Home Art Osun Osogbo Festival: Susanne Wenger’s memorial lecture challenges theories of gender imbalances

Osun Osogbo Festival: Susanne Wenger’s memorial lecture challenges theories of gender imbalances

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By Shakirudeen Bankole, (who was in Osogbo)

IN remembrance of her memory and the tremendous contributions she made towards the preservation of the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove and the Yoruba Cultural Museum, traditional religionists and culture advocates on Thursday, August 10, 2022, converged for the 2022 Annual Memorial Lecture of the late culture activist and priestess, Susanne Wenger (MFR).

Popularly known as Adunni Olorisa, Wenger’s singular efforts were responsible for the protection of the Osun Sacred Grove and the Museum from the encroachment of land developers, leading to the ultimate adoption of the place as a World Cultural Heritage Site by the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Osun Osogbo Grove warehouses, among others, the Shrine of the river, which serves as a permanent abode for the Osun River Goddess, reputed for her love, compassion and provisions for all her devotees and admirers.

Every year, the Goddess is appeased and celebrated, in gratitude for her magnanimity.

The celebration usually takes about two months, climaxing with the convergence of over 500,000 worshippers – including visitors from across the world – at the Shrine, where they pray and make new wishes and go home with the water from the river for healing purposes.

The sculpture at the shrine was an image of a mermaid, opening her two arms wide open, a gesture that symbolizes her provision of refuge to whoever runs to her for safety and needs.

The highest point of the months-long celebration is the physical appearance of the Goddess to the Initiates and selected Devotees, signaling the successful acceptance of the appeasements and dawn of a glorious time ahead.

The grove also serves as a safe house for mystical arts, sculptures, exotic wildlife animals, and cultural embellishments, whose protection was vigorously fought for by Adunni Olorisa, prompting the then Military Governor of the Old Oyo State, Brigadier-General Adekunle Ishola Olurin, to promulgate a Decree, prohibiting poaching and urbanization within the premises of the grove.

This year’s memorial lecture, held at the palace of the Ataoja of Osogbo, His Royal Highness, Oba Jimohn Abidemi Olanipekun, who was in attendance himself, attracted crème-de-la-crème in the Nigeria’s cultural heritage space, including leaders of government parastatals, ministries, and agencies, local and international culture promoters and tourists.

The event was organised by the National Commission for Museums and Monument, Osogbo Branch, under the leadership of the Curator and Site Manager, Mr. Adekunle Olatunji Fatai, with the local organizing committee headed by Mrs. Toyin Ajayi.

The theme of the lecture was “Women and Leadership: An inspiration from Susanne Wenger,” and the paper was delivered by an African-American scholar, Efunsade Onifade, who said the crux of her lecture was “self-discovery for the women.”

Onifade, a Post-Doctoral Degree Student, focusing on African Culture and Tradition, said the greatest gift Olodumare (God)Has bestowed unto mankind was the creation of the women.

She said without women, existence would not only be meaningless, but nonexistence, as the gender plays an oxygenating role to coexistence.

Unfortunately, however, according to her, the same gender is being subjected to unjust discrimination across the world, making it difficult for most of them to attain their potentials and contribute meaningfully to life.

She said if one observes critically, the intent for all creation, the existential value and the purposes of each creation, one would realise the importance of treating all creation fairly, justly and with equal appreciation.

According to her, “ even if the Yoruba Epistemology doesn’t say for a fact that the entire 16 Orunmila that descended from Heaven are male, we still need to do well enough to give the women their right of place in our society.”

She however distanced herself from the concept of Feminism, saying her admonition is not the same as a theory that preaches a leaderless home and society.

“No, this is not Feminism. I do not support the concept of Feminism, which is essencially about struggle for power with the men. That concept is clearly alien to existence, particular the cultural and belief evolution in Africa.

“What I am seeking is equity and not equality. A sense of equity would be our society treat the women more fairly and justly without intimidation or oppression of any kinds. And this would help in no small measure to help them contribute immensely to life’s experience,” she added.

The Keynote Speaker however admonished the women to continue to work on themselves and see themselves as the missing piece in the life’s puzzle.

“As a woman, you need to discover yourself also. What is your purpose in this world and how do you intend to serve it? How are you improving on your skills and knowledge, including that of motherhood? How indispensable do you see your modest efforts at raising your kids as the greatest gift to the society? This is important because we are responsible for how the society turns out, because we shape the minds and thoughts of all the dwellers in it,” she admonished.

The Osogbo Royal Father, who doubles as the Custodian of the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove and the Museum, prayed for his subjects and devotees/worshippers of the river. Eulogizing Wenger, also known as Iwinfunke, the royal father, said “Adunni Olorisa was indeed an indispensable and irreplaceable character in the celebration and continuous preservation of the world’s cultural heritage site.”

In his earlier presentation, while declaring the event open, Adekunle Olatunji Fatai said, “that we continue to celebrate the Osogbo festival (till) today, and that the Osun Grove has been enlisted on the UNESCO World Heritage list can be traceable to the endeavors of this cultural icon.”

He said Wenger encouraged NCMM to maintain and protect the Osun Sacred Grove, “fighting tirelessly herself to prevent poaching, and encroachment thus giving the grove the needed authenticity and integrity required for the UNESCO’s enlistment.”

Fatai said, in alignment with the theme of the lecture, that “this year’s celebration was centered on Womanhood,” explaining that her team had learnt great attributes of a good woman from the late Adunni Olorisa.

According to him, a good woman is one who “celebrates good things that happen to others,” adding that besides that, “she doesn’t get caught in wondering why something good didn’t happen to her instead, she has unconditional love for all and sundry.

“A good woman is not necessarily to character flaws but she doesn’t let that stop her from continuing to show love to the people. The and many more were the sterling qualities of the Late Madam Sussanne Wenger, Iwinronke Adunni Olorisa of blessed memory.”

Wenger was an Austrian, who was born in June 4, 1915 and died in 2009. She met her husband, Ulli Beier, a German Researcher and Linguist in 1949. The young man had recently accepted an offer to lecture Phonetics at the then University College (now University of Ibadan), Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. The lovers got married and together moved to Nigeria a year after. After some stint as a Phonetics Lecturer at the College University, Ibadan, Beier would begin to develop love for the Yoruba rich cultural heritage, prompting his new passion on how to best harness and preserve it. He was joined by his wife in a campaign that would later culminate into today’s Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove and Museum.

The event also featured award presentation to the outstanding staffs of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Osogbo branch, with Toyin Ajayi, the event planning committee chairperson, being one of them. The keynote speaker also received a portrait gift from the organizer.