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Ewe and Fon

Ewe and Fon

ETHNONYM: Fon: Dahomeans


Orientation

Identification. "Ewe" is the umbrella name for a number of groups that speak dialects of the same language and have separate local names, such as Anlo, Abutia, Be, Kpelle, and Ho. (These are not subnations but populations of towns or small regions.) Closely related groups with slightly different mutually comprehensible languages and cultures may be grouped with Ewe, notably Adja, Oatchi, and Peda. Fon and Ewe people are often considered to belong to the same, larger grouping, although their related languages are mutually incomprehensible. All these peoples are said to have originated in the general area of Tado, a town in present-day Togo, at about the same latitude as Abomey, Benin. Mina and Guin are the descendants of Fanti and Ga people who left the Gold Coast in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, settling in the Aneho and Glidji areas, where they intermarried with Ewe, Oatchi, Peda, and Adja. The Guin-Mina and Ewe languages are mutually comprehensible, although there are significant structural and lexical differences.

Location. Most Ewe (including Oatchi, Peda, and Adja) live between the Volta River in Ghana and the Mono River (to the east) in Togo, from the coast (southern boundary) northward just past Ho in Ghana and Danyi on the western Togolese border, and Tado on the eastern border. Fon live primarily in Benin, from the coast to Savalou, and from the Togolese border almost to Porto-Novo in the south. Other Fon- and Ewe-related groups live in Benin. Borders between Ghana and Togo, as well as between Togo and Benin, are permeable to innumerable Ewe and Fon lineages with family on both sides of the border.

Pazzi (1976, 6) describes locations of the different groups with historical references, including the migrations out of Tado, principally to Notse, in present-day Togo, and to Aliada, in present-day Benin. Ewe who left Notse spread from the lower basin of the Amugan to the valley of the Mono. Two groups left Aliada: Fon occupied the plateau of Abomey and the entire plain that spreads from the Kufo and Werne rivers to the coast, and Gun settled between Lake Nokwe and the Yawa River. Adja remained in the hills surrounding Tado and in the plain between the Mono and Kufo rivers. Mina are the Fante-Ane from Elmina who founded Aneho, and Guin are the Ga immigrants from Accra who occupied the plain between Lake Gbaga and the Mono River. They encountered there the Xwla or Peda people (whom the Portuguese of the fifteenth century named "Popo"), whose language also overlaps with the Ewe language.

The coastal areas of Benin, Togo, and southeastern Ghana are flat, with numerous palm groves. Just north of the beach areas is a string of lagoons, navigable in some areas. An undulating plain lies behind the lagoons, with a soil of red laterite and sand. The southern parts of the Akwapim ridge in Ghana, about 120 kilometers from the coast, are forested and reach an elevation of about 750 meters. The dry season usually lasts from November through March, including the period of dry and dusty harmattan winds in December, which lasts longer farther north. The rainy season often peaks in April-May and September-October. Temperatures along the coast vary from the twenties to the thirties (centigrade), but may be both hotter and cooler farther inland.

Demography. According to estimates made in 1994, there are more than 1.5 million Ewe (including Adja, Mina, Oatchi, Peda, and Fon) living in Togo. Two million Fon and almost a half-million Ewe live in Benin. While the government of Ghana does not keep a census of ethnic groups (so as to reduce ethnic conflict), Ewe in Ghana are estimated at 2 million, including a certain number of Ga-Adangme who were more or less assimilated to Ewe groups linguistically and politically, although they have maintained much of their pre-Ewe culture.

Linguistic Affiliation. Pazzi's (1976) comparative dictionary of Ewe, Adja, Guin, and Fon languages demonstrates that they are very closely related, all originating centuries ago with the people of the royal city of Tado. They belong to the Kwa Language Group. Numerous dialects exist inside the family of Ewe proper, such as Anlo, Kpelle, Danyi, and Be. Adja dialects include Tado, Hweno, and Dogbo. Fon, the language of the Kingdom of Dahomey, includes the Abomey, Xweda, and Wemenu dialects as well as numerous others. Kossi (1990, 5, 6) insists that the overarching name for this extended family of languages and peoples should be Adja rather than Ewe/Fon, given their common origin in Tado, where the Adja language, mother of the other tongues, is still spoken.


