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The Gun and the Fon peoples live in the West Africa region. The Gun people live in Benin, around the Porto-Novo region, and Nigeria. The Fon people live in southern Benin, southwest Nigeria, and Togo, in the Atakpamé region.

For the Gun and Fon, the human is both material (the visible part) and spiritual (several invisible parts). The invisible parts consist of the shadow (the double of the human) that follows him everywhere and serves as an intermediary toward the invisible world, the vital principle itself, and the immaterial part of the vital principle.

Death does not represent the person’s disappearance but the spirit’s passage into another world. That is just a change of status because life continues in a different form.

They wait for the moribond’s last breath in silence, keeping an attitude humble and sad, and resigning themselves to the divine will.

The deceased, whose soul does not die, continue to communicate with the family members. They believe he continues to have identical needs, to experience the same sorrows and joys.

The deceased can communicate directly with the living through dreams. Sometimes he expresses his moods and opinions through different esoteric manifestations.

Before making important decisions, the opinion of the Ancestors seems necessary. In this case, the fetishist through rituals and sacrifices, asks them questions and then transmits the answers to the living.

Egunguns (revenants in Yoruba language)

An example of occult manifestation is the Egun rite. Symbolically, that brings back the dead among the living. Originally, this ritual was practiced by the Yoruba and later adopted by the Fon. The major purpose is to honor and consult the dead at important moments in life. The deceased themselves may ask to manifest, through the Fetishist.

An Egungun is an entity belonging to the dead’s realm. That is embodied by a man hidden entirely under a loincloth.

Through the Egungun, the revenant visits his family and thus takes a material form.

The Gun and Fon people check-up the cause of death (good or bad), the day of the funeral (good or bad), the age of the deceased (child, adult), his physical condition (illness, accident, etc.), his social status (village chief, prince, the descendant of slaves, etc.), his morality (sorcerer, …).

Based on the findings they build a hierarchy of the deceased, from which are created specific funeral rituals for each category.
The untimely death of a fetus or infant is called “the quiet death” (the soul arrives on Earth, but doesn’t like what it looks like, so it leaves again).

The deceased receives the usual funeral honors specific to his family. For the poor the ceremonies take place privately, for the rich they take place in public, but both are entitled to the same honors and funeral rites.

The body’s not embalmed, it’s just washed. They bend the deceased’s knees, install the body on a bamboo sofa, and thus prepared they put it down on the ground. The nails and the cut hair are placed in the grave.

Pregnant women are not allowed to touch the corpse.

Funeral altars
Skull in a bowl

The vigil lasts several days. The tam-tams resound in the courtyard, and the participants sing and dance. During this period the deceased’s room is not purified, and the family no longer cooks inside the house. The grieving family members send them food, sometimes money, as a sign of friendship.

They keep the silence while they move the body towards the tomb. The tomb has a circular shape. It is dug by the family, under the defunct old bedroom or the smallest room of the house. They orient his head toward the ocean, according to the belief that the other world starts there. They bury the body with all the equipment needed for their journey into the afterlife.

Depending on the ethnic group they belong to, the cooking utensils are deposed in or on the grave, allowing the deceased to eat, weapons to defend himself, money to pay for what he needs, drinks, and clothes.

In the Fon tradition, the bat accompanies the deceased in the afterlife.

As a mark of mourning, they practice food impoverishment and start wearing used dirty clothes. This habit is observed mainly by the widows and the children. White is the color of mourning.

The whole village is invited to the funeral dinner.

A few days later, they organize a ceremony to burn some objects that belonged to the deceased and are considered as his envelope. At the same moment, they send some gifts to the «deceased kings».

The procession takes place outside the city, at the bottom of a large tree. This separation of goods practice, their symbolic neutralization before transmitting them, possibly, to a successor, represents the breaking of the last natural ties of the deceased with the present world.

Ayisun Ceremony

Several months later (nine for a man, seven for a woman), but in reality much more, they organize the skull’s exhumation and grooming.

After specific prayers, the skull is placed in a bag, then hung on a wall or put inside a pot and thus kept for roughly one year.

At the end of this period, the skull is exposed and may be honored in common ceremonies, where all the skull holders can participate.

During those ceremonies happen the final and secret burial of the skull. This is followed by the call of the deceased, which is a source of new ceremonies and several days of great rejoicing.

All those rites having for object the treatment of the skulls is called Ayisun.

Later, case by case, they set up a memorial altar dedicated to the deceased, who belongs from now on to the world of ancestors.

In their belief, the ancestors’ world is everyone’s true home. The deceased continues to evolve spiritually in that world until his next reincarnation.


Sources :

Charles Henri Pradelles de Latour, Les morts et leurs rites en Afrique

Sylvia Janin, Burkina Faso Pays des hommes intègres



Gilbert Rouget, Brûler, casser, détruire, se réjouir. Contribution à l’étude du vocabulaire des funérailles chez les Goun (Bénin)

Baudin, R. P., Funérailles des quatre derniers rois de Porto-Novo 

Albert Tingbé-Azalou, Rites funéraires et exhibitionnisme social en milieu Fon du Benin

Gabriel Kiti, Rites funéraires des Goun (Dahomey)



Ceremonial dress

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Spiritualité Autochtone