Ancestor Shrines

By Eileen Moyer
University of Amsterdam (formerly University of Iowa)

Fon peoples, Benin, Mami Wata drawing. Photo by Dana Rush

Along the coast of Benin there are many practitioners of Vodun who are Mamisi (Mami Wata adepts). Those who have been initiated into her way must work hard to appease her. In one ceremony, a drawing of a Mami Wata stool or mami zikpe (throne) is made on the ground outside of a Mami Wata shrine room in a Vodun temple in Godomey. White talcum powder, symbolic of Mami's taste for modern things, is used to make the drawing. The lines leading away from it direct her spirit through the compound into her shrine and then back out to a nearby tree which is encircled three times (Rush 1997). Offerings to the particular Mami Wata spirit include beer, cigarettes, and perfume. The shrine room to Mami (see field photo) contains numerous clay pots, painted white for her various alcoholic spirits, and cigarettes, which are now are placed in the mouths of ceramic vessels ready to be smoked by the Mami spirits.

Fon people, Benin, Mami Wata shrine. Photo by Dana Rush