History and Cultural Relations

The Adja Kingdom of Tado, in an area constantly populated since prehistory and known for metalworking and other crafts, was situated near the east bank of the Mono River, at about the same latitude as Abomey. It was probably built by immigrants from the Oyo Kingdom or from Ketu, to the east (Nigeria). Most Adja people today still live in and around Tado. Fon and Ewe peoples are the descendants of emigrants from Tado who intermarried with other groups they encountered en route to their present-day locations.

Ewe populations today are the result of various migrations moving west and toward the coast, eventually dominated by emigrants of the Adja Kingdom of Tado, who first settled in the new vassal kingdom of Notse. Early in the seventeenth century they left Notse in several groups and settled farther south and west. Their descendants eventually became the Anlo, Abutia, Be, and Kpelle, as well as the Oatchi, further south and east, in the Vogan area.

Anlo Ewe, who settled in the Volta region, in what is now the southeastern corner of the Republic of Ghana, were located in one of the strategic areas of the Atlantic slave trade. In 1683 Keta was already an important slave market. By 1727 Dutch and English slave traders were posted in Aflao, and in 1784 the Danes built a fort in Keta; Anlo territory thus became a center for the Atlantic trade. Anlo Ewe participated in the capture and sale of slaves to Europeans, and many were themselves sold into slavery and taken to the New World.

In close contact with their militarily superior and more politically centralized Asante neighbors, Anlo nevertheless were a separate polity and have maintained an Ewe identity until the present. Dominated by Akwamu during the first third of the eighteenth century, they joined with them and the army of Ouidah to war against Aliada. Numerous other local wars withand againstAkan armies involved Anlo Ewe during the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries.

Trading with Europeans was an aspect of Anlo Ewe life almost from the beginning of their settlement in the area. Bremen missionaries and other Christian emissaries set anchor in Eweland both in the Volta region and inland on the (now) Togolese side during the nineteenth century. Various Ewe populations were under close colonial supervision during the British regime on the Gold Coast and during German control of Togoland. After World War I, approximately a third of Togoland, including much of Eweland, became a part of the Gold Coast; the remainder of the country taken from the Germans became a French protectorate called Togo. Thus Eweland was split in two, and remains so today. Ewe, who were mostly "southerners," were among the first in the two countries to receive an education in British and French colonial schools.

Fon are among those who left Tado to found the Kingdom of Aliada; some of them subsequently left Aliada, around 1610, and migrated toward Abomey, where they succeeded in dominating the native Dahomey population some 70 years later. Fon created the royal city of Abomey (where the famous "Amazons" had their headquarters), and other Fon founded the city of Ouidah. The two cities were linked, both high places of slave commerce during the Atlantic Trade. The Brazilian Francisco de Souza, a key figure on the Slave Coast of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, established slave trading posts and built forts both in Aneho among the Mina (now in Togo) and in Ouidah among the Fon (now in Benin).

The Fon Kingdom of Dahomey, which lasted from 1625 until its defeat by the French in 1893, is legendary, thanks to numerous visitors and their accounts, from those of Bosman (seventeenth century), Norris (eighteenth century), and Burton (nineteenth century), to those of twentieth-century ethnographers, including Le Hérissé (1911) and Herskovits (1938). Focal to the Atlantic trade on the Slave Coast, the kingdom was expansionist but highly centralized only in and around its main citiesAbomey, Aliada, and (much later) Ouidahhigh places of art, courtly ceremony, and commerce with Europeans. The kingdom was said to include a territory much larger than it could effectively control, from the Volta River in the west to Badagary in the east, and northward to the 8th parallel. Its coastline, however, extended only 16 kilometers on either side of Ouidah. Although it was thus about 39,000 square kilometers in area, the king had authority only within some 10,400 square kilometers of that territory. Numerous wars and intrigues, including captures and contests of nerves with European envoys, mark the history of the Kingdom of Dahomey. Its more cruel kings were renowned for human sacrifice (always a royal prerogative), the stunning extent of which is described in perhaps exaggerated terms by some writers (e.g., Herskovits 1938, 2:52-56).

