Nicknamed the West African Latin Quarter by the French for its intellectualism, Benin has a strong culture of discussion and debate. Politically, the Beninese feel they have borne a lot to achieve their stable democracy and are wary of their troubled neighbors, Togo and Nigeria. Beninese women may be a formidable presence on the streets but this is a firmly patriarchal society and they tolerate some inequality. However, they do have vital roles in society and the workforce-even in the Muslim north of the country. Benins economy is primarily dependent on subsistence farming, which accounts for 38% of the GDP. Yams, maize, cassava and corn are the principal food crops.
Most of Benins ethnic groups are patrilineal and occasionally polygamous. Marriages are still arranged by families and divorce is rare. Average life expectancy is around 53, with an AIDS rate of about 2% and some 70,000 people living with the virus. Women have 5.9 children each on average and nearly 50% of the population is under 14 years old. Some 30% of the population is Christian, 20% is Muslim and 50% practice traditional beliefs such as Voodoo. Whatever their religion, most people practice some form of Voodoo.
Location: The Fon of Benin, originally called Dahomey until 1975, are from West Africa. The Fon are said to have originated in the area of Tado, a town in Tago, at approximately the same latitude as Abomey, Benin.
History: The Fon culture is made up of more than 2,000,000 people. They are closely related to the Ewe, Adja, and Guin cultures by comparison of language. They belong to the Kwa Language group. Fon created the royal cities of Abomey and Ouidah. These two cities were popular for slave commerce. Fons became prosperous by trading slaves for weapons from the Europeans. Now, war and slave trading are of little importance compared to a family and ancestors.
Many Fon are Christian but the majority continue to practice Voodoo. The Fon name for God or Spirit is Vodu. Worship of a Vodu often means an initiate being possessed or captured by the spirit he chooses or the spirit that might choose him. For the rest of his life, he will seek the advice of the spirit who possessed him. A popular part of Fon belief is that each clan is said to be a descendent of a part human part non-human ancestor. The Fon do not believe in one all-powerful separate God.
Daily Life: Fon live in villages and towns where they make up large portions of the population. They live in divided sections, which are separated by a relation to a specific male ancestor. The compounds (houses) are rectangular shaped with walls made of dried mud and gable roofs covered by corrugated iron. When a man and woman marry, they will move to live near the father of the groom and inherit his property. Fon men are allowed to have more than one wife, but if this privilege is abused, the wife is free to divorce and remarry. Divorce is quite common throughout the culture. A man must not refuse a wife offered to him and divorce can only be granted if the family of the wife initiates a request.
Fon are farmers, fishermen, and market women. Division of labor is categorized by gender. Women make material to build huts, care for butchered meat, and carry out most agricultural work. They are also in charge of market work. Men and women participate equally in the lives of their children. Although the mother, father, and grandparents take active parts in the raising of their children, older siblings take especially good care of them. Elders and fishermen often sit around and play board games and dance with the young.
Funerals in the culture are the most important part of a members history. Drummers are hired and dances may be held for days in a row to morn the death of a loved one. The Fons believe that part of the person is lost in death but the other is reincarnated and comes back in the soul of the next child born to the family.
Best Known Features: The Fon culture is well known for their religious ceremonies. Drums are always used as a sort of special meaning in every activity that takes place. Voodoo ceremonies usually begin with the playing of the drums and then an initiate will fall into a trance and become possessed by a spirit. Voodoo events are not only intriguing to members but outsiders as well.