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Myth / Gbe Mythology

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Nana Buluku, grandmother of the Vodun

The Gbe speaking peoples are a meta-ethnicity in an area spanning the Lower Guinea region of West Africa from southeast Ghana to southwestern Nigeria. Their branches include the Ewe, Fon, Aja, Mina, and Phla-Phera groups. The Gbe traveled west from a place called Ketu in what is now Benin due to pressure from the vastly more numerous and powerful Yoruba. The very fragmented Ewe found themselves subjects of Akan peoples while the Aja and Fon in contrast built up very powerful kingdoms such as Dahomey and Porto-Novo. Dahomey in particular stood out for its corps of female warriors or “Mino” as such Amazons were called.

But perhaps one the biggest cultural influences Gbe people would spread through the world was their religion known as “Vodun” meaning spirits. Variations on Vodun (“Voodoo” in the New World) are still practiced throughout the Americas. In the early 18th century more than half of the slaves from the Bight of Benin were Gbe, and more than half of all slaves brought to Haiti were Gbe. For this reason Vodun was able to remain especially strong in Haiti. The Gbe speakers much like the Edo and other groups from the Bight of Benin were deeply influenced by the religion of the Yoruba, adopting many gods and customs such as Ifa divination.


Vodun generally concerned reverence of major deities, lesser deities, personal guardian spirits, ancestor spirits, and the usage of magic charms or fetishes. The three pantheons were Land, Water, and Sky gods. Mawu-Lisa had dominion over the Sky pantheon, Hevioso has dominion over the Water/Lightning pantheon, and Sagbata has dominion over the Earth pantheon. Ancestral spirits were actually human meaning they were less mysterious and more benevolent towards their living descendants than the otherworldly gods. Magic charms called “Gbo” were so ubiquitous that even the gods were thought to use them.


Gbe mythology provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adam and Eve Plot: Adanu and Yewa were two of the first four people. Before Mawu breathed life into them, Legba tried to do it himself. Because he is not as great as Mawu he turned the other two into monkeys instead. That is how man and monkey came to be.
  • Alliterative Family: Heti and Heto were the wives of Zogbo.
  • All Myths Are True: All myths were believed to be true, although the Vodun reveal them to different people differently. A priest of the thunder cult will get a different revelation from a priest of the earth cult.
  • All-Powerful Bystander: Like most Sub-Saharan creator gods Mawu is very hands off. She allows the various pantheons to manage the universe while she hangs back. The introduction of Abrahamic religion was somewhat baffling for Gbe speakers as it was plainly obvious the ultimate power didn’t care about protecting anyone from evil.
  • The Almighty Dollar: Da Zodji and his wife Nyohwe Ananu are gods of wealth due to being rulers of the earth pantheon.
    • Aje is the goddess of cowrie shells, and as such rules over wealth.
  • Almighty Janitor: Legba is a capricious vagrant, yes. He is still the most beloved child of the Top God Mawu and the only way anyone may communicate with the heavenly deities at all.
  • Angels, Devils and Squid: Nobody knows where exactly the great serpent of the rainbow Aido-Wedo came from. He isn’t one of Mawu’s and just sort of appeared with the arrival of humans.
  • Angel Unaware: Mawu's messenger (implied to be Legba) was tasked with traveling the earth once per year from sunrise to sunset. On his journey he met a mortal man who became his friend. They visited Adjala where they met a hospitable family who invited them in. The family had a sick baby so the messenger gave the baby a magic power as treatment. The next morning the baby died and they had to flee from the anguished parents. In Savalou they were given lodging by a local family which the messenger burned down the next morning. In Badahwedji they met an old man preparing to cross a river whom the messenger shoved in and watched drown. The mortal was frightened and confused by all this so he anounced his wish to flee. The messenger revealed his divine nature and told the mortal he was instructed to do all these things by Mawu. If the baby had been born their parents would have died shortly after its first steps, orphaning the many siblings. The family in Savalou was poor so the messenger hid the riches of their greedy relatives under the house for them to find later. And the old man was next in line for the throne, had he become king instead of a younger man disasters would have destroyed the kingdom.
  • Angry Guard Dog: Ku's chamber is guarded by two. Agbagugu broke a magic pepper from Lisa to make them sleep.