Although many Ewe and Fon are Christian (perhaps the highest percentage among the Ghana Ewe), the majority continue to practice Vodu or Tro worship, which has remained the religion of the Adja-Tado peoples for centuries.


Settlements

Ewe and Fon live mostly in villages and towns, although there are some more isolated farming compounds. Rectangular mud brick houses and concrete brick dwellings with gabled or corrugated-iron roofs are predominant except along the ocean, where there are numerous palm-frond huts with straw- or palm-thatch gabled roofs. Small huts or buildings are often clustered in a single compound with an open court, all surrounded by a mud wall. In ocean-front fishing villages, fragile palm-frond fences give some privacy to clusters of small huts. People living in the same compound are usually members of the same patrilineage (to-fome ), although kinship is extremely open to outside recruitment; fictive kin may even predominate in certain cases. Large villages may have central marketplaces. Today there are a number of cities and large towns in which Ewe and Fon constitute the largest portion of the population. Ewe are a majority in Tema and Aflao (Ghana) and in Lome, Kpalime, and Tsévié (Togo). Adja dominate in Tado, and Mina-Guin in the Glidji-Aneho area (Togo). Abomey, Aliada, Ouidah, Grand Popo, Cotonou, and other towns in Benin are largely populated by Fon and related groups.


Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Ewe and Fon are farmers, fishermen, and market women. Nowadays they occupy all the positions and jobs to be found in government, civil service, business, and production. Staple crops are yams, maize, and manioc. (Millet was once important.) Beans, peas, peanuts, sorghum, sweet potatoes, onions, okra, peppers, gourds, papayas, bananas, plantains, mangoes, pineapples, oil palms, and some rice and cocoa are also grown. Animals raised include pigs, sheep, goats, dogs, chickens, guinea fowl, ducks, and pigeons. Fishing is of primary importance along the coast and in the Volta region. Cash crops include palm kernels, peanuts, copra, castor beans, kapok, and, by far the most important, coffee and cocoa.

Along the coast, from Accra to Porto-Novo, hundreds of thousands of Ewe and Fon women work in the ports and markets. From Lome to Cotonou, Ewe and Fon market womenboth wholesalers and retailershave a near monopoly on the internal economy. Even in small villages, many women are traders and retailers, selling anything from homemade fermented corn porridge to Coca Cola, often specializing in a single item such as fresh or home-smoked fish, imported Dutch wax cloth, fresh fruits and vegetables, or trade beads.

Industrial Arts. Ewe and Fon engage in pottery making, wood sculpting (mostly for religious use), and basketwork; in the past, every village had a blacksmith (see "Arts").

Trade. Ewe have traded with Asante and Fante, and Fon have traded with Yoruba and Hausa for as long as they have had their present identity. The slave trade and the salt trade brought other traders from the north of present Ewe and Fon regions, including as far north as Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) and perhaps Mali and Niger. Portuguese traders reached the coast in the fifteenth century, even before the Ewe and Fon had migrated that far. By the seventeenth century, when the Volta region had become home to an Ewe polity and the Kingdom of Dahomey had regular relations with Ouidah, European commercial envoys were no longer a novelty on what was then called the Slave Coast. The Atlantic commerce in slaves was a significant aspect of Ewe and Fon life for two centuries.

Market activities are central in all Ewe and Fon regions. Women almost always have something to sell on market days, including foodstuffs they make themselves. They often buy their husband's or brothers' catch of fish fresh from the sea or river and take it straight to various markets. Or they smoke the fish and take them to markets farther inland. Today European, U.S., and Chinese goods are available even in small Ewe and Fon village markets more than 150 kilometers from the coast, often taken there by local women who buy the goods in coastal cities. In Togo, Ewe and Mina are said to be trading peoples willing to travel far to engage in commerce, thereby distinguishing themselves from more northern and more strictly agricultural groups who stay closer to the land.

