Origins of Fa

Gbadu came after Agbè and Naetè. She has sixteen eyes, and like Mawu is both male and female. She was told to live on top of a palm tree in the sky in order to observe the kingdoms of the Sea, the Earth and the Sky. Mawu said she would be told later the duties she was to perform.
Gbadu is always in the tree. At night, when she sleeps, her eyes close, and since she cannot open them herself, Legba has been charged by his parent to climb the palm tree every morning to open the eyes of his sister [2]. When Legba climbs the palm tree, he first asks Gbadu which eyes she wishes to have opened, whether those of the back or front, to the left or right. 

When he says this Gbadu, who watches over the kingdom of the Sea, the Earth and the Sky, does not want to speak, for others might overhear. In reply to Legba, she puts a palm kernel in his hand. If she places one kernel in his hand, it means she wishes him to open two of her eyes, and if she gives him two, one of a pair of eyes is to be opened. When Legba does this, he himself looks about to see what is happening in the sea, and on earth, and he has promised Gbadu, whom we also call Fa, he would also report on what happens in the domain of Mawu. And so that is the way it is. After a time Gbadu began to bear children. The first child was Minona, a daughter, and the second was also a daughter. The others, all sons, were named Aovi, Abi, Duwo, Kiti, Agbanukwè, and Zose. One day Gbadu confided to Legba that she was troubled because she had not as yet been told what her work was to be. Since Legba alone knew the alphabet of Mawu, he promised his sister Gbadu he would teach her that.

Initiates of Vodoun Fa

Some time after this, Legba said to Mawu that there was a great War on earth, a great war in the sea, and a great war in the sky, and that, were it not for Gbadu, alt these three kingdoms would Shortly be destroyed, since men did not know how to behave. The water of the sea did not know its place, and the rain did not know how to fall. This was because all those who had been given these kingdoms did not understand the language of their parent. Mawu asked, “What is to be done?” Legba said it would be best to send Gbadu on earth. But Mawu said, “No. Let Gbadu remain here, but let an understanding of my language be given to some men on earth. In that way men will know the future and will know how to behave.” Mawu said to Legba to go and find three men to send on earth. Legba went to find three sons of Gbadu to teach the “alphabet” of Mawu to men. Now, before these children of Gbadu went down on earth, Mawu turned over the keys of the future to Gbadu. 

Female initiate of Fa

It is said that this is a house with sixteen doors, each one corresponding to the eyes of Gbadu. The palm tree on which Gbadu rested was called Fa. So, when Gbadu received the keys, Mawu said that since Legba is the “inspector” of the world, Mawu wishes that Cbadu be the intermediary between the three kingdoms and herself, the parent. When men wished to know their future in order to guide their actions, they should take palm kernels and “play” them at random, and this would open the eyes of Gbadu which correspond to the number that remained, and the order in which they fell. As the kernels opened an eye which corresponded to a door in the house of the future, the destiny of the one for whom the divining was done could be seen. That which each house of the future contained was taught to the three men who were sent on earth.

Now, Mawu assembled Gbadu and Legba and all Gbadu’s children, and Duwo, Kiti, and Zosë were chosen to come to earth to teach Fa. They brought palm kernels with them, showing men how to use them. They did their teaching, and told each man what was his sekpoli [destiny]. They said sekpoli is the soul which Mawu gave to all, but before calling this soul, it is Gbadu who opened the eyes to call it. It is always necessary to know the number of eyes Gbadu opened before calling this soul; so that if a man knows the number of lines that Fa has traced for him, he will know his sekpoli. They said no shrines are necessary for the worship of the sekpoli, because the human body itself is its shrine. When the three had finished their teaching, they went back to the sky. Later Mawu sent all the children of Gbadu on earth. They were Led by Legba, who installed them. When they came, Zosë took the name of Faluwono, “Fa-secret-possessor-of,” which Gbadu had given him. Minona became the goddess of women, and abides in the houses of women, where she spins cotton on her spindle. Duwo, who took the name Bokodaho, resides in the houses of Pa, while Kiti stays with Duwo to help Zosê, who is Faluwono, do his work.

Zosê plays the palm kernels. He has only one foot, and in the beginning, when he traced the lines by which he divined, people did not believe him. His brother, Aovi [Mishap], was charged with making people more respectful toward their cult. Today if Fa says something which you do not do, tomorrow he will tell his brother Aovi to punish you. Then at once you will respect Fa.

Pa made a small clay figure of Legba and put this in a little house to one side of the Fa house, called aghanukwè. Abi was told to play for Minona the role which Aovi plays for Fa. Abi is ashes. He is the one who makes women respect Minona. When a woman cooks and Minona is angry with her, the fire burns her, or her house burns. And it is for this reason that the place where pottery is fired is called Abi, because here the ashes are plentiful. Little by little people began to understand the new “system,” and since Aovi is very severe the cult came to be respected. So the cult of Fa has spread everywhere.

Meanwhile, when Legba was in the sky he slept with Gbadu, and when he came on earth, he did the same with Minona. That continued so. One day, he came on earth to visit the cult of Pa with Gbadu. As was their habit, they shared the sleeping-mat together, but late that night he arose stealthily, disguised himself, and went to Minona. Gbadu awoke, however, and discovered that Legba had deceived her with her own daughter. They quarreled, and both went to the sky to bring the case before Mawu.

Legba did not want to acknowledge that he had slept with mother and daughter. Mawu ordered him to undress. As he stood naked, Mawu saw how his penis was erect and said, “You have lied to me, as you have deceived your sister. And since you have done this, I order that your penis shall always be erect, and that you may never be appeased.” 

Legba with erection

To show his indifference to this punishment, Legba began at once to play with Gbadu before their parent and, when reproached, pointed out that since his organ was always to remain erect, Mawu had herself decreed such conduct for him. That is why, when Legba dances it is like this, and he tries to take any woman who is at hand.

Excerpt from Dahhomean Narrative: A Cross-Cultural Analysis; Melville J Herskovits & Frances S. Herskovits. 1958, Northwestern University Press.

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