Built in the late 1960’s and early 1970s on the site of an abandoned school, Ilédì Oǹtótóo is the assembly point for the Ògbóni, Yorùbá traditionalists associated with the Earth deity.
This remarkable structure is composed of three enormous roofs which rise against the sky like giant lizards, representing the forces of the earth before mankind. It is one of Susanne Wenger’s most complex and sensitive architectural creations.
The centrepiece of Ilédì Oǹtótóo are the powerfully sculpted high posts that support the roof and symbolically protect the inner sanctum of the shrine. These magnificent carved wooden columns were created by Kasali Akangbe, Buraimoh Gbadamosi, Saka Aremu, Lamidi Aruisa and Rabiu Abesu. Each artist has his signature style. Kasali Akangbe’s sculptures have lean, elongated facial features.
The exterior walls are elaborately sculpted in cement with “rapturously emotional scenes,” to use Susanne Wenger’s words, depicting interactions with the deities. The flow of the Osun River and the connection between earth and water are seen and felt throughout the sculpted exterior and interior of this magnificent Shine. The roofs are made from metal sheeting supported by wood struts which are covered by what is called “palm kernel”.
Beneath the sloping roof of the left wing of the Ògbói Shrine is a sculpture of the unique greeting gesture of the society’s members. Arms are extended placing the left (feminine) fist on top of the right (masculine) fist. In Yorùbá culture the left-hand side stands for the feminine, and the right-hand side for the masculine aspects of life. The Ògbóni salute each other and the earth by bringing their clenched fists together three times, with the thumb concealed in the palm of the hand.
Next to it on the left is the alluring sculpture of a waterlily.
Underneath the roof at the opposite end, Ọbàtálá, the god of creation and light, rises from the white elephant’s forehead, symbolizing that divine transcendence originates from Mother Earth. The entry to the shrine is underneath the middle roof and the doorway is in the shape of a giant paw print, referencing the connection of the Ògbóni society to the earth.