Division of Labor. Apart from the special status of kings in the Kingdom of Dahomey and occasionally chiefs in Ewe regions, who did not perform manual labor, the main division of labor is along gender lines. Men do heavy agricultural labor such as clearing the land and staking yam vines; they fish, hunt, and build houses. Women participate in the above activities also, such as preparing the palm-frond walling or fencing necessary to hut building, taking charge of butchered animals and fish, and carrying out almost all agricultural tasks except the very heaviest. Women also carry headloads as heavy as any load men can carry. Although it is often said that only women headload, this is patently untrue. Women are in charge of most market activities, although they may hire men to help them. One of the few items usually sold by men in the market is beef, often brought by Hausa or other Muslim traders. Most other kinds of work, including cooking, may be done by women and men, and even the above-mentioned divisions of labor are not absolute. Women and children may join with men in pulling in the enormous and heavy fishing nets from the surf after a catch. Gender-specific cash savings and work collectives abound, enabling members to have their own banking as well as support in house building, clearing land, harvesting, fishing, marketing, and all other labors. Especially notable are the Fon dokpwe, or cooperative, and the Ewe esodjodjo, or tontine (French). Both women and men engage in child care, although women are considered to have greater responsibility in this regard. Groups of men and groups of women may take care of any and all village children in their vicinity at any given time.

Land Tenure. Anyone from a particular region can farm on land that is not occupied by anyone else. Inside a settlement, a person wishing to employ land must ask permission of the village chief or the elders of the lineage owning the land. Formerly, rights have extended only to use of land; there was no absolute right to the land itself. In the Kingdom of Dahomey, land was by definition the property of the king. In most Ewe regions, land is inherited and administrated by elders of each patriline; any lineage member may build or farm on lineage land as long as she or he respects the rights of others nearby who are already established on the land. Widows of patriline members or other persons not members of the lineage may stay on the land and farm it, but it cannot pass definitively into another lineage. Only in the last few generations has land come to be alienable from lineage tenure by being mortgaged or sold. It is possible for palm groves and other wealth on the land to be passed on matrilineally, especially in Anlo and Glidji, where Akan matrilineal practices have influenced Ewe groups. Land not already belonging to a lineage (of which there is scarcely any now) may be acquired personally through simply clearing the land, or buying it from non-Ewe or non-Fon owners; the owner may dispose of such land without consulting lineage elders. Both women and men have rights to lineage land, often now called "inheritance of land," but, in areas where land is scarce, women have difficulty claiming such rights. Where lineage land is now alienable, plot by plot (e.g., southern Togo), women may, with difficulty, have a share in the proceeds of sales.


Kinship

Kin Groups and Descent. Descent is primarily patrilineal, although among Ewe groups there are sometimes elements of double descent or of influence from Akan matriliny, such as rights of mother's brother in sister's children (including rights to pawn them). Fon have exogamous patrisibs composed of lineages, but in the Kingdom of Dahomey the royal sib had exceptional rules. Princesses married commoners and their children belonged to the royal sib, as did the offspring of royal princes. Cross-cousin marriage is preferred among most Ewe and Fon groups, particularly with mother's brother's daughter. Anlo Ewe established a clan (hlo ) system soon after their arrival in Anlo. Long-term Anlo residents are still divided into some thirteen clans, including the Blu clan, which was specifically created for resident strangers, made "Ewe" by virtue of their clan belonging. During certain periods, there has been a preference for clan endogamy.