  • Animate Body Parts: As Sewanla fled back home with the tail of the Tetelidja it called aloud to its master, saying that it had been kidnapped.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Legba was the youngest of Mawu’s children and as such the spoiled one. Being a trickster god just made him worse.
  • Arranged Marriage: Legba was gifted his wife Konikoni for successfully playing four instruments at once while the other gods failed to.
  • Archer Archetype: Age is the god of the bush creatures and hunting.
  • Band of Relatives: Legba, Aovi, and Minona were a band of siblings.
  • Bed Trick: When Legba was on the run from everyone for his murders and perfidy he stayed at his in-laws house. There he had sex with his mother-in-law in the dark pretending to be her husband.
  • Big Eater: Legba. He used his earnings from a snakebite protection racket to gorge himself.
  • Blow You Away: Djo is the god of air. As such he decides how long humans will live by how much air we will breathe. When the gods don’t wish to be seen Djo cloaks them with invisibility. For this reason the Vodun are also called Djo.
  • Born Winner: Vulture was born with a rope and axe.
  • Circling Vultures: When Sewanlwa went to heaven and became Hevioso, he brought many of his relatives with him. Vultures constantly circle the world because they helped steal the tail of Tetelidja and aided Sewanlwa in avoiding his doom on the ground.
  • Consummation Counterfeit: Averted. Metonofi was determined to ensure he had grandchildren so he sent hundreds of men to have attempt sex with his daughter before Legba managed to take her virginity.
  • Cool Pet: Lisa’s herald is the chameleon Agamo. He forewarned the first human couple of dangers by showing them enemies behind their backs.
  • Daddy's Girl: Maho was the daughter of Lisa and they were very close. Lisa helped her and his grandson Agbagugu overcome the trials Segbo set up. He turned her okra into beer, instructed her to stomp her foot thrice for a son or twice for a daughter, showed her to tap her son on the head several times to walk & speak, fed her sheep a powder turning it into a horse, gave Agbagugu peppers to break and evade the perils of Ku's domain, and finally overcome Segbo when he tried to murder his daughter & grandson.
  • The Discovery of Fire: In ancient times there was no fire on earth. Mawu kept it suspended between Heaven and Earth. She sent a son of Segbo named Agbakankan to guard it with two Chachue birds. Lion went up and only grabbed two coals but the birds warned Agbakankan who tossed two sticks at him, knocking Lion down. Elephant, Leopard, Antelope, and all the other big creatures failed ass well. Tortoise and Chameleon planned to gather firewood & straw to set on fire and leave Mawu's fire in place. But straw wasn't available yet either. Mawu kept it hidden under a tree guarded by the ancestor of Abomey, Gede. Gede had a watchman who would alert him with flute music if someone came near. Gede beat up Elephant, Panther, Antelope, Rabbit, Fat-tailed Sheep, Porcupine, and Mole each time. Chamleon (Agemo) then stole a bit of straw and immediately climbed up the tree. The flute player alerted Gede who was annoyed by false alarm. The next day Chameleon came down and climbed up another tree. When the flute player alerted Gede again he was beaten up for "lying". With the straw, Tortoise (Logo) went to steal fire which he hid in his shell. The birds sang but Agbakankan saw no missing fire so he dismissed them and let Logo alone. Logo took out the fire and ran, but after hiding the flame and lying to Agbakankan the birds were dismissed again. Finaly Logo made it back to earth where Agbakankan saw the fire in the open and asked Mawu to make it rain. Logo hid the fire inside his shell until Mawu quit. Logo shared fire with everyone, including Metonofi who gave him the praise name "Zo" meaning fire. To this day people are so grateful they place Tortoise back into the water when they find them, offering charcoal as well.
  • Duality Motif: Mawu and Lisa are often shown as Conjoined Twins contrasting day and night.
  • Dug Too Deep: Cheyi dug a well into the earth and ended up in Sagbata’s home.
  • Earth Mother: Metonofi made Minona the protector of women in penance for murdering the woman who disagreed about the cowrie.
  • Engagement Challenge: Metonofi allowed the entire Aja kingdom to run a train on his daughter until the one man succeeded in penetrating her. Legba won Aje, but gave her to his master Fa as a wife instead.
