with her good friend turned rival wife. Hence, Osaara followed Olokun as she left Ile-Ife in annoyance. Olokun went through Ilesa. Her pond bake/sign of passage can be spotted in the Palace of Owa Aromolaran to date. She thereafter passed through Abeokuta and some neighbouring communities and at last to the final destination, Lagos and still in company of Osaara.
“Olokun hit the ground; she fell and became the Okun, the (Atlantic) Ocean. In like manner, in a bid to keep her vow, Osaara also hit the ground and turned to the (Lagos) Lagoon. Mysteriously, both Okun and Osa remain neighbours but not a friendly one afterwards, as there is a visible demarcation between both water-bodies to date.
“The goddess of Osaara is the mother of the Yoruba tribe. She represents fruitfulness and her love for children and husband cannot be over-emphasised. She is also referred as the deity of the swamp. Osaara is celebrated every May at the Osaara shrine, Moore, Ile-Ife.”