Kinship Terminology. Brothers, sisters, and all first cousins are referred to as novi; father is referred to as to, and mother is referred to as no. Classificatory mothers and fathers, siblings, and cousins are also referred to by these terms. Other terms may differ between Ewe groups and between Ewe and Fon. An Iroquois system for parents1 generation is general among Ewe, except that in some regions father's brothers are ata rather than versions of to or eto (Anlo), reserved for father; and mother's sisters are na rather than no or eno, which is reserved for mother. The most significant variations are terms for father's sistersete (Anlo) or tasi (Guin-Mina)and mother's brothersnyrui (Anlo) or nyine (Guin-Mina). The Iroquois aspects are clearer in terms of address, which lump together parents, parents' same-sex siblings, and Ego's older siblings and cousins: efo (father or father's brothers), fofo or fofovi (younger uncle; cousin or brother older than Ego), fogan (older uncle or eldest brothers and cousins); da or dada (mother, mother's sisters), davi or dadavi (younger aunt, cousin or sister older than Ego), and dagan (older aunts and eldest cousins and sisters). Mother's brother and father's sister, however, do not have specific terms of direct address, but are addressed more formally as nyrui and ete. Fon employ descriptive terms for avuncular and nepotic kinsmen; cousin terminology is also descriptive.


Marriage and Family

Marriage. Most Ewe and Fon marriages are patrilocal, although neolocal residence has become popular in the late twentieth century. Polygyny is the rule if a man has means to marry more than one wife. It is often said that an abuse of polygyny leads wives to leave their husbands for other men, often younger and as yet unmarried, so that women also tend to have more than one husband in their lifetimes. Fon marriages are of two general types, one more prestigious than the other. Prestigious marriage includes payments by the groom to the bride's father or premarital farm labor performed by a man for his future father-in-law. Such bride-wealth or work gives a man control over his children. When this is not performed, the mother and her family have all rights over the children; thus, this sort of marriage is less desirable or prestigious for a husband. Herskovits (1938) outlines thirteen different variations of these two major marriage categories. A man must never refuse a wife offered him, and divorce may be initiated only by the wife's family. In many Ewe groups, marriage is less marked by bride-wealth or bride-service, and even if a man offers only the required drinks and cloths to his bride and her family, he may claim the children as members of his own patriline. In case of separation, a father may keep his children with him, although in many cases wives are allowed to raise the children, and rotation of children between divorced parents is perhaps as common among Ewe as it is in the United States. Among Anlo families, it is often the father's sister who arranges the marriage when a young man wishes a certain young woman to be his wife. The simple giving of gifts to the young woman and her family and the sharing of drinks and libations, often a modest affair, is, even so, a marriage ceremony and a binding ritual that links two lineages and sets in motion serious obligations. Pregnancy makes a marriage complete. In the Kingdom of Dahomey, virginity was demanded of brides in prestigious marriages. In Anlo, too, the marriage-payment might be less if the bride was found not to be a virgin; today many couples become intimate before arranging a marriage. Christian Ewe and Fon proceed according to the arrangements prescribed in their churches.

Domestic Unit. Patrilineal three- or four-generational extended family compounds, as well as agnatic extended family compounds, are common. Another model is a nuclear-family household (often with children from previous marriages) that eventually is joined by other relatives, such as the couple's younger siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, and foster children. If the husband has not vowed monogamy, in time, other wives and their children may come to expand the compound (each wife with her own hut or little house). In many cases, other wives and their children form separate households. Adolescent boys may have collective sleeping quarters separate from their mothers and sisters.

Inheritance. Most Fon property, including land, is inherited patrilineally, although some lineage land remains. Among Ewe groups, lineage land and whatever is on itpalm groves, houses, fields, and shrinesideally remains within the lineage, although much lineage land is being broken up and sold nowadays. Rights to lineage land are primarily patrilineal. Cloth wealth and jewelry sometimes become lineage property too, along with ancestral stools. Individual property, which may include rights to land and fields, may be inherited patrilineally or matrilineally, depending on the Ewe subgroup. (In Anlo and Glidji, for example, much private property, including oil-palm trees, is inherited matrilineally.) In some areas the eldest son inherits land rights, but livestock and other individual property go to a man's sister's son. In Lome inheritance is mixed.