  • Extra Eyes: The god Fa in his female form Gbadu has sixteen eyes.
    • Ku has four eyes.
  • Failed a Spot Check: When Mawu tossed Sagbata from heaven she allowed him to select whatever treasures he needed, but could still never return if he missed anything. He forgot about water and fire in his rush.
  • Fetch Quest: Sewanla set out Due to the Dead to get the tail of a Tetelidja bird so his father could be buried properly. He brought three cooked eggs with him in search of a Tetelidja and gifted them to an old woman on his journey. The old woman told him to hide when the Tetelidjas visited to sleep. The birds were suspicious but the old woman said nobody was there. So Sewanla cut off the tails of the biggest Tetelidja and ran off.
  • Finger Poke of Doom: Lisa uses his little finger to shove Segbo when he tried to kill Maho & Agbagugu in their sleep. It turned him into a mountain.
  • Fisher King: While Sagbata was off being a slave his best friend Hevioso took the throne of earth god in his place. When Sagbata returned he was given his rightful place and Hevioso had his crown taken. Hevioso was very angry about this and caused drought throughout the world in retaliation.
  • Flowery Insults: Sagbata told Ku he wasn’t going to take orders from a guy with long eyelashes.
  • Folk Hero: Lisa functions as a culture hero when his mother Mawu gave him Gu in the form of iron to teach humans civilized behaviors. Mawu was so pleased with his efforts she him dominion over the sun and Gu to be his sword.
  • Forced Sleep: Agbagugu casts this on Ku, his dogs, and his bees.
  • Frame-Up: Mawu decreed that anyone stealing yams from her garden would be executed. Legba stole her sandals and ransacked her garden. Everyone in the kingdom had to measure their feet against the tracks and only Mawu’s fit. She was so annoyed by this framing she withdrew from activities in the world.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: Agbagugu named himself "Energy-Itself: The yam is pregnant, but its owner does not know it. If the child lives, it will surpass its father.". This thinly veiled taunt and threat enraged his father Segbo.
  • Genius Loci: Loko is called the Iroko tree in much of Lower Guinea. He is inhabited by the Vodun Da, Dangbe, and Tohwiyo of the Ayato clan.
  • God of Thunder: An entire pantheon of them. So(gbo) is their king.
    • Hevioso is sometimes considered equivalent to Sogbo or is his servant depending on the legend. He takes the preferred shape of a giant thunderbird.
  • Grandpa God: Subverted. Nana Buluku is a grandma.
  • The Grim Reaper: Ku is Death.
    • Metonofi is the king of the underworld.
  • Heroic Comedic Sociopath: Legba, Aovi, and Minona casually murder two women in annoyance with who they picked to receive an extra cowrie they had earned playing music.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Legba is actually a pretty swell guy. Unfortunately he gets the blame for much of the bad stuff Mawu allows to happen.
  • Impossible Task: Segbo made Maho run a gauntlet of these against his twelve other wives on pain of death. Maho of course being given additional handicaps: making beer from okra overnight (the other wives got millet), birth children within two days (the other wives were already due while Maho wasn't even pregnant yet), make their newborn babies walk and talk within twelve days (Segbo gave the other wives a charm to expedite this), win a race (the sons of the other wives got horses but Maho's got a sheep). Segbo started to get annoyed by Maho's miraculous victories so he sent their son Agbagugu to steal the scythe of Ku, then RETURN the scythe after he actually pulled that off.
  • I Love the Dead: Legba had sex with the corpses of two women he and his siblings murdered.
  • Intercourse with You: Legba sang a song about his penis and how powerful it is while he had sex with his wife Nunde to reaffirm his virility and humiliate her after she cheated on him.
  • Inter Species Adoption: Vulture was raised by an Antelope-like creature called Sewanla.
  • It's Raining Men: The first humans fell from the sky in a place called Some in Aja country.
  • "Just So" Story: The eclipse is Lisa beating Gleti. People banged on drums and demanded he let her go.
    • No-We lagoon came to be when a solitary priestess gave birth to a baby boy whom she subsequently abandoned. The child ran through the forest calling upon the Vodun to protect him in spite of his mother. So the god of lightning destroyed the forest and the priestess’s home, leaving only a lagoon instead.
