Dodging Death In A Sacred Grove — Nigeria Part 2

In my last entry, I began my trip to the most populous Black nation on earth: Nigeria. I spent some time in the capital city of Lagos and visited an old slave town, the beach, a sacred rock, a fetish market, and some villages. I also got to explore Idanre Hills, the very underrated “Macchu Picchu of Africa,” which you should definitely add to your bucket list. 🤩

Join us now as we continue our journey through Nigeria and read about how I very nearly met my death at the hands of a careless soldier whose only real job was to keep me safe. Plus you’ll get to explore a sacred grove, as well as a parallel legal structure and monarchy within Nigeria.

Voltaire once said,  “It is the danger which is least expected that soonest comes to us.”

A Sacred Grove

After leaving Idanre Hills, I headed back west to Osbogo, the capital city of the Osun State. Osun State borders Ondo State, which is home to the amazing Idanre Hills. All of it is Yoruba country like we had seen at Olumo Rock. Osbogo is another city that the Yoruba have inhabited for many years.

Visiting a Yoruba temple

There’s not all that much to see around Osbogo, but they do have one of the few UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nigeria, which is called the Sacred Grove of Osun.

Welcome to the Sacred Grove.

It’s a dense old forest that never fell victim to deforestation, which has been a big problem in Nigeria. Deforestation has taken 44% of Nigeria’s forests in the last 20 years, so it was nice to see an area that survived all the change.

Lush forest and beautiful art all around

A century ago, every town in Yorubaland had its own sacred grove, and today this is the largest one that remains. 🥲 There are lots of monkeys and other wild animals living there on this protected land.

Are monkeys in the Sacred Grove also sacred? 🤔

There are also many sacred relics of the Yoruba people, which mostly consists of religious sculptures. In the Yoruba religion, Osun is the goddess of fertility, and this heavily forested area teeming with life and shrines is dedicated to her.

A shrine for the Yoruba goddess of fertility

I learned about an Austrian woman named Susanne Wenger who expatriated to Nigeria in 1950 and used to live in the sacred grove. She was an artist who was very interested in the Yoruba culture, so much so that she eventually became a Yoruba priestess.

There are definitely worse places to live.

Wenger lived in the grove for many years and made a lot of large wooden sculptures in collaboration with the local people. She also began an artist cooperative in the area. Following her death in 2009, the sacred area also became a place to honor her memory.

A wooden sculpture reaching toward heaven

It was a nice place to walk around for a while. We spent two or three hours wandering the grounds, looking at the nice big sculptures in various forms such as animals and people.

Humans, animals, or some combination of the two…

There were many sculptures representing the Yoruba gods too. The Yoruba religion has many gods, and each one was represented by a statue in the grove. The Yoruba religion is fascinating to learn about. It is also practiced in the United States and even Brazil, as it has survived in these countries since slavery.

Hanging out with the Yoruba gods

There was a river there with quite a bit of water, which is where people in the Yoruba religion believe the goddess Osun resides.

The river goddess

We took a suspension bridge across it to reach the other side and visit the house where Susanne Wenger used to live. It was in the process of visiting this site that I was very nearly killed. 💀

It may not look ominous, but danger was lurking just meters away.

My Brush with Death

There was a soldier accompanying us who, like the other soldiers, was carrying a gun that was supposed to protect me. However, it turned out that he didn’t know much about gun safety, and he almost shot me to death with it by accident instead.

Imagine if this were the last thing that you saw before you died 😂😭

I had noticed earlier that he didn’t seem to be aware of gun safety, and I had already asked him to please point his gun at the ground instead of at my face. That turned out to be one of the best suggestions that I’ve ever made, and it may have even saved my life.

The negligent soldier caught in a rare moment of pointing his gun at the ground 🙄

We were walking through the jungle when suddenly I heard a shockingly loud BANG as the gun went off just two meters behind my head. 🤯

The soldier could have accidentally shot me with his misfire, but luckily because of my brilliant suggestion, the bullet hit the ground instead of my head. That could have gone horribly wrong, but in the end, things turned out okay.

These guys bore witness to the incident 😅

It is extremely important in gun safety to keep your gun pointed at the ground while you’re walking and not pointed toward someone’s face or body. The soldier and his buddies were surprisingly relaxed about the whole incident. 😡 I might have expected him to get fired from the army right on the spot, but I didn’t say anything against him to cause that.

I tried to keep my cool and absorb some calming energy from the Sacred Grove.

Regardless, I was still a bit shocked that happened, to say the least. To be honest, I felt quite unwell around that soldier the rest of the time he was with us. I always had my eye on him and tried to stay out of his direct line of vision the best I could so that his gun would never point at me again. Of course, he made sure that there was no more ammunition in it, but I was still very cautious of him for the next few days. ⚠️

Which is safer: hiding behind the wall, or trying to camouflage with it? 🤣

We didn’t do much more that day, and there wasn’t much else to see. We drove around the city a bit, but there wasn’t much there other than this special site. We stayed at a nice local hotel and went for lunch at some point. There wasn’t much to do except get through the terrible traffic.

Saying “Auf Wiedersehen” to the sculptures of the Sacred Grove.

The Yoruba Capital

The next day we returned to Lagos, but first, we stopped in Ilé-Ifẹ̀, which is basically the Yoruba capital. It is the most highly populated city in the Osun State, and according to the Yoruba religion, the ancient city was founded by the order of its Supreme God.

The ancient city of Ilé-Ifẹ̀

Ilé-Ifẹ̀ is nicknamed “the city of 401 deities,” and the city hosts festivals every day to celebrate each one of its gods. Ilé-Ifẹ̀ is also believed by followers of the religion to have been the starting point of the earth’s creation.

I think this art had something to do with the Yoruba creation story.

Their king, or “Ooni” as they call him, is believed to be a direct descendent of the “god-king” in Yoruba culture. He is both the spiritual head of Yoruba culture and a political figure as well. He has power over the judicial system, as Nigeria has an elaborate parallel legal structure. Many things are negotiated or decided by the king’s court of elders, and the highest court resides in Ilé-Ifẹ̀.

Everyone follows the king.

The king lives in a big palace there, and many members of his court live in the city too. They have very interesting traditions and structures there. One of the king’s helpers actually has to kill himself when the king dies to show his loyalty by following him to death. 😳

The king’s palace

In Ilé-Ifẹ̀, we visited the holy Yoruba shrine and the mausoleum where some former kings are buried. We saw the palace and visited a handful of ancient Yoruba statues of the gods. As I mentioned, there are many gods in the Yoruba religion, and Ilé-Ifẹ̀ is full of them.

One of many statues of the gods

I didn’t want to visit every memorial, so we just visited the statues of the three most important gods in Yoruba culture at different sites, which was quite interesting to see.

The sculptures are large and very nicely made, mostly of bronze, terracotta, and stone. Many of these sculptures were made between the years 1200 and 1400 CE, so they have a lot of history. That’s pretty much all we did in Ilé-Ifẹ̀ before heading back to Lagos.

Join us next time as we explore Lagos more in-depth during the last few days of my trip to Nigeria.