Socialization. Virtually everyone, but especially older siblings, takes care of the children. Grandparents, both female and male, also spend considerable time with children. Fishermen in from the sea often sit around in groups during the afternoon, playing boardgames and watching over young children at the same time. Toddlers are passed from person to person, including adolescent boys, who appear to enjoy taking their turns. Mothers and all female relatives carry babies on their backs for much of the day; sometimes doting fathers or other male relatives also wrap babies and toddlers on their backs. Ewe adolescents experiment with sexuality early in their teen years, and nowadays pregnancy at a young age, even if the mother is unmarried, is not especially discouraged in many communities. Thus virginity is not as highly valued as it once was. Young girls help their mothers, often caring for smaller children or carrying loads to market, boys as young as 10 may go to sea with the men and go over the side of the pirogue to drive a school of fish into the nets. Inland, young boys and girls help perform agricultural tasks and care for animals. Children are present at all important social and religious events and may, at a very early age, become "spouses" of important spirits or gods, thus inheriting sizable responsibilities and the special, often prestigious, identity, that goes with them. Children as young as 10 may go into trance during Vodu (Fon and Guin-Mina) or Tro (Anlo Ewe) possession ceremonies. They also enjoy such events as recreation and take advantage of opportunities for drumming, singing, and dancing performances; teenagers and young adults may court during and after such religious rituals.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. There is virtually no formal hierarchy in many Ewe groups, except for the difference between slaves and their owners in times past. Even this crucial difference is now subject to ritual, during which some Ewe worship the spirits of their ancestors' slaves, thereby turning the tables on their past position of superiority. In Anlo there is some prestige in "royal" lineages, but there is no real class system other than that brought into existence by the capitalist economy, which now touches all Ewe and Fon to some extent, and especially those who live in towns and cities. In the Kingdom of Dahomey, the royal lineages were effectively an elite who did not labor. Both Ewe and Fon had domestic slaves, who often married nonslaves and had children with them. The children in some communities were a sort of in-between class; in other localities, they were free. In any case, after two or three generations, they were no longer tied to a slave class.

Political Organization. Although the Anlo polity was called a "state" at various periods, Green (1981, 1995) maintains it was not a true state but rather an attempt at centralization. The organizing principles were religious and clan-based rather than political or military in the strict sense. The Anlo did not have expansionist ambitions to compare with those of their Asante neighbors, who often ruled over them, or those of their Fon neighbors to the east, who maintained a royal city and a standing army. As early as the seventeenth century in the Volta region, elders were at the head of lineages, wards (lineage residential units), and villages. The awoamefia (political and spiritual leader, or chief priest) resided in Anloga. At the turn of the twentieth century, Ewe polities were divided into about 120 independent divisions. Each division had a number of villages, with a subchief in each one, and its own capital, with a paramount chief and military commander-inchief. Succession was patrilineal. Today political organization in villages may be quite egalitarian, although chiefs and elders (both male and female) do have more decision-making authority than younger adults. Fon villages had village autonomy before they were consolidated into a kingdom in the seventeenth century, and thus each village chief was a "king" (toxosu ) to whom the heads of each compound answered. The Kingdom of Dahomey forced these chiefs to swear loyalty to the ruler or be sacrificed (some were sold into slavery). Sibs in Fon villages have considerable political influence, as do clans in Anlo and lineages and religious societies in other Ewe regions; the chief is hardly all-powerful.

Social Control. Although during the colonial period chiefs had considerable control (and still do as far as administrative decisions are concerned), authority is widely distributed in villages and regions. Whereas all Ewe and Fon are nominally under the jurisdiction of British- and French-inspired legal systems, the laws of the ancestors and the moral frameworks of Vodu worship tend to have just as much, if not more, authority than official law in many communities. Even in colonial and precolonial periods, the office of chief and the ranks of the elders were usually filled with men (and some women) who were linked to religious orders.

