Òşun Sacred Grove and Forest

DSC_0471The Òşun Osogbo Sacred Grove reveals physical manifestation of the powers of the goddess Òşun, goddess of living water.  The Òşun River flows into Osogbo town and meanders through the groves finally spreading into the Gulf of Guinea. The water is believed to possess curative powers for infertility and life’s controversies. As in life, undercurrents push and swirl.  It is wise to be aware of what happens in the background.

Within the Grove, the sculptures of Yoruba gods and goddesses are dedicated to Òşun. The groves, shrines and sculptures retain the intimate relationship between the Yoruba people, their art, religion and natural environment.  Òrìşà is ever present in all aspects of the gods.  “The òrìşà is like the many aspects in our unconscious: suffering, aggression, creativity, purity, love, wisdom… One can choose any of these roads towards the invisible, and make it alive in side oneself” – Susanne Wenger

Over the centuries, a highly-developed system of governance from ruler to market existed throughout Yorubaland.  Within city-states, society was governed through a series of networks—tribe, territory, guilds, secret societies, and religious shrines. In pre-colonial times, parts of Yorubaland were ruled by an Oba (king, second only to the gods) with a secular council of noble elders, elú.

Today, traditional culture and religion is still recognizable and practiced but it fades with the passing of each generation. Modern life puts its demands: ancestor’s stories and myths are no longer told, markets are full of Chinese goods rather than handmade local items; and the undisturbed rainforest that housed sacred groves are being up-rooted and sold to developers.

In the traditional Yoruba religion, groves are sacred places reserved for rituals or shrines. One city that has managed to protect its sacred grove is Osogbo, the capital of Òşun State in southwestern Nigeria. The city surrounds the ancient grove that is home to nearly 40 shrines and sculptures. Although the city pushes from all sides, the grove remains tranquil with ritual pathways winding through the forest that lead devotees to the shrines.

The Òşun Sacred Grove and Forest might have been lost to the world if it were not for the dedication of an Austrian artist, Susanne Wenger, who arrived to Osogbo in 1960. She studied the Yoruba language and religion and dedicated her life’s work to the restoration and protection of the shrines and grove.

Osogbo is the capital of Òşun  State, southwest Nigeria, and was founded approximately 400 years ago. The city is 250km north of Lagos and has the largest surviving sacred grove in Yorubaland.  Òşun  Sacred Grove and Forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

(Music by Orin Orisa. Adedayo Ologundudu, Yoruba traditional songs of praises for Orisa: Osun Yoruba Spirit of Rivers.)

For another video about the cultural history and myths of the Sacred Grove, Osun Festival, click here.

The People’s Paradise: Cross River State

DSC_1596All eleven Cross River explorers are in good spirits as we embark on the highly anticipated journey to Calabar, Afi Mountain, and Obudu Cattle Ranch.  A diverse and concentrated agenda has been organized by the Nigerian Field Society. Over the next five days, we will delve into the history of Calabar, learn about wildlife and environment conservation, and explore the mountainous region of the Afi Mountain and Obudu Plateau.

On Friday morning, we fly Arik Air from Lagos and arrive in Calabar only one hour behind schedule.  The short wait to collect our luggage gives us a chance to admire wooden wall panels that depict nsibidi motifs, an indigenous system of writing.

nsibidi motif

nsibidi motif

We climb aboard our bus and enter Calabar, the capital city of Cross River State, which is situated in the extreme southeastern corner of Nigeria. Distinctively different from Lagos, we admire Calabar’s tidy sidewalks, rolling hills, and treelined, flowering gardens. Cross River State boasts ‘The People’s Paradise’, and we are ready to experience it.IMG_0781

Calabar is about 35 kilometers from the Gulf of Guinea in the Bight of Biafra, separated from the Bight of Benin by the Niger River Delta. The area was a well-developed trade area before the Europeans arrived sometime in the mid-seventeenth century. In the early sixteenth century the Portuguese were probably the first Europeans to encounter the Efik, Ibibio, Efut, Qua, and Effiat peoples who had migrated toward the area, today, known as Calabar.  Perhaps, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to trade with the Efik villages of Creek Town (Ikot Itunkko), Old Town (Obutong),  and Duke Town (Atakpa)  followed by Dutch and English traders.

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To read more about the Cross River adventure, click here.

Destruction of Heritage: Dar el-Kutub

It has begun.  Beyond revolution, now retribution.  The wheels of revenge and retaliation are never-ending. When two trains collide, there are only casualties.

The deep fear in all hearts is that Egypt might follow in Syria’s footsteps. Today, three years since the so-called Egyptian Revolution, the headlines scream,  ‘bombs’. Violence has taken on a new, ugly and veiled face—car bombs. The vile guerrilla warfare affects not only the innocent, taking lives, destroying antiquities and heritage, but also leaving the economy continuously in shatters. What man builds, man destroys.

