In a fortunate stroke of serendipity, Robin and Hugh Campbell, caretakers of the Osun Osogbo Sacred Groves and board member of The Susanne Wenger Adunni Orishia Trust, sent me a message inquiring if I was in Lagos. “Yes,” I answered and soon another message arrived asking if I would like to join them on a two-day trip to Osogbo (Osun State, south west Nigeria but north of Lagos). The drive was my first thought…the Lagos-Ibadan expressway is notorious for excruciating delays. After talking with a friend who drives the road frequently, I was assured that most of the road, indeed, lived up to the name: “expressway,” and baring any accidents, the traffic flows fairly smoothly. My friend believed the drive from Lagos to Osogbo would be within a normal 4 to 5-hour range. So with that assurance, I accepted their kind invitation.
After a few days with an early start, we headed for Osogbo. This would be my third visit to the area. The first was in 1977. Then, I met Susanne Wenger. In Lagos, there had been word of a white woman making sculptures that represented Yoruba traditional religion in an “enchanted” garden. A friend, Pam Fields, and I decided to make explore these claims. In those days, driving to Osogbo was by way of a two-lane road. Armed robbery was non-existent. The worse fear was to have a problem with the car and no way to communicate with Lagos except from a hotel phone. Then, the trip could not be completed in one day. Our trip would take us through Abeokuta to stop at the indigo dye pits and juju market, spend the night Ibadan and attend the theatre at University of Ibadan (at the time, well-known for its drama department). Then to Osogbo, Ile-Efe and spend another night in Ibadan. Needless to say, in those days, there was much advanced preparation for a Nigerian road-trip.
Once Pam and I found the Groves in Osogbo, we were pointed in a particular direction toward the forest where we came across Susanne Wenger. We chatted for a short while and she directed us to the Osun River to follow a path that included several of her sculptures. Making our way back to the road, we did not meet Wenger again. I remember that we were unimpressed and disappointed but thirty-seven years later on my next trip to Osogbo, that was not the case.
In 2014, I set out following the Campbell’s car; we had mobile phones, bottled water, air-conditioned 4-wheel drive vehicles and a paved four-lane road with a possibility to arrive in Osogbo within four hours! I fully documented that trip on February 2014 See: Òşun Sacred Grove and Forest, February 2014 and Osun Osogbo Grove , Obelisque Magazine, January, 2015.
So it was on an impulse that I commenced on the third visit to Osogbo, forty years after my first visit:
Nike’s Guesthouse is a hub for visitors to Osogbo:
Asking for blessings….shrines of Osogbo
Susanne Wenger mentorship in the 1960’s encouraged local artist such as Rabiu Abesu and Kasali Akangbe-Ogun.
Wood carvings, art from ancestors, the prolific wood-carver Rabiu Abesu (b. 1940) expresses vividness of beauty and power through inner revelations that finds it way from thought to reality on wood.
Kasali Akangbe-Ogun (b. 1945) comes from a line of professional wood-carver. Internationally known, his sculptures reflect the intrinsic culture and emphasize symbols and figures of Yoruba gods. Akangbe Ogun’s uses omo wood (similar to mahogany). The wood is cured for seven years.Deborah Bell explains in Mask Makers and Their Crafts that Akangbe Ogun, “cuts the trunk vertically in half. He began his carving by paying homage to his ancestors and other divinities. The completed carving would eventually take an oil polish that darkens the color and makes it termite-proof.”
Kasali Akangbe-Ogun’s workshop:
Fields of art – the Groves. Susanne Wenger’s work survives due to a host of hands that over sixty years have committed one thing or another to protect and promote sculpture in honor of Yoruba traditional religion. Robin and Hugh Campbell have been warriors in keeping this UNESCO Heritage site viable. They do the heavy lifting of promotion, protection, rehabilitation, organization, and fundraising. See their recent fundraiser, Save Our Art, November 2016.
See Nigeria Magazine article by Susanne Wenger and meaning of her sculpture:
Susanne Wenger at 100 (1915-2009) Nigeria Magazine ,Gods and Myths in Susanne Wenger’s Art: The Example of Batik Cloth by Stanley P. Bohrer and Susanne Wenger Alarape Nigeria Magazine, 1976, Issue 120
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I love your comparisons of trip #1, #2, and your current third trip…..quite an amazing journey. Les, only someone with your sense of adventure would seek out these amazing places. Thanks for sharing with all of us what you discover! Lynn
Big hug and kiss and thank you for your comment. L.
It is, indeed, a wonderful trip to Osogbo, Osun state. What changes do you find in the state of the Groves between your first and second excursion? Revisit the first paragraph, second sentence, of this essay, Osun State is not in the ‘North West’, but ‘South West’ region. Is Toyin the keeper of the Groves? Is Rabiu, the exceptional carver, still alive? Well done, L., for your informative educative historical post.
Dear Murtala, Thank you for the correction! The changes between the first and 2nd trip are dramatic. The first trip was only a few sculptures and not a place for tourism. The second trip, many people had been working in this site, ideas developed and it was accessible and open to all. Again, on the 3rd trip , all of the sculptures and monuments had been restored and more added. Probably with exposure of the Osun Festival and all the people interested in developing tourism to Osun State, the Groves is a tangible monument for tourism. Yes, Toyin is the keeper of the Groves. She is an amazing, strong wonderful woman. Yes Rabiu is alive and well. You can see me in a picture with him. Thanks for your great comments, as usual. Best, L.
It is sometimes disappointing revisiting a place that you have been and find things nothing like you remembered. This is an exception – things are really better and have been enhanced. I am happy to hear that all the work by Susan Wengler has been saved and will be available for future generations to study and admire. I enjoyed being along on your trip and want to thank you again for including us.
It is so true; especially in Nigeria where it is so hard to maintain things. Thanks so much for looking at the post!L