August 29, 2010
The Osun Festival
The Osun Festival is essentially a communal prayer to Osun, the river goddess. As its main event, the entire city follows a young girl carrying a symbolic calabash from the center of town down to the banks of the river deep within the forest. Along the way, everyone sweeps their hands over their heads to purify themselves for the ceremony. My friends and I arrived a bit late to the procession, which meant there were only, oh, several hundred thousand people between us and the calabash. But Kola and Taofeek were bent on me seeing it, so they started tugging me through the throng. Right at the entrance to the forest a group of VIPs swept past us, parting the crowd like the Red Sea. Kola hatched the idea of jumping in behind them and riding their coattails to the front of the procession. Unfortunately, everyone else around us had the same idea.
In seconds, the crowd crashed back together and it felt like the sea had just collapsed on top of me. I was suddenly in the type of stampede where people don’t just get trampled but where they can suffocate to death. I made it out within a minute, but my phone wasn’t so lucky. While I had had both my hands firmly on my wallet in my right pocket, another pair of hands managed to slip my phone out of my left. I really have to give the thief credit; don't you agree that wrestling a phone out of a denim jean pocket can be a chore even when they’re your own jeans?
Truth is, my phone was on its last legs a year ago and I was on the verge of duct-taping it together, so I’m actually stoked life gave me an excuse to get a new one. And I’m only in Nigeria four more days, so I can manage until then. So I shrugged it off and got back to the festival: lots and lots of drumming and trumpets welcoming manifestations of the Yoruba gods, like the cloaked Eyos:
They used those sticks to beat me back when I got too close with my photographing. Unfortunately, being a white guy also meant it was impossible to walk around the festival without being assaulted for money, usually by the gods themselves. And you really can’t get out of tipping a god. Within seconds of snapping a pic of a fellow on stilts, the guy stomped over, straddled me, and surrounded me with a cabal of drummers who pounded into my ears until I coughed up some change. I think getting pinned down by a guy on stilts was probably more terrifying than the stampede.