The deceased protect and reward those who are faithful to and pray for them. They provide happiness, health, money, children and prosperity.
The deceased punish, instead, those who ignore them, through diseases, infertility and even violent or unexpected deaths. Life, among the Fon people therefore, does not end with death, but continues in another realm.
Death does not alter or end the life or the personality of an individual, but only causes a change in its conditions. This is expressed in the concept of ‘ancestors’, people who have died but who continue to ‘live’ in the community and communicate with their families. “Ye yi xwe“, “they have returned home”, say the Fo, referring to the dead.
The Asen, are ‘altars of the dead’ of every family or group of families where relatives of the deceased gather to pray, and offer sacrifices in honour of their dead, while the Xwetanu is an annual ceremony celebrated among this group to pay tribute to their ancestors and to ask for their blessing and protection.
Funerals are ceremonies aimed at maintaining the links between the dead and the living. The Fon, however, have an optimistic view of the afterlife which is considered the realm of tranquility. This is why every person who dies must be given a ‘correct’ funeral, supported by a number of religious ceremonies. If this is not done, the dead person may become a wandering ghost, unable to reach peace and join the ancestors. (JB.S.)