Bokonon

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In Fongbe, the language of the Fon people of Benin Republic, the Bokonon is an exceptional diviner, who after several years of arduous and sustained training is initiated to the Fá rituals and language. In Africa, particularly in the Republic of Benin, the belief in divine ancestors or divinities and the consultation of the Bokonon have remained active and strong. The Bokonon is all the more revered today, although some bamboozled proselytes are in denial of the important role of a Bokonon in modern societies.
The Bokonon is a noble practitioner of the Fá divination. In the Fon Cosmology, the Fá (IFá in Yoruba) is the Messenger of Mawu-Lisa, the Supreme God, and the spokesterson of all deities. Consisting of 256 signs, of which 16 are main signs and 240 are secondary signs, the Fá is the spirit that enlightens, guides, and controls human destiny. Only the Fa, through the intermediary of the Bokonon, can find solutions to all problems after detecting and revealing the causes. The Fá sheds light on people's past, predicts the future, and prescribes the appropriate conduct for a happy life. As a system of divination, the Fá speaks in parables, and only the Bokonon can translate and explain these parables, recommend proper recipes, and perform relevant sacrifices. Before every important ceremony or function, it is imperative to consult the Bokonon.
The Bokonon is highly respected, almost deified. He is the Counselor of the King, hence the most important person in the Cabinet. The King always refers to the Bokonon for all significant matters pertaining to the stability of the Kingdom, and his recommendations are strictly heeded. The Bokonon is consulted for all major decisions. For example, a chief cannot be appointed without consulting the Bokonon; the King must consult the Bokonon before sending troops to war. In marriage, the Bokonon is consulted to determine whether the union is a good one. Even in childbirth, from pregnancy through delivery, the life of a child is announced and oriented by the Fa, who, through the Bokonon, predicts the fate of the child and recommends applicable sacrifices to be performed for the child's well-being.
The Bokonon begins his divination by invoking the names of divine ancestors, the gods of the sky, and the Earth and sea deities to receive their blessing and guidance to carry out his work successfully. As the legitimate interpreter of the Fa, the Bokonon goes through a complex and ritualistic procedure, talks in parables, and uses allegories, which may appear like rigmarole to a nonhabituated person. Throughout the consultation, the Bokonon sings prophetic songs in honor of the deities.
At the conclusion of his consultation, the Bokonon pays due homage to the Fá through litanies while beating out the rhythm of the tune either on the ground or the edge of his Fáté (slate that bears the Fá signs) with his baton, called Lonflin. Indeed, the Bokonon's tools include the Fáté (slate), Houé (kaolin powder to sprinkle over the slate), Akpélè (traditional chaplet), Adjikouin (special dried nuts), Lonflin (baton), Akwêkoun (cowry shells), 36 Dékoun (36 dried palm kernels), Fá Dôkpó (cloth bag holding all accessories but the slate), and Zan (sleeping mat).
An all-round Bokonon is versatile. He has a good command of all three stages of the Fá divination—Fá titê or Fá kikan (consultation of the Fa), Vô aide (explication of the prophecy), and Vô sisá or adra (performance of appropriate sacrifices for satisfactory results). To pass through the divination crucible and emerge as a true Bokonon, one must master at least the first two stages of the Fá divination. The profession of Bokonon is considered solely the province of men.

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Further Reading

  • Bascom, W. (1969). IFá Divination: Communication Between Gods and Men in West Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Clochard, B. (Ed.). (1993). Ouidah: Petite anthologie historique. Cotonou, Benin: FIT Edition.