In Yoruba land,(the South-western part of Nigeria) existed many sacred groves a century ago; every town had one. Most of these have now been abandoned or minimized to small areas. Osun-Osogbo, in the heart of Osogbo, the capital of Osun State, founded some 400 years ago in Nigeria, is the largest sacred grove to have survived and one that is still respected.
On the outskirts of the city of Osogbo, at the dense forest of the Osun Sacred Grove is said to exist one of the last remnants of primary high forest in southern Nigeria. According to the natives of Osogbo, it is the house of the goddess of fertility (Osun), one of the pantheons of Yoruba gods. Its surrounding, landscape and its meandering river is dotted with shrines and sanctuaries, sculptures and art works in honor of Osun and other deities, (many of which were created in the past forty years two palaces, five sacred places and nine worship points) strung along the river banks with designated priests and priestesses.
Also, the creation and installment of new art in the grove has differentiated it from other groves: Osogbo now looks unique, having been greatly beautified with a large component of 20th century sculpture created to reinforce the links between people and the Yoruba pantheon, and the way in which Yoruba towns linked their establishment and growth to the spirits of the forest.
For the wider Yoruba Diaspora, the restoration of the grove by artists has given the grove a new importance: it has become a sacred place for the whole of Yoruba land and their symbol of identity.
Notwithstanding, the Grove is an active religious site where regular religious routine takes place. In addition, an annual processional festival to re-establish the mystic bonds between the goddess and the people of the town occurs every year over twelve days in July and August thereby, sustaining the living cultural traditions of the Yorubas.
The Grove is also loaded with natural herbal pharmacy of over 400 species of plants, and more than 200 endemics known for their medicinal uses.
Apart from the above mentioned benefits, the Grove has been visited and confirmed worthy of its identity and cosmology by some renowned artists whose ideas proved fertile in the revival of the grove.
The grove also has been confirmed of its Integrity, Authenticity, Protection and management requirements especially between the year 1965, when it was first declared a National Monument, and 1992, when the original designation was amended and expanded to protect the entire 75 hectares. In line with that, the Nigerian Cultural Policy of 1988 states that ‘The State shall preserve as Monuments old city walls and gates, sites, palaces, shrines, public buildings, promote buildings of historical significance and monumental sculptures’. Under the Land Use Act of 1990 the Federal Government of Nigeria conferred trusteeship of the Grove to the Government of Osun State.
Recently, the Grove has been reported to be vulnerable to over-visiting and visitor-pressure, which could erode the equilibrium between the natural aspects and people necessary to sustain the spiritual qualities of the site.
Finally, the Grove is currently serving as a model of African heritage that preserves the tangible and intangible values of the Osogbo people in particular, and the entire Yoruba people. As a source of pride to them, the Grove will remain a living thriving heritage that has traditional landmarks and a veritable means of transfer of traditional religion, and indigenous knowledge systems, to African people within and across the continent.