Remembering the Deceased

The Fon of the Republic of Benin do not place their dead in boxes with reliquary figures like the Kota and Fan, instead they erect tall metal altars, called asen. When an important member of the community dies, his or her family asks a blacksmith to make an asen out of iron, copper, or brass.

An asen consists of a large, round plate attached to a long iron pole. On top of the plate, the blacksmith places people, animals, and objects that relate to the family. The blacksmith who made this asen has depicted a man wearing a top hat, seated in a chair with his servants, a tree, and various animals.

Asen are placed in special shrine houses dedicated to the ancestors. After the asen is placed in a shrine house with other asen, it becomes part of a collective ancestry and no longer refers to just one individual. Each year at special times, the many asen in the shrine house are offered libations such as palm wine, blood, milk, or soot. Over time the altars become encrusted with these libations. At these special times the family gathers for a feast to remember the deceased relatives.

© Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University,
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester and Dallas Museum of Art
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