Two Fon Mythologies
#146 – He Face/She Face
One of the greatest debates in al times has been whether or not the supreme deity known as God has a male persona or a female person. The Fon culture of Dahomey, Benin, resolved that problem with their mythologies, especially the legend of the Rainbow Serpent.
Benin, once known as Dahomey, is a country in West Africa. It is a present-day democracy with a healthy society from civic perspectives. However, economically the area is underdeveloped with a great deal of corruption. Historically Benin was part of Africa’s Slave Coast. Natives were taken captive and transported to foreign lands. They lost their freedom and most if not all lost the most basic of all human rights and dignities but they managed to retain their myths and early religions, the most notable being voodoo.
The Fon believed in a creator god named Mawu-Lisa, a spirit with two faces. Mawu was a female deity whose eyes were thought to be the moon. The other face belonged to Lisa, a male entity whose eyes were the sun. Not surprisingly, Mawu was the ruler of the night while Lisa ruled the day. Mawu had a serpent named Aido-Hwedo who assisted her in creating the world. The serpent was described as a rainbow serpent and was also a female-male being. The myths told that one-half of Aido-Hwedo lived in the sky while the other half lived in the sea and provided defense for the world. The Fon culture attributed the curves of the earth and various topographical features to the movements of the Rainbow Serpent as it traversed the world with Mawu in its mouth creating more things.
Once the creation of the world was complete, legend tells that Mawu realized she had created too much. The earth could not sustain the world of everything. Mawu’s answer was to have Aido-Hwedo coil up and provide a base for the planet and give it support. In keeping with the scientific fact that snakes are cold-blooded creatures, Mawu created an ice-cold sea at the bottom of the world as a home for her Rainbow Serpent. The Fon believed that earthquakes were simply Aido-Hwedo getting comfortable.
Perhaps such a colorful and fanciful myth seems a bit too far-fetched for you but if you give it a chance, there really is a great deal to which we could relate. Every human being shares some traits that are considered either typically male and/or female. I can certainly relate to Mawu realizing at the end of the day that she had too much stuff.
Maybe we really should acknowledge that we all also have at least two faces. Another thing common in the thousand or so cultures found on the African continent is the use of masks. Many are colorful and most are exquisitely carved intricate works of art. In truth we all wear masks every day. I think one of the things I like best about African mythology is the exploration it offers one into self-exploration. I doubt I ever get myself a pet snake, even a stuffed rainbow-colored toy snake. However, after rereading this story I will hopefully be more aware that the mask I wear, the face I present to the world is one of truth and authenticity.
#147 – The Monkey’s Pride
Today someone forwarded me a video about a monkey petting a puppy. The love between the species was adorable and certainly a lesson for us all. It reminded me of the Fon myth from Benin about the monkey that wanted to be a man…and almost made it.
The female-male creator god Mawu-Lisa gave birth to seven children who became among other things, the gods of earth, thunder, sea, iron and war. Mawu then created people and later, animals. Once created, the animals would knead the clay so she could create more animals.
The monkey’s five fingers made him especially suited for the task of preparing the clay and he quickly earned Mawu’s favor. She promised him he could work among the men rather than the animals and walk erect once creation was complete. The monkey became so excited that he walked around all the other animals boasting instead of working. This earned him Mawu’s anger and so he remained an animal forever.
I don’t need to remind you that we all have sometimes let our ego get in our way. The lesson of this myth is also found in the Book of Proverbs, chapter 16, verse 19: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”