God of the Fon, a warlike people of Dahomey. The turbulent history of the Fon kingdom, its defeats and its victories, is reflected in the composite character of the Fon pantheon. Gods were imported from conquered tribes, in order to secure their benevolence, and on occasions the usurpation of a foreign dynasty also led to important changes in worship. The dual deity Mawu-Lisa, for example, came from Aja, to the west of Dahomey.
Although Mawu-Lisa is thought of as a creator deity, the Fon sometimes say that there existed a god prior to Mawu-Lisa. This was Nana Buluku, an androgynous deity, and the progenitor of the dual creator. At the beginning of the present world, however, the Fon recognize only the existence of Mawu-Lisa and their offspring, vodu, sky gods and earth gods. It appears that Mawu-Lisa ‘created’, ‘shaped’, and ‘ordered’ the universe out of a pre-existing material.
In the dual Mawu-Lisa, Mawu is female and Lisa male. They are xoxo, ‘twins’, and their union is regarded as the basis of the universal order. It is a concept that has parallels elsewhere. In Chinese mythology the primordial woman, T'ai Yuan, sometimes combined in her person the masculine Yang and the feminine Yin—the two interacting forces that sustain the cosmos. Likewise among the Zuni Indians of North America, Awonawilona, the creator and sustainer of the world, is he-she. The Fon identify Mawu with the moon, night, fertility, motherhood, gentleness, forgiveness, rest, and joy; and they associate Lisa with the sun, day, heat, work, power, war, strength, and toughness.
Fon cosmology envisages the earth as floating on water, the source of rain and the springs beneath the surface of the ground. Above the earth circle the heavenly bodies on the inner surface of a gourd. Serpentine power, personified as Da, son of the divine pair, assists in the ordering of this cosmos. A serpent, he has a dual nature rather than a female-male identity. When he appears in the rainbow ‘the male is the red portion, the female the blue’. Above the earth Da has 3,500 coils, xasa-xasa, and the same number below: together they support Mawu-Lisa's creation. A way of describing this cosmic interrelationship would be to say that Mawu-Lisa is thought and Da is action. Other vodu of course are assigned parts in the government of the world: the sky is under the charge of androgynous Heyvoso, ‘thunder’ the earth owes allegiance to the dual deity Sakpata, whose dreadful weapon is smallpox; the sea and the waters are the domain of Agbe-Naete, twins of the opposite sex; and to Age is given the barren wastes.
Echoes of Da Aido Hwedo, the cosmic serpent, can be found in Haiti and Surinam. In the former great care is taken never to arouse the anger or jealousy of this deity. On bethrothal young couples offer gifts to the ever-watchful great snake.