War Gods and Rituals

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War Gods and Rituals


War Gods. The notion that wars were sanctioned by the gods was a widely held belief in West Africa. Several communities had special deities responsible for war. For example, Adzobo is the divinity of war among the Fon-Ewe of the modern nation of Benin. For the Yorubas, Ogun, a lesser god associated with iron, is the patron god of warriors. Ogun’s fearlessness is symbolized by the viper he carries, and Yoruba warriors were expected to emulate Ogun’s bravery in battle. In the parts of West Africa where war gods were recognized, designated warriors frequently carried emblems and symbols of these deities on the battlefield. Even where there were no specific gods of war, certain political leaders were thought to be imbued with magical powers that they used to their advantage in warfare.

Rituals. Before soldiers set out for battle, they propitiated war gods and the ancestors in general, hoping to obtain their blessings. Some states had special priests who mediated between rulers and the hidden forces of the universe with the intent of ensuring military success. Oblations were a popular means of seeking the intervention of supernatural forces on the battlefield. The Manes society built special villages exclusively for women who manufactured “medicine” for war. Rituals were also important for warfare and political control in West Africa. People consulted diviners and oracles for predictions about the outcome of battles. Sometimes spiritual consultations were used to determine the ideal day and time to launch an attack or to decide on military strategies. Many states in West Africa also performed rituals at the end of military operations, acknowledging the help of war gods and other mystical forces.

Martial Dancing and Music. War dance and music were fundamental to the military culture in West Africa, emphasizing the cultivation of esprit de corps among soldiers. Adzohu is a sacred war dance of the Fon-Ewe. The Djung Djung was a special war drum used by the Darnel of Cayor. Battle hymns such as the Jonjon (glory to the warrior) were composed to cultivate camaraderie among the warriors. Bards frequently sang songs of praise for military heroes. Drumming and war songs extolled the skill, bravery, and military prowess of ancestors. These songs and rituals taught young soldiers to emulate the bravery and chivalry of past heroes. War songs and dances, along with military parades, also created opportunities for the community to express its gratitude to its brave fighters. Military culture involved preparations of warriors for battle and a period of debriefing after each conflict to ease the transition back to civilian life.


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