SPECIAL REPORT: How White priestess, Susan Wenger sacrificed comfort for Osun sacred grove upliftment
In our continued efforts to make findings about the amazing and fulfilled lifetime of Austrian-Nigerian artist, Susan Wenger who abandoned the comfort of family and luxury of home country to live in a developing town to graciously make Osun, the goddess of fertility a cynosure of all eyes, WITHIN NIGERIA extended its wings of investigation to examine and expose the meaningful contributions of the Osun White Priestess to the upliftment of Osun sacred grove among others.
Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove had greatly suffered depreciation owing to commercial interests and termites destroying shrine facilities, sacred sculptures and carvings. The sacred grove was gradually diminishing in values and on its way to extinction following the personalities and characters of early custodians who were majorly driven by interests which affected the sacred grove. But Austrian-Nigerian artist teamed up with the Public Works Department and many local artists in the town to eradicate the termites and redevelop the carvings and buildings within the shrine using both woods and cements.
To the people of Osogbo especially adherents of Osun, the goddess of fertility, the Austrian-Nigerian born artist, Susan Wenger is like a tree of value whose life and death have great positive effects on the grove, the people and the entire nation. Late Susan Wenger was already a successful artist before she moved down to Nigeria. In 1947, she travelled to Italy which was a prize given to her for winning a poster competition and she also sold some works to an art dealer, Johann Egger who also held works by Hans Arp, Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian. She abandoned her comfort zone, moved down to a lowly town in a developing country and graciously moved Osun-Osogbo from local significance to global and international one.
Susan Wenger did not grow up as a child in Osogbo, the capital of Osun state but spent larger part of her life and was later buried in the ancient town. The Austrian-Nigerian artist is well travelled and as a lover of nature even as a child must have had relationships with elements of nature but how she ended up with Osun-Osogbo after her tremendous journey across ancient towns such as Ibadan, Ede and Ilobu where deities also exist is strange and quite surprising. This shows that there is a strange and unexplainable connection between Osogbo, Susan Wenger and Osun Goddess of Fertility following the exceedingly growth the sacred grove witnessed from being a local one to national monument and eventually World Heritage Site in her lifetime.
Some adherents who spoke with WITHIN NIGERIA described the late Susan Wenger as a daughter of Osun, the Goddess of Fertility. The most suitable explanation most adherents give which inarguably tallies with their positions is ‘Osun became a national monument barely five years she joined as a White Priestess and later became a World Heritage Site barely five years before she died at the age of 93’. She was sent by ‘Yeye Agbomola’ to rebuild and redefine into limelight.
In a document made available to WITHIN NIGERIA, Susan Wenger’s works in Osun-Osogbo grove was the beginning of the monumental growth and success achieved in the grove. It was clearly stated in the document that Susan Wenger used her works to explain the history of Osogbo and the intangible heritage of the grove was better explained and understood with various gigantic structures, shrines, temples, designed metal gates and other monumental art works.
WITHIN NIGERIA reporter toured the accessible parts of the Osun-Osogbo sacred grove, saw the appreciable and fantastic artworks of late Susan Wenger and other meritious local artists. The Austrian-Nigerian artist did not only redefine moment for goddess of fertility but also renovated shrines and statues of other gods such as Idi Baba Shrine, First Traditional Palace, Obatala Shrine, Iya Moopo Statue among others.
This reporter wonders how Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove gradually evolved from local significance to regional and global dimensions. A local-worshipped goddess of fertility who was also diminishing in values owing to commercial interests now attracting thousands of visitors each year to appreciate its natural, artistic and spiritual havens should indeed be a concern to all.
The grove has not only become the pilgrimage centre for most Yoruba people and those descendants of Yoruba in the Diaspora but it is now a fertile ground for worship and appeasement of different Yoruba deities apart from Osun with daily, weekly and annual devotions as contained in a document presented to mark the 100 years post-humous birthday of late Susan Wenger.
LEGACY AND HONOURS OF LATE SUSAN WENGER
WITHIN NIGERIA assembled that Osun-Osogbo sacred grove became a national monument in 1965. This development came after late Susan Wenger and other local artists dedicated their time to redevelop the grove with sculptures and carvings depicting the various activities of the Orishas.
On the 15th July, 2005 was the happiest day of late Susan Wenger better known as Adunni Olorisha. The sacred grove she dedicated her life for and sacrificed everything for was declared a World Heritage Site.
In a document prepared by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments which was obtained by WITHIN NIGERIA, it was clearly stated that Osun-Osogbo grove was made a World Heritage Site because of four mainly attributes which are;
● The sculptures and monuments created by Susan Wenger and the New Sacred Art Movement that reinforced the sacred qualities of the Osun grove.
● The role of the grove in sustaining Yoruba Cultural traditions particularly through authentic Annual Osun-Osogbo festival and continuous worship of the different deities.
● The protection and transmission of traditional knowledge in the worship of different deities and indigenous technology employed in the maintenance of the structures and sculptures in the grove.
● The importance of the grove in the preservation and identity of Yoruba culture both in Nigeria and among other Blacks in the Diaspora.
The Government of Nigeria awarded late Susan Wenger the honour of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2008. She had also won the award of the Highest Order of the Country of Syria, Austria in 2004.
Late Susan Wenger undertook many exhibitions in Austria, Vienna, Switzerland, Paris, London, Zurich, Frankfurt, Netherlands, California, Prague and Nigeria.
It is not wrong to conclude that late Austrian-Nigerian artist, Susan Wenger popularly known as Adunni Olorisha came into Osogbo, abandoned her comfort and used her artistic skills to make Osun, the goddess of fertility a cynosure of all eyes.