Susanne Wenger, born July 4, 1915 in Graz, Austria. She studied art in Austria and in Vienna before travelling to Paris in 1949, where she met Ulli Beier, a German linguist. When he was offered a position as a phonetician in Ibadan, Nigeria, shortly afterwards, they decided to marry so she could accompany him. She arrived Nigeria in 1949.
They arrived first in Ibadan to the nearby town of Ede in 1950 to escape the “artificial university compound”. In Ede, she met one of the last priests of the rapidly disappearing, ancestral-based Olorisha religion. She quickly became engrossed in his life and rituals, though at that time she spoke no Yoruba. During this period, she and Beier mentored a group of local artists that later became the ‘New Sacred Art Movement’, creating many of the giant sculptural works that beautify the sacred grove.
Suzanne Wenger, was the goddess of Osun shrine, a devoted high priest, Adunni Olorisa, was her adopted Yoruba name. She was an artist, Priestess and philosopher.
She made enormous efforts to preserve the sacred grove of Osun, a forest along the banks of the Oshun river just outside Osogbo, which she turned into a sculpture garden filled with art made by her and others.
She helped us to add value to what he had, she improved the way the world reacted to African tradition and religion. She helped us, in the listing of Osun groove in Oshogbo in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s World Heritage List in 2005.
Wenger and Beier eventually separated, she remained in Osogbo to continue her work and became even more immersed in her training as a priestess. In 1959 she married a local drummer, Chief Alarape, and adopted more than a dozen Yoruba children. As her influence increased, the grove became a meeting point for artists and those that celebrated Yoruba.
She protected the Osun-Osogbo or Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove, the sacred forest along the banks of the Osun river just outside the city of Osogbo, Osun State, Nigeria. Before her arrival, in the 1950’s, the Osun-Osogbo withnessed massive desecration, the shrines were neglected, priests abandoned the grove as customary responsibilities and sanctions weakened. The natives violated the prohibited acts of fishing, hunting and felling of trees in the grove. Wenger with the encouragement of the Ataoja and the support of the local people, she formed the New Sacred Art Movement to challenge land speculators, repel poachers, protect shrines and begin the long process of bringing the sacred place back to life by establishing it. Annually the Osun-Osgogbo festival is now celebrated in the month of August at the grove, with Osun worshippers, spectators and tourists from all walks of life. Yours Sincerely was there to feel the groove.
In this day of throwing away projects of finale year students by some universities, one wonders how we can test the hypothesis of some of Adunni Olorisa theories, for example, she was of the opinion that “the creation of the world happens continuously, that there was neither a beginning nor an end, that everything dies into a new birth and forms of culture grow like grass.” She was phenomenon and over a dozen books have been written about fertility
She was called “Mama” by many. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua honoured her National award.
On January 6, 2009, she was admitted into a hospital, probably against her wish, for she believed so much in herbs, she died after an illness at age 93 on January 12, 2009.
Before she passed on, she left instructions, that no tomb must be built for her because she did not want her tomb to become a tourist attraction for white people. During my visit to Oshogbo shrine, I demanded for grave but they will not show me. She was buried in an unmarked grave according to Oshogbo rites and costumes.
Source BY: Dr Raphael James
Author, Researcher, Curator, Tourist Ambassador, Director General Center For Research, Information Management and Media Development, CRIMMD – CRIMMD FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY, Photo Museum of Nigeria History, Publisher of African Dame and The National Biographer Magazine.