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Research in African Literatures 31.2 (2000) 228-232

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Book Review

Osun Sèègèsí The Elegant Deity of Wealth, Power and Femininity

Osun Sèègèsí The Elegant Deity of Wealth, Power and Femininity, by Diedre Badejo. Trenton: Africa World P, 1996. Introduction by Oyekan Owomoyela. 217 pp. 24 illustrations. Pronunciation Key. Glossary. Bibliography. Index.

Diedre Badejo's study is a tribute to the powerful and beautiful Yoruba deity of sweet water, Osun, who hails from the Osun River in Nigeria and [End Page 228] has settled in the African diaspora in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the US as a result of the slave trade. Badejo's access to Osun is through the orature and ritual drama of the annual Osun festival performed in the Ijesa city of Osogbo. She gives the reader entrée to the subject in the transcription and translation of a poetic incantation chanted for Osun by priests dedicated to her service. Badejo acknowledges that she cannot convey the agility and grace of the priest's vocal performance. Instead, she transliterates and annotates the Yoruba text to get at the complex "symbolism, imagery, and meaning" in the poetry (2). In so doing, she enlisted the help of scholars of Yoruba language, art, and religion, Yiwola Awolaye, Rowland Abiodun, and Kehinde Olupona, respectively, to verify and nuance the text.

In the second chapter, Badejo presents a brief overview of the organization of Yoruba cosmology in order to situate Osun in chapter three. She approaches Osun through the well-known corpus of Ifa divination orature and recounts a narrative from OseTura in which Osun is the only woman to accompany a group of male deities on a journey to order the world. They exclude her from their plans, and she causes them to fail. Returning home, the high god Olodumare tells the male deities they must beg Osun's forgiveness. Osun demanded "all the initiation of the ritual they perform for men which they used to keep women behind" (73). She also wanted all powerful women like herself to be initiated, and the male deities complied. Drawing on the texts from Ifa published by 'Wande Abimbola and William Bascom and those transcribed from Ifa diviner Yemi Eleburuibon, Badejo presents Osun as the leader of very powerful women known as aje, as an herbalist, as a warrior, as a fecund mother who provides and sustains life, as a diviner and owner of the system known as "sixteen cowries" (merindilogun), as a ruler in the history of Osogbo, and as a beautiful wealthy woman of enormous influence, the latter symbolized by brass, beads, and coral. Badejo concludes this chapter suggesting the roles of women in the Osun festival reflect Osun's various activities and powers.

The next three chapters turn to different perspectives on the Osun festival: 1) its structure and meaning, 2) its dramatization, and 3) its social vision. In the first of these chapters on the Osun festival, Badejo explains that ritual, drama, and festival are intertwined in this sixteen-day event. She then narratives the step-by-step preparations for the event and the subsequent sequence of major actions, providing two maps of its staging. In the course of the festival, participants pay homage to Osun and the king of Osogbo, the Ataoja, who according to one praise epithet co-rule Osogbo. Oral tradition affirms that Osun ruled the region before Ataoja's ancestors arrived, and they drew up a treaty for Osun's permission for them to settle. Badejo underscores the significance of women's rule in this area in the precolonial era.

In the chapter on the dramatization of the festival, Badejo makes a distinction between sacred ritual (those exclusive segments for the initiated only) and ritual drama (the public segments open to everyone). Drawing on J. C. DeGraft for this distinction, she suggests ritual drama is the "symbiosis" of "the sacred ritual of possession and the secular act of impersonation" (134). By possession, she means the state of being when a deity [End Page 229] mounts the initiated...