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Sat, 06.07.1000

The Fon People, a story

*The Fon People are celebrated on this date in 1000.  They are the largest ethnic group in Benin found particularly in its south region; they are also found in southwest Nigeria and Togo.

Also called Fon nu, Agadja or Dahomey, are a Gbe ethnic community. Their population is estimated to be about 3,500,000 people, and they speak the Fon language, a member of the Gbe languages. The history of the Fon people is linked to the Dahomey kingdom, a well-organized kingdom by the 17th century but one that shared more ancient roots with the Aja people. The Fon people traditionally are a culture of an oral tradition and had a well-developed polytheistic religious system. They were noted by early 19th-century European traders for their practice within the Kingdom of Dahomey which empowered their women to serve in the military, who decades later fought the French colonial forces in 1890.

Cities built by the Fon include Abomey, the historical capital city of Dahomey on what was historically referred to by Europeans as the Slave Coast. These cities became major commercial centers for the Middle Passage. A significant portion of the sugar plantations in the French West Indies, particularly Haiti and Trinidad, were populated with slaves that came from the Slave Coast, through the lands of Ewe and Fon people. The Fon people, like other neighboring ethnic groups in West Africa, remained without ancient historical records. According to their oral histories and legends, the Fon people originated in present-day Tado, a small Aja town now situated near the Togo-Benin border.

To the is Abomey where the kingdom of Dahomey was founded sometime about 1620 CE. The Fon people have been settled there since, while the kingdom of Dahomey expanded in southeast Benin by conquering neighboring kingdoms. The Fon people have traditionally settled as farmers, growing cassava, corn, and yams as staples. The men prepare the fields, women tend and harvest the crop. Hunting and fishing are other sources of food, while some members of the Fon society make pottery, weave clothes, and produce metal utensils. Among the cash crops, palm oil plantations are common in the Fon people's region.

The Fon culture is patrilineal and allows polygyny and divorce. A man with multiple wives usually lived in a compound with each wife and her children occupying a separate hut. A collection of compounds formed a village, usually headed by a hereditary chief. In contemporary times, traditional patrilineal clan-based living and associated practices are uncommon. Funerals and death anniversaries to remember their loved ones are important events, including drumming and dancing as a form of mourning and celebrating their start of life as a spirit by the one who died, which can last for days. The Fon culture incorporated culture and shared ideas with ethnic groups that have been their historical neighbors. Many of their practices are found among Yoruba people, Akan people, Ewe people, and others.

A noted part of the Fon people's society was their use of female soldiers in combat roles over some two centuries. Over 3,000 women trained and served as regular warriors to protect the Fon and to expand its reach. Called the Dahomey Amazons, the brigade was led by women. Given the oral tradition of Fon people, when women joined as warriors in Fon society is unclear. The earliest European records, such as those of Jean-Pierre Thibault, suggest that the tradition dates back to the early 18th century or even earlier. These gender roles were foreign to European travelers, and early fictional stories in European media are considered unreliable by many scholars. Most Fon today reside in villages and small towns in mud houses with corrugated iron gable roofs.

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