    • When Hevioso felt earth has suffered enough drought he showed the chameleon how to summon rain by making small earthen shrines called “Aizan” and splashing water on them.
    • Aida-Wedo’s turds are the mountains. The treasures inside are proof.
    • Dogs are man’s best friend because after Legba created one it helped resolve a dilemma over who deserved an extra cowrie between him and his siblings. The dog said “the ancestors” and buried it.
    • Legba is able to have all women because Nunde cheated on him and now he has first dibs on all women before Fa does.
    • Awe the monkey was told by Mawu she would make him human if he helped her mold clay figures to make into living creatures. Awe spent all day and night bragging to the other animals about how Mawu was going to make him a man instead of actually working like he was told. When Mawu saw he’d done nothing, she kicked him over so he couldn’t stand erect and said monkeys will never be people.
    • Agbagugu completed many challenges and took his father Segbo's place as leader of the Thunder gods, becoming Sogbo.
    • Thunder is the goddess Bade who judges if a man deserves to be struck by the capricious Hevioso.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: The king of Aja was impotent and this annoyed his father-in-law Metonofi greatly.
    • Legba tricked the king of Aja into taking a red powder that made him and his subjects even more impotent.
  • Knight Templar: Aovi is the god of vengeance and punisher of those who show hubris before the gods. He was selected for this role due to his violent tendencies.
  • Lions and Tigers and Humans... Oh, My!: In the early times animals were all Funny Animals and had villages just like people did.
  • Long-Lived: In ancient times people lived to be four to six hundred years on average.
  • Lord of the Ocean: Agbe and his wife Naete are the ultimate authorities of the sea pantheon.
  • Loveable Sex Maniac: Legba for a given measure of “loveable”. Dead bodies and his mother-in-law were not out of the question for him. Many of his cult figures have raging erections and his worshippers used to carry massive penis sculptures around during festivals, waving them at young girls to uproarious laughter. He was a fertility god and believed to cause EroticDreams.
  • Made a Slave: Sagbata was an unruly youth and frustrated his parents so much they sold him off. He then angered his other masters so much they kept selling him off. Eventually he was sold to Ku. Ku demanded Sagbata shoo birds away from his millet fields. It didn’t go well.
  • Magic Wand: The first mortal couple in Some had magic wands, and their children carried magic wands as well.
  • Meaningful Name: Lisa nicknamed his daughter Maho "Gbemende" which means "She will overcome all obstacles". For this reason the king of the thunder gods Segbo wanted her as a bride.
  • Mysterious Mist: The first humans wandered out from it, led by their chief Agblo.
  • Night and Day Duo: Mawu goddess of the moon and her twin brother Lisa who is god of the sun.
    • Gleti the moon goddess and Lisa the sun god. Their children are the stars.
  • Non-Human Head: Gu’s head is just an iron sword.
  • Offing the Offspring: Lisa’s sons once tried to follow him across the sky on his daily journey. This angered him so much he chased them down and slew many. The survivors hide in the ocean. The stars we see at night are his daughters because they wisely stayed in their lane.
  • Omniglot: Legba speaks all languages because Mawu made him her messenger.
  • The Omniscient: Gbadu sees all things in the world atop her massive palm tree. Legba is in charge of opening her sixteen eyes each day. Her sixteen eyes represent the sixteen major symbols in Ifa divination.
    • Fa has simulated every possibility in the universe back in heaven with the help of Legba. Because of this all stories are products of Fa.
  • One-Man Band: Legba was chosen as chief among the gods for being able to play the drum, gong, flute, and bell simultaneously.
  • Otherworldly and Sexually Ambiguous: Sogbo was noted by Mawu for his androgyny.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: Azizan were the little people of the forest similar to the Akan Mmoatia, Yoruba Ijimere, or Mande Wokulos. Mischievous bush dwarves with backward facing feet. Hunters respected and feared them. They just as easily offered Gbos to the worthy as they terrorized people for the hell of it.
  • Our Ogres Are Hungrier: Yehwe (Another word for Vodun) Zogbanu were forest haunting giants with thirty horns and the ability to breathe fire. They were the bane of hunters everywhere and gifted sorcerers to boot. Human beings are their favorite prey.
  • Overly Long Name: Sogbo/Hevioso's original name was Agba-gugu-teso-teno-maye-vidogbe-mada-uku.
