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The Fon people constituted the nucleus of the former kingdom of Dahomey, one of the most distinguished kingdoms of the west coast of Africa. Culturally and linguistically, the Fon belong to the Aja group. In the Fon cosmology, Nana Buluku is commonly known as the androgynous deity who represents the “beginning.” Although it is difficult in Dahomean cosmology to speak of one “absolute beginning,” after reference to Nana Buluku has been made to the “beginning,” Nana Buluku does not appear in the story of the “ordering” of the world. Credit for the “ordering” goes to Nana Buluku's progeny, Mawu-Lisa. Indeed, according to Herskovits, there is no specific cult of Nana Buluku in Dahomey, although its preeminence in relation to all deities is recognized.
An essential element in Dahomean cosmology is the genealogy of the Vodu (i.e., god or gods). The purpose is to take into account the allocation among the gods of the different forces that act on men and women. The Fon people speak of the world of Vodu, rather than of the relations between the Vodu and this world. Thus, according to the Fon creation story, Nana Buluku gave birth to the dual deity Mawu-Lisa (also known simply as Mawu). Mawu is the female, and Lisa is the male.
Mawu is thought to be a Janus-like figure associated with the moon, and Lisa is associated with the sun. Their dual nature represents the complementary forces in the universe: Mawu, the female, is fertility, motherhood, gentleness, and forgiveness, whereas Lisa, the male, is power, warlike strength, and toughness. The idea of twin beings personifies the equilibrium preserved between asymmetrical complements, which are the nature of the world.
In the process of ordering the world, Mawu-Lisa is said to have cooperated and been aided by the deity Da. Da has the character of a force of life and motion, rather than a divine being. Whereas Da is life, Mawu-Lisa is thought. Da manifests itself in the world in a number of ways, chief among them Da Ayido Hwedo, most commonly seen as the rainbow. The name Da also means “serpent” in Fon, and this spiritual entity is always conceived as such.
After Nana Buluku created Mawu-Lisa, it withdrew from the world. Mawu-Lisa went on to give birth to all the Vodu. Each of the Vodu born of Mawu-Lisa was given a domain of responsibility. The Earth is assigned to the dual deity Sakpata, atmospheric phenomena are assigned to the androgynous Sogbo, the sea and the waters are assigned to Agbe-Naete, and uncultivated land where no men live is the responsibility of Age. In fact, the last of the Vodu to be born of Mawu-Lisa is Legba, whose responsibility is to be the interpreter between the Vodu. Another important Vodu to be born of Mawu-Lisa is Gu, generally referred to as the Vodu of iron and the deity of the domestic hearth as well as of crafts.
Because many Yoruba and Fon men and women were taken to the Americas where they were enslaved, the veneration of Nana Buluku continued in the religious practice of Santeria (Cuba), Oyotunji (United States), Candomblé (Brazil), Umbanda (Brazil), Batuque (Brazil), and Lukumi (Cuba). In Santeria, Nana Buluku is an Orisha (god) and is known as the essence of the moon. Nana Buluku is also the mother of the river, whereas Osbun is known as the Queen of the river. Indeed, the continuity from Fon cosmology is apparent because Nana Buluku is also referred to as the Grandmother of the Orishas.

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Further Reading

  • Argyle, W. (1966). The Fon of Dahomey: A History and Ethnography of the Old Kingdom. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.
  • Herskovits, M. J. (1967). Dahomey: An Ancient West African Kingdom. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
  • Mercier, P. (1954). The Fon of Dahomey. In D. Ford (Ed.), African Worlds: Studies in the Cosmological Ideas and Social Values of African Peoples (pp. 210–234). London: Oxford University Press.
  • Montilus, G. (1972). Vodou Fon dans le royaume d'Allada (Bas-Dahomey): Ses images et ses symboles. Cotonou, Benin: Author.