Fon people

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This article is about the people of West Africa. For the chieftains of Cameroon, see Fon (title). For the company sharing Wi-Fi Internet access, see FON.
Total population
4.1 Million
Regions with significant populations
Benin (39% of its population) and Nigeria (less than 1% of its population)
Related ethnic groups
Aja, Ewe, Yoruba

The Fon people, or Fon nu, are a major West African ethnic and linguistic group in the country of Benin, and southwest Nigeria, made up of more than 3,500,000 people. The Fon language is the main language spoken in Southern Benin, and is a member of the Gbe language group. The Fon are said to originate from Tado, a village in south east Togo, near the border with Benin.

Most Fon today live in villages and small towns in mud houses with corrugated iron gable roofs. Cities built by the Fon include Abomey, the historical capital city of Dahomey, and Ouidah on the Slave Coast. These cities were major commercial centres for the slave trade.

The Gbe language area. Map of the location of the Fon and Aja and others related ethnic groups. Since the seventeenth century, the Fon, originating from Benin, expanded his kingdom to the South-western part of Nigeria which borders the present-day Benin. The descendants of these Dahomean Fons still live between Benin and a Nigeria´s little part, as can be seen on the map. Violets spots are languages of the Fon cluster according to Capo (1988).


According to oral tradition, the Fon of Benin are descendants of the Aja people. According to them, between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries some of the Aja people, originating from Tado, a village in south east Togo, to the banks of the Mono River, emigrated to the eastern part of its territory, now Benin, and founded the town of Allada. Later Ajas from Allada established a new state: Great Ardra, in which kings ruled with the consent of the village elders. Allada became the capital of Great Ardra.

In c.1625, a dispute occurred between the three sons of the king, based in the succession to his father as king of Great Ardra. This dispute divided the kingdom into three parts: one brother, Kokpon, retained Great Ardra. Another brother, Do-Aklin, founded the city of Abomey, and the third, Te-Agdanlin, founded the city of Ajatche or Little Ardra (also called Porto-Novo by Portuguese traders who traded there). The Aja residents in Abomey slowly mixed with the local tribes, thus causing the "Fon" people.[1]


"Amazon King Apron", Dahomey : the nineteenth century

The Fon founded the Kingdom of Dahomey around 1600. During the early 17th century, the King of Dahomey, Agaja (reigned 1708-1732), conquered most of the current area of southern Benin (except Porto-Novo), to establish direct contact with European traders. It was during these years that Dahomey used women as soldiers for the first time. The expansion funds for most of that territory led to a feud between Dahomey and the Yoruba people of the kingdom of Oyo, causing caused a conflict between them. Thus in 1738, the Alaafin, ruler of Oyo captured Abomey, capital of Dahomey and he forced them to pay an annual tribute until 1823 when Dahomey ended its vassal status. During this time, the Fon of Dahomey conquered Yoruba cities, selling prisoners of war to the Portuguese. As a result, in the last decades of the nineteenth century many Yoruba were transported to the Americas, and they left their cultural footprints in Cuba and Brazil. Also as a result of the incessant wars between Dahomey and Oyo, which made an eastward expansion impossible, Dahomey continued to expand northward, further amplifying the slave trade, despite the efforts exerted by Britain to stop the trade. These wars were fueled by some Europeans to stimulate trade in slaves and weapons. As a major West African slave state, Dahomey became extremely unpopular with neighboring peoples.[1]


Fon recade, or scepter

The culture is patrilineal and allows polygamy and divorce. Funerals (and anniversaries of deaths) are among the most important cultural events, with mourning activities, including drumming and dancing, often lasting for days. The Fon believe that part of the person dies and part is reincarnated.

According to Herskovits (1938), the Fon have patriclans, but each woman in a polygynous family has her own home within the "compound" where she lives with her children. In villages men form work teams to work the land in common. This system is called "dokpwe" and is reminiscent of Venezuelan "cayapas".[2]

Fon religion

While many Fon identify as Christian, the majority practice Benin's national religion Vodun. The Fon name for a god or spirit is "Vodu". The Supreme Being of the Fon is Mawu-Lisa. The Pantheon is structured almost as among the Yoruba people. There are also sects of followers for each deity (Vodou). There are telluric and celestial gods, nature spirits and water. There are priests and mediums who receive the spirits on the occasion of the great festivals. The cult of the sacred serpents in the temple of Whydah had some importance, but eventually fell into disuse.[2] Practice can involve drumming to induce possession by one of these gods or spirits. Fon religion is polytheistic, with a supreme (but not omnipotent) deity known as Nana Buluku.

Fons in the slave trade

The kings of Dahomey sold their war captives into transatlantic slavery, captives who would otherwise have been killed in a ceremony known as the Annual Customs[dubious ]. The empire traded with Europeans from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, reaching its great economic boom to the late eighteenth century because of the slave trade. In the eighteenth century, the Empire invaded Arda and Whydah, export ports of many slaves. Thus, export ports were Arda, Whydah and Porto Novo (current Benin), and Badagry and Lagos (Nigeria) (Lachataure, 1961: 5). In the Juan Liscano historian´s opinion, before of 1700 the Fon of Whydah, Dahomey, sold to European traders members of the following tribes (Liscano, 1950: 74 s): Wida, Popo, Adja (residents in southeastern Togo and Benin southeast), Ketou (perhaps the city of the same name in Benin), Ewe and Mahi (residents in Abomey, the old capital of Dahomey Empire).[3] Since 1700, they sold to European traders many Yorubas.[2]

Fon influence in the New World

Further information: Afro-Latin American

Whether by part of empire of Dahomey by itself or their enemy states, many Fon slaves were sold to European traders, who exported to Americas.[1] So, many descendants of the Fon now live in the Americas as a result of the Atlantic slave trade. Together with other cultural groups from the Fon homeland region such as the Yoruba and Bantu, Fon culture merged with French, Portuguese or Spanish to produce distinct religions (Voodoo, Mami Wata, Candomblé and Santería), dance and musical styles (Arará, Yan Valu).


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 CARIBBEAN-L Archives
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 EL ELEMENTO SUBSAHÁRICO EN EL LÉXICO venezolano (in Spanish: The Subsaharian element in the Venezuelan lexicon)
  3. Anne C. Bailey, ''African Voices of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Beyond the Silence and the Shame''. 

See also