Individual behavior for many is constantly interpreted and adjusted through the lenses of Afa (or Fa) divination, which includes the "laws of destiny," or the "law-deity who brought me here" (esesidomeda ). Thus, supernatural sanctions are more powerful than state legal systems for numerous Ewe and Fon. In the Kingdom of Dahomey, kings were tyrannical according to numerous sources; village chiefs, in keeping with earlier practices, were not. Decisions of village chiefs had to be reported to the king, however, so that final control was in his hands. The king's tribunal of chiefs was expected to judge harshly so that the king himself could demonstrate clemency by lightening the sentence. During the colonial period, there was great tension between certain Ewe Vodu orders and colonial administrators who claimed the Vodu "courts" were presuming to take the place of official courts. Numerous shrines were thus destroyed by German and British authorities. Vodu worshipers often did not consider the powers of the colonial governments to be legitimate.

Conflict. Conflict in villages is typically brought to a group of "judges," including the chief, Vodu priests, and both male and female elders. The entire village has the right to attend, and whoever wishes to speak may do so. Often divorce cases, theft, assault, and instances of injury through witchcraft do not go before official courts of law. Even cases that do go before official courts of law, including murder, may be rejudged by Vodu priests and communities because the conflict at the source of the crime is not thought to be merely personal. All conflict is a reflection of the social body in its relationship to the rest of the cosmos (see "Social Control").


Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Various Vodu (Fon) and Tro (Ewe) orders are at the foundation of Fon and Ewe religion. A High God exists, according to numerous informants. Ewe may say that Mawu is the creator, similar to the Christian god, or, for some, more like the diffuse life force of the universe. For yet others, Mawu is the "mother/father" of all the Trowo (powerful spirits or deities). Among Fon, Mawu and Lisa are a couple, twins, or a female (Mawu) and male (Lisa) hermaphrodite divinity. Fon may say the world was created by Nana-Buluku, who gave birth to Mawu and Lisa. For others, Nana-Buluku, Mawu, and Lisa are all Vodus, and there is no all-powerful separate creator. Among Anlo Ewe, Nyigbla, the deity of the Sacred Forest is very important, as well as the entire pantheon of Yehve spirits, including Heviesso, god of thunder and lightning, and Avle, a goddess who sometimes impersonates men. Gu or Egu, the warrior and hunter god of iron, is central among all Ewe and Fon groups. There are a number of other Tro and Vodu orders, including Gorovodu, which is popular across Ewe and Fon populations in Ghana, Togo, and Benin. Mama Tchamba, a related order, involves the worship of the spirits of slaves from the north that Ewe once owned and married. The selfhood of each individual is involved with these major deities and spirit personalities. They are also protectors, healers, judges, and consummate performers. All Vodu and Tro orders work hand in hand with Afa (or Fa) divination, a complex interpretive framework within which each person has a life sign (kpoli ), of which there are a total of 256. Each sign is connected to a set of plants and animals, stories and songs, dietary taboos, Vodus, and dangers and strengths, all associated with each other, as though clan-related. Events, projects, activities, and relationships also have their own Afa signs. Everything in the universe is related to Afa texts and themes, as though nature itself were divided into exogamous clans.

Many Ewe and Fon have become Christians; given their proximity to the coast, these ethnic groups were among the first to accept Christianity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Certain Christian groups originating in West Africa, such as Aladura and Celeste, have a considerable following on the coast.

Religious Practitioners. Vodu and Tro priests are usually men, but postmenopausal women may become priestesses. The great majority of spirit hosts or "wives" of the Vodus are women. Priests, priestesses, and "wives" of the Yehve deities (Sosi, Avlesi, Dasi, etc.) do not usually practice trance. Afa diviners are almost always men, although it is said that a woman can become a diviner if she wishes.

Ceremonies. Vodu and Tro ceremonies are compelling performances for both insiders and outsiders. Worshipers who begin dancing to the drum music may go into trance. Spirits who possess their "wives" may have messages for the community, may take part in judging certain cases of conflict, and may heal the sick. Above all, they are dancing gods, and there are aesthetic conventions that have long traditions. In Vodu orders where possession is not usual, ceremonies are all the more dazzling because of the perfection of their collective execution. Rows of dancers, all clothed in ceremonial attire, move across a ritual space as one person, performing specific movements. Drums always provide a sort of text or context for movement, including narrative associations and instruction. Ceremonies are events during which symbolic associations are reinforced, individual and collective identity is stated, certain aspects of identity and power are recalled and redistributed, healing and admonishment take place, and, above all, collective exhilaration, ecstasy, and awe are produced. Ceremonies are always gifts to the gods.

