In recent times, increased mining activities in Nigeria's South West have polluted the Osun River at the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove, which was declared a national monument in 1965 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005.
The river—which is named after the goddess and seen as her home—inspired the name of Osun, one of Nigeria’s 36 states. Spanning 213km (132 miles), the Osun River flows across five states in southwest Nigeria, including Oyo, Ekiti, Ogun and Lagos where it enters the lagoon and pours into the Atlantic Ocean.
Regarded as the abode of the goddess of fertility Osun, one of the pantheon of Yoruba gods, the landscape of the grove and its meandering river is dotted with sanctuaries and shrines, sculptures and artworks in honour of Osun and other deities.
According to Olufemi Akinsanya, Chair, Save Our Art! Save Our Heritage! Campaign, "the Yoruba community is one of the largest in Nigeria and the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove is truly a unique and special place that embodies the essence of the Yoruba culture and heritage."
To preserve its cultural heritage, Google Arts & Culture has partnered with The Adunni Olorisha Trust and CyArk to launch the first and largest digital library of content showcasing the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove.
The digital preservation of one of Nigeria's last remaining sacred groves is part of Google Arts and Culture’s wider Heritage on the Edge project. The project seeks to support site managers in digitally documenting heritage sites at risk due to climate change, using the imagery captured to further support community maintenance and conservation.
"Google Arts & Culture's mission is to preserve and promote the world’s art and culture online, allowing anyone, anywhere in the world to share in it. We are grateful that through partnerships we are now able to preserve one of the most recognised, culturally rich Yoruba heritage sites, known for active traditional worship and contemporary art movements," Chance Coughenour, Program Manager and Digital Archaeologist at Google Arts & Culture, said.
"Through the use of state-of-the-art technologies, site managers will be able to monitor and mitigate the effects of the changing climate and more broadly provide resources to support growing the capacity for the preservation of heritage sites," Coughenour added.
Highlights of the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove project include a 75ha Street View of the Sacred Grove, including the Busanyin Shrine before it was affected by the flood and 3D models of four of the site’s dynamic shrines. The collection allows people to view 900 high-resolution photographs of the site, contemporary and historical artworks and sculptures, artists and spiritual leaders.
It also tells 28 stories about art, community and spirituality at the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove, and the effect of climate change at the site and includes three audio interviews, including one with popular artist Jimoh Buraimoh about Susanne Wenger.
"We are excited about the digital preservation of the site and the partnership with Google Arts & Culture. It offers a noteworthy body of work that portrays the admirable culture of the Yoruba people to the world,” Akinsanya added.