Arugba’s Procession To Osun Grove: The Journey
THE time is 9:45 or thereabout. Arugba Osun (votary maiden), Osuntomi Oyetunji is seated on a stool decorated with colourful cloth. A white Ogboni sash is hung on the wall behind her. She herself ties a colorful sash made of sanyan over white alari cloth. Her left hand bears a golden bracelet while her neck is encircled by red and blue beads.
In spite of the flurry of activities around her, the young girl remains calm. Close by are statuettes, big gongs, rattling gourd and a couple of talking drums. It looks like Arugba and her minders recently ended a dancing session, but her drummers are no longer in sight. Placed in her front are two calabashes containing ritual items; one brown, the other white. Another brown calabash the size of a drinking bowl sits beside her on a tray made of raffia. Remnants of kola and alligator pepper served to Osun goddesses are inside the calabash. One of her chaperones reaches towards the brown calabash and picks one lobe and begins to chew it. Arugba does not for a second look the man’s way.
Then an old woman approaches her, says a few words to which Arugba only responds with a hand gesture. Then an Osun priest and minder of Arugba, Chief Adigun Olayiwola Olosun who has been holding consultation with other Osun disciples, walks closer to Arugba. He wants to find out if the teenager is ready to begin the journey to the grove. The young girl nods in response.
The chief priest stretches hands out to pull up the young Arugba, and she rises as if on cue. Then tumult sets in.
The drummers who have been waiting eagerly outside get the drift that the hour has come, and they begin to strike hard at their drums. A man in free white gown starts to clank at a bell. A battery of photographers becomes instantly restless and security men assume alert position. They form a human wall around the small alley, which Arugba will pass through. The crowd outside immediately gets the message, and everyone roars in exultation as their expectation goes a notch higher. The chief priest holds on tightly to the girl and leads her towards the gateway where one of the previous Arugba stands waiting to place the ritual-laden calabash on her.
At about 10:30 am, Arugba steps out with a load covered with red cloth, and as soon she is sighted, the whole town goes agog. “Ore Yeeye o!” The crowd thunders. Their noise is heightened by the sound of dane guns. Cane bearing young men go into frenzy and they begin to beat one another recklessly as people offer prayers for self, their family, their community and the nation. And the procession to the grove begins.
At this point, it is believed that Arugba herself has become a goddess. She no longer hears the voices of the earthlings, but the voices of many Irumole who dutifully guide her feet to the shrine of the Osun goddess. “In the last 600 years, the spirits have never failed in discharging this duty,” said Chief Olayiwola. And yesterday they did not. Arugba is successfully delivered of her load at 12 noon or thereabout.