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Ewe or Fon Vodun Shrine Figure Bocio

Ewe or Fon Vodun Shrine Figure Bocio

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Fon or Ewé people, mid. 20th century, Togo, Benin or Ghana, West Africa

Impressive older wooden shrine figure, bocioThe traditional Fon religion is regionally called Vodoun, meaning "numerous immortal spirits and deities" in the Fon and Ewé languages. Vodoun is also spelled Vodun, Vodzu, Vodu or Voudou. The religious practise of the Fon people have four overlapping elements: public gods, personal or private gods, ancestral spirits, and magic or charms. The ancestral cult, believed to be necessary for the perpetuation of the clan, is the focal point of Fon social organization and of much religious activity. A typical traditional home compound of the Fon people has a Dexoxos, or ancestral shrine. There, the tovodu (family gods) are annually "fed" and honored with dancing and songs. The Fon people have a concept of a supreme being called Nana Buluku, both male and female, who gave birth to the twins named Mawu and Lisa; the first, female, was given command of the night, and the second, male, was associated with the day. After giving birth, the Mother supreme retired, and left everything to Mawu-Lisa, deities, spirits and inert universe. 

Vodou cosmology centers around the spirits and other elements of divine essence that govern the Earth, a hierarchy that range in power from major deities governing the forces of nature and human society to the spirits of individual streams, trees and rocks, as well as dozen of ethnic vodun, defenders of a certain clan, tribe, or nation. Medicine is also influenced by Vodoun practises, local healers, and priests usually use plants, dried animal parts to celebrate rituals, and deal with the disease. Vodun talismans, called fetishes, are objects such as statues or dried animal or human parts that are sold for their healing and spiritually rejuvenating properties. Specifically, they are objects with inhabited by spirits. The charms are locally called gbo, gris gris, ju ju, or obeah, involve leaves, herbs, smoke and these are offerings to public or personal gods of each family. These are said to be given to humans by Legba and Sangbata (the earth deity who watches over the fields and waters of the earth and punishes offenders with smallpox), and especially by the small hairy creatures (aziza) who live in anthills and silk-cotton trees. The Ewé share many aspects of culture, religion, and art with the Fon and indeed occasionally travel to Benin to obtain shrines and spiritual aid. They share many gods, including Mawu. Similar, too, are the practise of Afa divination and Legba cult. The deity of sacred forest (Nyigbla) is very important to Ewé as well as the entire pantheon of Yehve spirits, including the god of lightning and thunder (Heviesso).

Art forms include bocio (called also bochio, boccio or bocheaw) carved wooden statues that represent supernatural beings and may be activated through various ritual steps. They are designed to attract and hold powerful forces through which the owner can achieve goals such as controlling others, attaining well-being, harming enemies or protecting against destructive forces sent out by enemies. Bocios are activated or empowered by speech, saliva, blood, libations and other offers.

Mesmerizing bocio figure with highly stylized features are in good condition. Carved from single block of old light wood, dyed black and decorated with clay, resin, cowrie shells and other important ingredients. Worn out facial features have been re-engraved. Age-related wear and handling over many years. Fractures and chip. Corrosion due libations and heavy ritual use. Size approx. 49,0cm x 17,5cm x 9,5cm.

Provenance: Finnish private collection.

References and further reading:

African Vodun: Art, Psychology and Power, Suzanne Preston Blier, University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Vodún/Vodu, Resistance, and North/South Relations in Undemocratic Togo, Eric J. Montgomery, Brill, Journal of Religion in Africa, pp. 224-248, 2020.

Vodou, Serving the Spirits, The Pluralism Project, Harward University, 2020.

Four Vodun Ceremonies, George Eaton Simpson, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 59, No. 232, pp. 154-167, Amercan Folklore Society, 1946.

Contemporary Vodun Arts of Ouidah, Benin, Dana Rush, African Arts, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 32-47 + 94-96, UCLA, 2001.

They Died in Blood: Morality and Communitas in Ewe Ritual, Eric J. Montgomery, Journal of Ritual Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 25-40, 2018.

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    The shipment will be prepared in the course of 3-5 days and dispatched via Posti Group Oyj or purchased item(s) can be picked up from our shop during the store's opening hours (Tarkk’ampujankatu 4, 00140, Helsinki, Finland). Within the Finland, all items are shipped via Posti Group Oyj unless otherwise requested. We pack the items carefully and mainly in recycled materials because we want to save nature. You will receive the tracking number for your items by e-mail.

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