An Ode to Ancestors

By Kallanian, Susanne | School Arts, February 2005 | Go to article overview

An Ode to Ancestors


Kallanian, Susanne, School Arts


About the Fon Peoples

The Fon live in the southern part of the People's Republic of Benin. They inhabit an area about the size of Connecticut. To this day, many Fon are farmers. They plant yams, corn, and cotton, and cultivate palm trees that produce palm oil. Ancient beliefs in spirits and natural powers (called vodun) that govern the world and provide a spiritual philosophy for living are still part of the Fon worldview, although many Fon have adapted the Christian faith.

More than a century ago, the city of Abomey, approximately eighty miles from the coast, was the capital of the Fon people's kingdom of Dahomey, At the center of the city was the king's splendid palace with noblemen and their entourages, a household with royal wives, and family groups of artists who worked for the kings. Founded in the late seventeenth century, the kingdom gradually expanded its territory, securing the port of Ouidah in the early eighteenth century. With the access to this important harbor town, Dahomey became involved in the transatlantic slave trade, which drew a growing number of foreign traders and visitors to the West African coast. Ouidah, in particular, developed into a cosmopolitan town. Yoruba, who live mostly in Nigeria and are neighbors of the Fon, and Europeans from many countries, added to the rich cultural mix of the region. When the slave trade was abolished in the first half of the nineteenth century, freed African slaves returned from Brazil to the West African coast, and in particular to Ouidah as traders and craftspeople.

With constant expansion in agricultural production, trade, population growth, and land acquired through military conquest, Dahomey was at the height of its power in the early nineteenth century. When European powers invaded Africa in the late nineteenth century to appropriate territories, the kingdom yielded to the French and became part of a French colony. It was not until 1960 that the region regained independence. The newly independent country of Dahomey was named for the famous kingdom within its borders and changed its name to the People's Republic of Benin in the early 1970s.

The Fon, among many of the peoples in the Republic, play a crucial role in national affairs, and are actively involved in economic and political decision-making. Fon society of southern Benin today reflects the meeting of cultures over the past 200 years. European influences mix with Yoruba contributions and those of other peoples in the larger region. Not surprisingly, asen altars, a sacred art form, reflect the blending and richness of all these cultures.

About the Art

"We are born with death." Fort proverb For African societies, important kinship groups include not only the nuclear and extended family, but also the lineage, the long line of ancestors, through which an individual traces his or her descent. The worship of these ancestors is an integral part of Fon life. To commemorate dead family members, the Fon employ skilled blacksmiths to forge iron altars in the form of staffs called asen. Every family, each of which lives in its own compound, owns many asen and stores them in a specially designated building in a central courtyard where rituals and ceremonies take place.

Each ancestor usually has one asen. However, individuals of higher status or royals may have numerous asen. The eldest woman of the family is responsible for their care. Asen function as the point of contact between the living and the dead. They remind the living of their obligation to honor and remember those in the world beyond. Ancestors provide counsel and help, but if disregarded or offended, they can do harm to the living. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

An Ode to Ancestors
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.