“…She has given her special talents for many years, almost a lifetime, to demonstrate how arts can be borne out of the culture of their environment. Anyone who has visited the site (sacred groves of Oshun Oshogbo) will appreciate the magical qualities it possesses. Although there are many fascinating and historical places throughout this heritage-rich country, I know of no other, in contemporary times, that has given birth to such a rich vein of Artwork.” (Keith T. Richards, former Managing Director Guinness Nigeria in Susanne Wenger, Her House and Her Arts Collection-Adunni Olorisha Trust)
I asked an Austrian friend who lives far away in Argentina if he had heard about the death of Susanne Wenger; the celebrated Adunni Olorisha of the world famous Oshun Oshogbo fame. He said yes, he heard it from the same email I just sent him asking if he had heard of it. Then he asked if the Yoruba people of Nigeria gave Ms Wenger a befitting burial. I took in a deep breath before I answered him. Of course Nigeria remembers and honors her. Of course she was one of us; a high chief of the Osun-land; an olorisha of the Yoruba race!
On the day Mama Adunni died, I got a call from an old friend in Austria informing me that Mama had passed away and they were keeping it secret until after the Yoruba traditional funeral rites which as a high chief of Oshogbo, she was entitled to. They wanted to honor her death by not making too much noise over it until she had been properly laid to rest according the specifications of the Yoruba traditional she was engaged herself in for many decades. As I was dropping the phone, I heard NTA news announcing the death of Susanne Wenger, the Adunni Olorisha. In hours after that call, I had received so many sms messages and notices from friends from around Nigeria asking if I had heard the same thing. The following day, most of the leading newspapers and radio in Nigeria had comprehensive reports of the death. This is not so much as about Mama’s wishes for silent departure, but the fact that Nigeria did not want to allow such a great woman to die unannounced and uncelebrated like fowl who was nurtured until the day of festivity.
Virtually all the news reports and commentaries of Susanne in Nigerian news media reports of an Austrian woman (a White woman) who came into the natives of Oshogbo and uplifted the culture of the Yoruba people through her activities in Oshun Oshogbo sacred groves. This is the light in which people view Susanne Wenger. But if we had known Susanne Wenger better, we will know that her life and time transcended beyond the “white woman” who became involved with the culture of the Yoruba but see her as an item in the plan of the gods for the preservation of the culture of Oshogbo and she played her role to that effect very effectively. She was a woman who accepted her life as it played out and she was well celebrated for it.
What can one say about the death of a woman who died at the age of 93? Can we say we are sad that she died? No. rather we shall rejoice and remember the good deeds which our faithful departed left for us to remember her by.
There are so many cultural institutions in Nigeria and each big and interesting enough but the annual Oshun festival in Oshogbo, the now famous Oshun Oshogbo Festival became famous globally through the efforts and encouragement of Mama Adunni Olorisha. She was dogged in her belief in the groves and she was ready to lay her life for the preservation of the Oshun groves. I recall when once when the Adunni Olorisha Trust (AOT) got a request from Mama to come and help her with the issues of protections of the groves. Poachers were killing some of the animals in the groves and she wanted bunch of native security guards to keep vigil at nights to protect the animals in the sacred groves (because all were complementary to making the groves a sacred place). She was willing to sell some of her personal paintings to pay security officials to who should preserve the animals in the groves from unfriendly neighbors. I was with her for weeks and throughout that period, her major concerns were the safety of the life and entity of the sacred grove. She was attacked by some of the enemies of the groves yet she remained dogged in her belief that the preservation of the grove was keeping fate with the devotees and worshippers. I then saw her as a passionate woman who was not giving to the gallery but was fulfilling her roles in destiny. She thought the gods had given her the inspirations to paint and she should use the proceeds from such painting to guard the groves.
Mama, as all the people around her called her was a very jovial and warm person. All my encounter with her and my personal interactions with her was colorized by this feeling of a warm and accommodating person; generous and all inviting. There was never a time I went to see mama and found her cold or rude or unwelcoming. She was people oriented; her house would be dead without the usual noise of children crying or adult playing or groups singing or masquerades praying or one form of rituals or the other dominating the airwaves. Like the late Fela Kuti’s Kalakuta Republic, Mama’s house only has one private room- the rest of the rooms and floors and toilets and balconies and backyards were opened to the public. She could careless who you are as long as you came in peace the house is there for you. It was only when she became so old and weak that her adopted children considered making a second toilet for the teaming member of the public who constantly came around her.
I remember the first time I encountered Mama; I stared at her endlessly until she asked me if I was fine. I recall one of our several meetings when I had informed her that I was going to study some ridiculous courses in one school and she told me, “…you know what is good for you; carry your mat and go to your village to sleep with your grandparents. From your folks in the village you will learn wisdom. And was she right? A book was the by-product of taking such advise. I published a book from after interacting with my old and knowledgeable folks.
I am very happy and proud to see the so many accolades that Nigerians from home and abroad have poured on the memories of Mama. She deserve whatever encomium we give to her. She was strong and she was helpful. She did her best under the circumstances. At a point she felt like some of the foreign folks that came visiting her were treating her like an animal in a zoo and she protested. She would insist she wanted to be alone and resting. But she hardly told that to any Nigerian who visited her. She would say to me “Kaabo o” as she would welcome me using Yoruba language.
Mama, finally and at last you had gone to be with the gods- the gods you served so diligently. I will forever recall your jokes some few years back; that if you are sick and people sneak to return you to Austria, with your last remaining strength, you would craw towards the airport so that you would be found dead heading back to Nigeria! Mama, you chose a life the way you wanted, you won a great life and you lived that life flamboyantly. I am very happy for you and very proud to have known you so fairly well. Karl and Andrea Schrammel (along with their children) send farewell wishes to you. Like anikulapo, life humbled you and even death envied you. There is no one who has come and would never die. It is your time to go now but we shall remember the good things you did for and with us while you were around. And we will keep vigil to the memories of your goodness. As you rest Mama Adunni Olorisha, Susanne Wenger, ple
ase rest in peace.
When you came in this world, you cried and everyone surrounding you laughed and happy. So, do something with your life, so that when you leave the world, you keep smiling and everyone surrounding you will cry and sad – Arabic proverb