The Fon ethnic group of Benin worship vodun (meaning ‘gods, spirits, ancestors, and deities’) and Mawu (the supreme God) of the Vodun religion. Similar to the Yoruba orisha, the Fon believe that vodun, residing in the afterworld, can be communicated with and that each god plays a role in controlling forces on earth. These forces can be harnessed to provide protection to a household or community, used to keep away witches and criminals, used to manipulate the weather, harnessed to maintain crops, or harnessed to promote health and wellbeing. In essence, vodun are believed to be responsible for maintaining order and ensuring harmony.
Of the many vodun, the following are some of the most important:
To communicate with these gods, an individual must first go through a Fa diviner (bokonon; meaning "owner of Bo knowledge")—a guide or spokesperson for the gods. The diviner is responsible for identifying the god their client must honour in order to obtain favours from the vodun.
If a client (which can be a neighbourhood, a lineage, a secret society, a family or an individual) seeks health, well-being, and/or protection from misfortune, witchcraft, or death, the bokonon prescribes that a bocio (spelt 'bochio' in some sources) figure be made. Bocio (meaning "cadaver that possesses divine breath") are power objects representing spirits and the vodun gods. It is believed that the spiritual force of a god resides within the bocio figure and that this force serves as a surrogate for the individual who commissioned it. The spiritual force residing within the bocio is said to be enough to deflect negative forces, drawing danger away from the individual.
Once created, bocio figures are hammered into the ground in front of a home’s entrance, near a family compound, in agricultural fields, or within a little shelter covered in palm leaves. The figures receive offerings and are fed palm oil, cornflour, saliva, urine, and animal blood.
A subset of bocio figures is the bigble 'completely malformed' bocio characterised by the multiplication or deprivation of body parts such as heads, arms, and legs. Within this group are janus unvenon bocio that incorporate two heads, faces or bodies (also referred to as tawenon, meaning 'owner of two heads'; nukun ene non, meaning 'owner with four eyes'; nukun do gudo nukun do nukon, meaning 'eye in front, eye in back'). Believed to have the ability to "observe and detect danger coming from any direction", bigble bocio are said to be used to counter the negative forces of witchcraft, protecting a household or a community from all directions. But they can also be used to enhance the malevolent desires of a sorcerer.
Common features among all bocio figures:
Sub-type variations (bigble bocio):