Along with four lives and a multitude of injured, the façade of Dar el-Kutub the National Library and Archives and the Islamic Museum sustained significant damage. Many priceless displays representing Islamic civilization over the last millennium are lost. Four Mamluke mosques were effected. See: Neighbouring Historical Mosques Damaged http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/9/43/92418/Heritage/Islamic/Neighbouring-historical-mosques-damaged-in-explosi.aspx

More pictures of damage, here.

The following is an excerpt about Dar el-Kutub from Cairo The Family Guide, which I wrote in 2010:

Libraries have identities, they have character, history and memory. Like the great libraries of the world, Dar el-Kutub holds its place in Egypt’s fascinating history.  In the 1870s, literature and the intellectual community were fascinated with French culture much to the encouragement of Khedive Ismail’s transformation of Cairo for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Ismail actively encouraged education programs and created the ministry of education with Egyptian intellectual, Ali Pasha Mubarak, who became the first minister. Dar el-Kutub was Mubarak’s brain-child. His vision was to fashion a national, public library after the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and on March 23, 1870, Ismail decreed the establishment of Khedivian Kutub Khana. Prince Mustafa Fadel, Ismail’s brother, donated his palace for the location of the first library. Following this great act of philanthropy, royals and intellectuals began to donate their rare book and manuscript collections to the library.

Dar el-Kutub outgrew the palace walls and in 1898, Khedive Abbas Helmi II commissioned a new building that was completed in 1904. This is the site of the present-day Islamic Museum at Bab el-Khalq.  But, the library would not remain in grand halls.  After the Egyptian Revolution, in 1952, it was decided that the library move to a more open and spacious venue. A new site on the Corniche el-Nil in Bulaq was opened in 1971. Fortuitously, Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak took action to save Dar el-Kutub at Bab el-Khalq. The building was restored and opened to the public in 2006. The decision was made that contemporary titles and classical literature would remain in the National Library on the Nile, while rare and precious manuscripts are kept at Dar el-Kutub at Bab el-Khalq.

Dar el-Kutub at Bab el-Khalq also serves as a museum. Its purpose is to exhibit rare Qurans, coins, and manuscripts; to conserve manuscripts from the Arab and Islamic world; and to provide research opportunities for scholars. Its contribution to the world is to collect, preserve and interpret Islamic heritage.

For more history and old photographs of Dar el-Kutub and update on damage, click here.

Chouchou

Diversion is the spice of life! A proud Mom can’t pass up an opportunity to ‘post’ about her son, Omar, and his successful endeavors in the food industry in Francophone Africa. He just launched a noodle line called Chouchou. It is yummy, satisfying and spicy! Got to try it!

So if you are in Republic of Benin or Francophone Africa and hungry, ask for Chouchou!

Beaches and Birds: A Lagos Weekend

IMG_0540‘Up the creek’ on a Sunday in Lagos, to many, is an obligatory migration from city to shore  to reconnect with nature and life’s simplicities. Today, one can find multi-million dollar houses with multi-million dollar yachts waiting for those who just can’t live one afternoon without luxury. But for some of us, a banana boat, a hut, and some grilled chicken will do just fine, thank you very much! We’ve come to hear (no generators) the crash of the ocean, long walks on a rough beach, and nap under coconut trees. IMG_0529 This Sunday we head to Ileshi, a sleepy fishing village about 40 minutes by banana boat from a Victoria Island jetty, passing Tin Can Island. Lagos Harbor is Nigeria’s most important port receiving water from Lagos Lagoon and Badagry Creek, a fresh/brackish water that originates from Lake Nokoue in Republic of Benin. The creek parallel to the Atlantic Ocean coast is dominated by coconut trees and mangroves. A system of inlets, often treacherous to navigate due to unseen sand bars, connect Republic of Benin with Lagos Harbor— the Yewa River, Badagry, Agaja, Ibese, Festac Creek and Tin Can Island.  Click here for more pictures.

A morning that begins at 5:30 am, a long drive, then tramping around the bush for 3 hours, perspiring profusely, may not appeal to many people but for a few, there is no where else you would rather be on a Lagos weekend! The Nigerian Field Society and the Lekki Bird Club organizes birdwatching opportunities outside of Lagos. From large birds of prey to petite iridescent sunbirds, each forest destination brings opportunities to see diverse species in the dozens.

Today, our group leaders are Steve Turnipseed from NFS and Bunmi Jegede from LBC. This day we visit the LUFASI, Lagos State Urban Forest and Animal Shelter Initiative, an urban forest park that sits on 15 hectors of land and created to save the Ekki trees as well as to provide a shelter for animals. This forest protects two endangered species in Nigeria, the Ekki tree or ironwood tree, known for its extremely hard wood, and the Hooded-Vulture, once abundant now takes refuge in the tall Ekki trees. 

Click here to view birds sighted.