Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Kiti in Benin

The bakonos, as Fon-speaking babalawos in Benin are known, regularly deposit their sacrifices in the natural world. But oricha people everywhere know that it is sometimes difficult to make it to the sea or the forest or another natural location to hand over an offering to an oricha. So the bakonos have devised a remarkable solution: they have something called Kiti where they can deposit any offering. (It is called  Ñawo in Fon-gbe.)

At a crossroads, a bakono opens a hole in the earth and offers a goat and four chickens. To the hole, he adds Ifá herbs, a wide variety of earths from different locations, a bit of money, and other secrets. He closes the hole, places a rock sacred to Sakpata on top, and plants a special tree. (Sakpata is a name for Babalú.) On the tree he hangs red, white, and black cloth. After offering a chicken to the stone and making the standard prayers for protection from death, sickness, and evil, Kiti is ready to work: from then on, the bakono leaves his offerings at the foot of Kiti.

It is interesting to note that the bakonos address Kiti as they do any other fodun, and when leaving offerings, they divine with obí to make certain they are received. It is also considered a dwelling place for the ancestors.

The bakonos make a special Kiti for Sakpata called Yesu. While there is little information on how it is different, the name can be translated either as “Soul of the Forest” or “Dangerous Clod of Earth,” both of which speak to the nature of Babalú-Ayé.

I have Yoruba dictionaries that say okiti and akiti mean "heap or mound." Kitikiti is an adverb meaning "abundantly."

This is the picture of life in Benin in the 1930a painted by Bernard Maupoil in his book La géomancie à l’ancienne Côte des Esclaves (pp. 357-360). While the Kiti is known in Cuba as the secret place for Shakuaná to eat, you can bet some things have changed and some have stayed the same.

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