Sunday 2 June 2024

Adunni Olorisha (Suzanne Wenger)

Suzanne Wenger, artist and Yoruba priestess, was born in Graz, Austria.

She studied art there 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. At the wedding at a registry office in London, they presented the registrar with a selection of curtain rings. When he observed: "A wedding is not a silly joke," they replied: "How do you know?"

The couple quickly assimilated in Nigeria, he as a teacher and she as an artist, but they moved from Ibadan to the nearby town of Ede in 1950 to escape what Wenger called 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, even though at that time she spoke no Yoruba.

When 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, including the artist Nike Davies-Okundaye.

As her influence increased, the grove became a focal point for artists and those that celebrated Yoruba. The festival held to worship the goddess Osun that takes place at the grove every August continues to attract thousands today.

Adunni was born on 4 July 1915 and died 12 January 2009.

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