Saturday, October 31, 2009

The 193rd good thing about Lagos: Visiting an oba is nothing new

During my time in Nigeria, as I've had occasion to visit different places in the country with the Nigerian Field Society, we've always had the opportunity to visit the local oba, or king. So I was glad to again have this opportunity in Osogbo to make comparisons with other obas, though I confess to feeling about bit blase' about visiting the king. Been there, done that.

I find it interesting that many obas have their own unique title. The Osogbo oba has the title of "Ataoja" which means "he who stretches out his hand and takes the fish." This comes from the traditional story of the founding of Osogbo where the king went to the Osun river to appease the goddess after her pots were broken by the falling of a tree. The legend says that a gold fish jumped up out of the river and was caught by the king. So now, the fish is the symbol of the kingship -- and it is used decoratively all around the palace compound, which was quite large. I was sorry I didn't get pictures of many of the interesting buildings.

This covered patio area in the compound but outside the main palace held a group of musicians. Our driver said they had to be on duty very early each morning because they had to play to wake the oba. So, being the Ataoja of Osogbo -- also called the Kabiyesi, though I don't know where that title comes from -- means that you have a living alarm clock.

There were a number of buildings with interesting mosaic pictures decorating them.

The oba can't go out without an umbrella over his head, so they were waiting at the door.
We waited in one elaborately decorated waiting room while we waited to be ushered into the throne room. That room was lined with photos, a TV, and various objects.

We didn't wait long before the Ataoja Oba came to visit with us. We had quite a nice conversation. He made us a gift of a crate of juice (which later went to our drivers) and we gave him a gift of a DVD movie about Osogbo and the groves.

He talked about his long history with Susanne Wenger and what she had brought to Osogbo. He mentioned the difficulties of his job as leader of Christians, Muslims and followers of the traditional religion. He plays an important part in the Osun festival each August, receiving the offering of the virgin and paying homage to the river goddess.

The foundation helping to raise money to preserve the grove and Wenger's house is concerned that the Ataoja understands that it is to Osogbo's benefit to protect the area. It is within his control to decide to use the groves for development, though with its designation as a World Heritage Site, that would be more difficult to do. But I think he realizes that it could be a tourist destination that would benefit his city. At last years Osun festival he said "Ours is a living culture and enduring heritage, which must be shared with the global community and people of all races and creeds.” He assured us that he would try to protect this heritage and he wanted us to help promote Osogbo.

He stood with our group to pose for a picture (which has not been a common thing with my oba visits).

As we stood outside waiting to leave, some young musicians ran over to us to play us some music and receive their own offerings.

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