In this sensitive and personal investigation into Benin's occult world, Douglas J. Falen wrestles with the challenges of encountering a reality in which magic, science, and the Vodun religion converge into a single universal force. He takes seriously his Beninese interlocutors' insistence that the indigenous phenomenon known as àze ("witchcraft") is an African science, credited with fantastic and productive deeds, such as teleportation and supernatural healing.
Although the Beninese understanding of àze reflects positive scientific properties in its use of specialized knowledge to harness nature's energy and realize economic success, its boundless power is inherently ambivalent because it can corrupt its users, who dispense death and destruction. Witches and healers are equivalent to supervillains and superheroes, locked in epic battles over malevolent and benevolent human desires. Beninese people's discourse about such mystical confrontations expresses a philosophy of moral duality and cosmic balance. Falen demonstrates how a deep engagement with another lived reality opens our minds and contributes to understanding across cultural difference.
Beads, bones, rags, straw, leather, pottery, fur, feathers and blood—these are the raw materials of vodun artworks. The power of these images lies not only in their aesthetic, and counter-aesthetic, appeal but also in their psychological and emotional effect. As objects of fury and force, these works are intended to protect and empower people and cultures that have long been oppressed.
In this first major study of its kind, Suzanne Preston Blier examines the artworks of the contemporary vodun cultures of southern Benin and Togo in West Africa as well as the related voudou traditions of Haiti, New Orleans, and historic Salem, Massachusetts. Blier employs a variety of theoretically sophisticated psychological, anthropological, and art historical approaches to explore the contrasts inherent in the vodun arts—commoners versus royalty, popular versus elite, "low" art versus "high." She examines the relation between art and the slave trade, the psychological dynamics of artistic expression, the significance of the body in sculptural expression, and indigenous perceptions of the psyche.
Throughout, Blier pushes African art history to a new height of cultural awareness that recognizes the complexity of traditional African societies as it acknowledges the role of social power in shaping aesthetics and meaning generally. This book will be of critical importance not only to those concerned with African, African American, and Caribbean art, but also to anthropologists, African diaspora scholars, students of comparative religion and comparative psychology, and anyone fascinated by the traditions of voudou and vodun.
"An extraordinary tour de force."—Choice
"Extraordinarily detailed....Blier's examination of the entire, often mysterious history of vodun is...in a word, definitive."—Booklist
"A serious study that concentrates on the hidden power of objects and the meaning behind that potency is long overdue. Welcome Susan Blier's African Vodun....Certainly a must for...those concerned with the psychology of art."—Janet L. Stanley, Art Documentation
"[Blier] is usually sensitive to the need to resist imposing Western artistic values and academic methodologies inappropriately upon such art. But she offers the reader a gift even more precious; she offers rare insights into how various art forms—sculpture and home architecture in particular—yield meanings for the African users of such art.—Norman Weinstein, Boston Book Review
This new edition brings back into print one of the classics in scholarly analysis and translation, written by one of the luminaries of American cultural anthropology. Melville Herskovits and his wife and collaborator Frances spent over twenty years studying the social networks, religion, music, and oral traditions of the peoples of West Africa and their descendants in the New World. Dahomey, the site of their major African work, is in the country now known as Benin.
Published as a companion piece to Northwestern University Press's West African Folktales, Dahomean Narrative provides the basic texts of material collected in the field, and shows how they were collected, analyzed, and theorized in the anthropological and folklore disciplinary traditions of Herskovits's day. The result is a wide-ranging collection, culled from an entire narrative tradition, that remains unique among anthropological publications.
Ouidah, an African town in the Republic of Benin, was the principal precolonial commercial center of its region and the second-most-important town of the Dahomey kingdom. It served as a major outlet for the transatlantic slave trade. Between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries, Ouidah was the most important embarkation point for slaves in the region of West Africa known to outsiders as the Slave Coast. This is the first detailed study of the town’s history and of its role in the Atlantic slave trade.
Ouidah is a well-documented case study of precolonial urbanism, of the evolution of a merchant community, and in particular of the growth of a group of private traders whose relations with the Dahomian monarchy grew increasingly problematic over time.
This is a book for both young and old lovers of folklore. Why Monkeys Live in Trees and Other Stories from Benin is a rich tapestry of oral tales that come from a wide range of Beninese ethnic groups. They include trickster tales and sacred tales involving the greatest and meanest of mankind, as well as nature and the world of spirits. These ageless tales remind us of the power of love, the perils of greed and pride, and the redemptive virtues of courage, humility, and kindness.
The Western African Republic of Benin (formerly Dahomey) is gifted with a great folktale tradition, one of the richest in the world. As pieces of oral literature and cultural history, these tales shed light on some of the values and beliefs as well as the customs and traditions of the people of Benin.