Afa divination involves numerous complicated rituals based on a binary system of questions and responses, and permutations of the 256 life signs associated with collections of oral texts.

Arts. Some Ewe men specialize in weaving prized kente cloth (similar to that of Asante), worn during all important occasions. The weaving is done on small looms that produce narrow strips of brightly colored cloth that must be sewn together to make a kente 76 to 152 centimeters wide and as long as 4.5 meters. There are numerous combinations of colors and patterns that bear great significance for the wearers. Now batik art, brought from Indonesia, is practiced in Togo and is popular among tourists. Fon artists are widely known for their appliqué hangings with legendary motifs from the Kingdom of Dahomey and Vodu culture. Elaborate engraving or carving of calabashes is another Fon art. Brass casting (using the cireperdue, or lost-wax method) has been practiced by the Fon since early times. Brass workers belonged to special guilds in the Kingdom of Dahomey; they created some of the more striking objects constituting the king's wealth. Silverwork was also mastered. Both Ewe and Fon still carve wooden bocio figures for spiritual practices, as well as Legba statues (guardian deities) and other Vodu god-objects. Earthen Legbas are also common. Some god-objects, entirely abstract in form, are confected as a collage-sculpture, with numerous ingredients including cowry shells, goat horns, cows' tails, birds' claws, iron bells, and tree roots, all united with red clay and glazed with the blood of sacrificial animals. Drums of many different kinds are produced for specific ceremonies. Vodu costumes for spirit possession may be richly adorned with cowries sewn on in patterns. All of the objects necessary for Afa (Ewe) or Fa (Fon) divination are also created with great care and elaboration; thus they are sometimes bought by Europeans as objects of art. Stools are important to Ewe and Fon lineages. They are often carved with narrative detail so that their symbolic significance is inscribed for future generations to see.

Medicine. Today many Fon and Ewe seek medical assistance in modern clinics and hospitals and go to Westerntrained doctors. They may also frequent local healers and Vodu priests who employ plants and carbonized ingredients, as well as rituals to address illness and conflicts playing themselves out in a person's body and soul. Vodu medicine is not hostile to modern biomedicine. Upon asking Afa, though divination, what to do about illness, a sufferer may be told by Afa to go to a doctor in town. Vodu medicine is particularly effective in cases of madness. Ingestion of roots and plants, as well as "speaking pain and desire" to the Vodus make it possible for the alienated to mourn losses and go on with life once again.

Death and Afterlife. Upon death, certain aspects of the person are lost forever in their individuated form, whereas other aspects, for example, the djoto, or reincarnation soul, will come back in the next child born to the lineage. The luvo, or death soul, may linger for some time after death, looking just like the person in life and frightening loved ones with demands for attention and its cravings to be still with the living. According to some informants, the person as constituted in life does not survive death, but parts of the personality may indeed continue and even join with Vodus, as part of the conglomerate energy and personality of a deity. Others say that the spirit realm mirrors human life in every aspect, so that after death individuals go on in much the same way as before. Funerals are the single most important event in a person's history, more lavish and expensive than any other celebration or feast. Groups of drummers are hired, and mourners may dance throughout the night for several nights in succession. Attending funerals and contributing to them financially and with food and drink are among the most binding obligations for lineage members, neighbors, friends, chiefs, and Vodu worshipers (above all, for those who belong to the same order as the deceased).


Bibliography

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Blier, Suzanne-Preston (1995). African Vodun: Art, Psychofogy, and Power. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.


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Verger, Pierre (1957). Notes sur le culte des orisa et vodun à Bahía, h baie de tous les saints, au Brésil et à l'ancienne Côte des Esclaves en Afrique. Dakar: Mémoires de l'Institut Français d'Afrique Noire, no. 51.


JUDY ROSENTHAL

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