The current Arugba, 𝗢𝘀𝘂𝗻𝘁𝗼𝗺𝗶 𝗢𝘆𝗲𝘁𝘂𝗻𝗷𝗶, is the young daughter of the sitting Ataoja of Osogbo. She took over from Abolade Oyewale, who carried the sacrifice calabash to the river goddess and was herself considered a goddess for 10 years.
Every August, Osogbo town plays host to one of the most interesting festivals in the world, the Osun Osogbo Festival. Since the town became host of the country’s second World Heritage site, the gravitation pull of adventurous tourists has become hard to resist. Its a festival that allows tourists to discover the plains, the streams and forest of Osogbo, the land of Oroki, famed for its indigo dye, ‘aro’.
The one month long festival is believed to be a covenant between the indigenes and the water goddess, during which time, the indigenes thank the water goddess for the peace, tranquillity and prosperity bestowed on the town by the goddess and also to ask for more favours from the goddess for the next year.
The Arugba is led by the most senior Osun priestess and Aworo Osun from the premises of the palace of the reigning Ataoja of Osogbo, enveloped on both sides by a formidable human fence, who must ensure that she gets to her destination without incident and, more importantly, with the calabash intact. As the tradition goes, the virgin so chosen ‘’is the personification of the goddess Osun and must not stumble’.
Arugba is carefully chosen by the priests. Sources say that as soon as these votary maids are picked, they live under the watchful eyes of the Ataoja during the periods that they serve as Arugba. Once an Arugba is picked, she more or less, becomes kabiyesi’s (king) daughter. She lives under the care and watchful eyes of the kabiyesi. This is because she must not know any man while she still bears the Osun calabash; so they don’t enjoy some freedom that their mates enjoy.” The Arugba’s are allowed to quit when they are matured enough to get married.
The practice, over the years, has been that the Arugba must be a virgin, a spinster from the king’s extended family, and must be chosen for the role by Ifa divination picked from ages 11 or 12 and dedicated to the service of the River goddess Yeye Osun, until she eventually gets matured. Usually, she would serve the town for about three to four years before she grows into womanhood, but with civilisation and most of them attending schools, the Arugba now serves the town or the River goddess for over ten years for those picked at tender ages.
Arugba is not allowed to eat certain foods like, fish, snail, guinea corn, because Osun does not take them.
Whilst lots of restrictions are placed on the social life of the votary maid, she’s allowed to go to school and mingle with her friends. Though spiritual, being Arugba does come with its own perks such as enjoying preferential treatment in school, one of which is spotting long hair while other students kept short hair and getting whatever she desires from the ruling king.
Fellow students are wary of her but for those who are close to her, a former Arugba once said, she is completely harmless. She wore school uniform all through her years of studies except for two bracelets on her wrists which should never be taken off’. Of course that caused some few skirmishes with teachers, of which one physically yanked it off and the consequences were immediately devastating, she recanted.