The decision of the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, to take sample of the water of the Osun River in Osogbo to Brazil may further globalise its fortune.
Thursday is a unique day in the Yoruba traditional system. It is called Ojobo, which can be translated as day of worshipping. It is also called Alamisi, with ‘ala’ also suggesting whiteness, which in turn means purity – a day worshippers appear in white dresses in honour of the deities.
When the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, paid a surprise visit to the Osun Grove on Thursday, he might have borne these factors in mind. He did not appear in a flowing white costume that a Prof. Wande Abimbola – great Ifa scholar and priest – could spot on such an occasion. Yet his egbon owu (wool)-white hair and beard served the purpose.
The visit thus became symbolic especially as it was not situated in the annual festival that draws a crowd of worshippers and tourists to the river, grove and shrine popularised by the late Susan Wenger.
But the most significant aspect of the excursion is Soyinka’s decision to collect water from the river, with the intention to take it to the people in the Diaspora.
According to a report from the Head of Media of Osun State Government, Mr. Semiu Okanlawon, Soyinka had, in a bid to unite worshippers of the world- acclaimed Osun Osogbo with their Diaspora counterparts in the Caribbean, scooped the river into a container, with a view to transferring same to worshippers in Brazil.“I am taking Osun Osogbo water sample to Brazil to the Osun worshippers. We have a lot of black people there and many of them are devotees of Osun, Sango, Obatala, Ogun, Yemoja and other deities. When I visited the worshippers in Brazil, I found out that they have preserved Yoruba culture, from the liturgies to some of the prayers and even the processions of the devotees. I saw the Iyalorisa of Osun. I saw a bowl of water, which was symbolic of Osun River and I promise them that I would bring them the actual water from Osun.”
Soyinka’s gesture may not immediately seem significant but whatever becomes of the water he scooped in future will affirm this. For instance, by implication, the Brazilians now have the Osun River closer to them, because it is not difficult to ‘multiply’ and preserve it by pouring it into a river over there.
Besides, the move again brings to light Soyinka’s faith in traditional religion. Although, still unlike an Abimbola, you do not see him identifying with any of the indigenous sects, he has consistently pitched his creativity with Ogun, the god of iron. More important is the fact that he is neither a Christian nor a Muslim. Last year, he indeed revisited the root of his attachment to orisa worshippers.
In an interview with Telegraph, Soyinka said, “I consider myself very fortunate. I was raised in a Christian environment in Abeokuta, but another side of me was very much enmeshed in African values. I gravitated towards what I saw was a cohesive system of a certain relationship of human beings to environment, a respect for humanity in general.
“I gravitated towards a deeper knowledge of the orisa, which represents the Yoruba pantheon, very similar in many ways to the Greek pantheon. You have reprobate deities, beneficent deities. I found that more honest than a kind of unicellular deity of either Christianity or Islam.”