  • Plague Master: Sagbata is the god of diseases, especially smallpox. For this reason he was deeply feared and respected.
  • Playing with Fire: Dso or Zo was the god of fire.
  • Poison-and-Cure Gambit: Legba created venomous snakes through magic and charged people outrageous fees for the cures to their bites.
  • The Quiet One: Fa cannot speak, so Legba does it for him.
  • Ride the Rainbow: Mawu rode around around inside Aida-Wedo’s mouth creating things.
  • Sacred Language: Mawu took knowledge of the heavenly language from all the gods save Legba.
  • Sad Clown: The Dahomeans were known as the African equivalent of Spartans for good reason. But unlike the Spartans who masked fear, pain, and grief with stoicism the Dahomeans were expected to mask it with humor. The amusing reactions gods and heroes have towards rather disturbing and upsetting events was a reflection of this cultural tendency. Especially Legba who continues to be a defiant clown in the face of punishment or hardship. Self pity was considered shameful.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm: After making it past Ku's guard dogs, his chamber is guarded by a swirling cloud of raging killer bees.
  • Sea Serpents: Aida-Wedo holds the two halves of the world together because of the tremendous weight, but dislikes heat. So Mawu created the ocean for him to stay cool in.
  • Sex God: Legba. He managed to have sex with the virgin Aje after all the men of Aja failed to, even after taking an impotence powder. He was so proud he danced out of her house with his erection covered in blood. After being cucked by Fa, Legba gathered drummers and had sex with Nunde until she was completely satisfied.
  • Shapeshifting: Sewanla changed himself and the Tetelidja tail into rocks to escape the Tetelidjas. In frustration the birds tossed them across the river wishing they could stone the thief. When they landed on the other side Sewanla changed back and made it home with the tail for his father's funeral.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Hevioso killed the eagle and the cat with lightning when Sagbata tried to send them up to heaven to make peace with him. The chameleon is able to hide on a thread, avoiding his murderous temper long enough to reach his house and plead for rain.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Sogbo and Sagbata fought over who should rule the sky and earth. Mawu refused to intervene after declaring Sagbata gets the earth while Sogbo gets the sky. Sagbata left in a fury but soon realized there was a drought. Two strangers from heaven arrived and performed Fa divination to see why the drought was happening. Sogbo demanded Sagbata submit to him despite being the older sibling. So Sagbata sent Sogbo’s best friend the Wututu bird to appeal. Sogbo was so moved by his brother’s message the two reconciled and the Wututu bird was declared sacred.
  • Sinister Scythe: Ku wields one.
  • Tempting Fate: Sagbata challenges Ku by saying he wasn’t going to do anything in retaliation for his insults. Ku is Death. Not surprisingly Ku locked him in a room to starve to death. Subverted in that Sagbata stayed awake for seven days, freaking out Ku enough to sell him to someone else.
  • Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: Sagbata was such a strong willed slave he changed hands between numerous masters including the god of death but was too much for any of them to handle.
  • The Trickster: Legba instigated Hevioso into withholding rain from the earth. He then convinced the Wututu bird to to go to the sky. Back on earth Legba told Sagbata to light an enormous fire and let the smoke rise. Legba duped Mawu into thinking the universe was in danger of being engulfed in flame so he got her to make Hevioso send water only to earth where the fire began. The Wututu then flew back to earth as messenger and sang. On this cue the rains extinguished the fire and ended the drought. Mawu remains ignorant of the entire quarrel. But even now the cry of the Wututu means rain is arriving soon. It was actually Legba who constructed the reconciliation between Hevioso and Sagbata.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Charcoal for Logo.
  • Truly Single Parent: Nana Buluku bore Mawu and Lisa alone.
  • Ultimate Blacksmith: Gu.
  • Uriah Gambit: Sewanla was enemies with a king who sent him to climb a tree to collect palm nuts. The king had a fire set at the bottom to kill Sewanla when he tried to come down. Fortunately Sewanla used Vulture's rope to climb to Heaven.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Mawu believed that a good ruler should be this. So she had Legba blamed whenever people complained of misfortune in their lives.
  • War God: Gu was this by virtue of being the blacksmith god.
    • Bo was extremely popular in Dahomey and virtually all soldiers were his devotees.