Preserving one of Nigeria’s last sacred groves

On the forested banks of the Osun river in Osogbo, Nigeria lies one of the last cultural sites of its kind. In this sacred grove, Yoruba deities are embodied in shapely, sculpted shrines and creativity and spirituality come to life. The Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove is a truly unique and special place.

I’m truly delighted that, for the first time ever, the shrine and its surroundings have been digitized thanks to a collaboration between CyArk, Adunni Olorisa Trust/Osun Foundation and Google Arts & Culture. Now both are protected for posterity, so anybody from anywhere can explore them.

I said when I visited in 2019 that it was important to refocus national and global attention on this site, and I’m glad we achieved our purpose. For even though this place of active worship and art is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and priceless cultural asset, it is in danger of destruction. Flooding and heavy rain due to climate change, along with a number of other risks to conservation, threaten the groves’ survival.

This is why CyArk and the Adunni Olorisha Trust / Osun Foundation partnered with Google Arts & Culture to digitize the shrines and surroundings at Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove – and to tell the stories of its spiritual, artistic and cultural significance. In 2019, the grove’s Busanyin Shrine was wrecked in a flood; the 3D imagery captured in the early phases of the project were among the last images to be taken of the site before it was destroyed. So while this project may not stop the impact of flooding or the activities of land grabbers, it will ensure that future generations can see it as it is today.

According to Kacey Hadick, CyArk Director of Programs and Development, CyArk's work in Osogbo has been a true collaboration between Nigerian government officials, local NGOs, the community of Osogbo and His royal highness Jimoh Oyetunji Olanipekun Larooye II, who have partnered with CyArk and are working together to share the stories of Osogbo with a wider audience.”

Although the 2019 flood was a devastating loss, it reinforces the importance of using a variety of tools to preserve the world’s cultural and spiritual places, from digital documentation to on-site restoration work. And this project highlights the broad spectrum of preservation that, in this case, can help protect a rich Yoruba cultural heritage – through 3D models, Street View, archival and contemporary photographs, video and audio interviews and written stories.

Olufemi A. Akinsanya Akinsanya is Chair of the Save Our Art! Save Our Heritage! Campaign. He says, “We want to expose the world to this incredible Yoruba heritage and art treasure, introduce the remarkable artists of the New Sacred Art Movement who saved it from destruction in the 1960’s and champion the next generation who are preserving it now.”

While a virtual experience of the site can never replace the real thing, we invite you to get lost in the Sacred Grove of Osun Osogbo and experience its art, culture, and preservation like never before on Google Arts & Culture.

This work forms part of the Google Arts & Culture Heritage on the Edge project, which tells of how people around the world are using technology to help protect cultural sites against the effects of climate change.

Google Arts & Culture and CyArk have collaborated with cultural heritage site managers to carry out similar digitization training sessions. Learn more about the stories of five other cultural sites impacted by climate change in Scotland, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Peru and Rapa Nui.