FON Information

Location: Southern Bénin, Togo
Population: n/a
Language: Fon (Twi)
Neighbors: Asante, Yoruba
Types of Art: Aside from the botchio figures, much of Fon art was commissioned by the royal court. Appliquéd cloths were used in the past as a sort of royal message board in the form of banners and wall hangings displayed during public gatherings. This colorful art form has gone through a metamorphosis since the 1960s, and most are now produced for the tourist market.
History: The Fon kingdom of Dahomey, which was ruled by the kings of the Alladahonu dynasty for over 200 hundred years, reached its political and economic peak between the early 18th and the mid-19th centuries. After conquering numerous small coastal states, the Fon monopolized the region's slave trade resulting in phenomenal economic gains. The income helped to support the wealth of the King whose power was absolute. The Fon king was defeated by the French in 1892, and in 1894 the area now known as Bénin became a colony of France under the name of Dahomey.
Economy: The primary cash crops in this region are yams, cotton, and taro, but the Fon also grow sorghum, sesame, millet, palms, maize, and okra among other crops for local consumption. Although cattle are kept as a signifier of wealth, they are never milked. Markets are held every fourth day throughout the region for the local distribution of agricultural products and local crafts. Some hunting is done by the men, although much of the meat is sold rather than consumed by the hunter's family.
Political Systems: The King ruled from his elaborate court in Abomey through an extensive administrative hierarchy that was responsible for collecting taxes. Although the Queen Mother technically outranked the King, excluding one hand-picked son who was to be heir, no other family members were allowed to hold political office to help protect against palace intrigue. Instead, various political offices were assigned to ministers who represented the King throughout the state and in international matters involving Europeans.
Religion: Fon religion centers around the ancestors, whose protection and benevolence is sought through yearly offerings. During the height of the Dahomey Empire, the royal lineage paid annual tribute to its ancestors at a spectacular gathering known as the Annual Custom, which culminated with the sacrifice of about a hundred slaves and war captives. This was only exceeded by the Grand Custom, which was held after the death of a ruler. Among the citizens of Dahomey offerings were often made to wooden statues (botchio). These statues, which are still carved today, are used by individual families for protection and embody the well-being of the village. The botchio are rubbed with palm oil as a prayer to the ancestors, which results in the polished look we have come to expect in similar objects found in museum collections.
Credit: McIntyre, L. Lee and Christopher D. Roy. 'Art and Life in Africa Online.' 1998: The Art and Life in Africa Project,