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Short description: Creator goddess in Dahomey mythology

Mawu-Lisa (alternately: Mahu) is a creator goddess, associated with the Sun and Moon in Dahomey mythology. Mawu and Lisa are divine twins. According to the myths, she is married to the male god Lisa. Mawu (Mahu, Mau) and Lisa are the children of Nana Buluku, and are the parents of Oba Koso (Shango), known as Hebioso among the Fon.

As the myth goes, after creating the Earth and all life and everything else on it, Mawu became concerned that it might be too heavy, so she asked the primeval serpent, Aido Hwedo, to curl up beneath the earth and thrust it up in the sky. When she asked Awe, a monkey she had also created, to help out and make some more animals out of clay, he boasted to the other animals and challenged Mawu. Gbadu one of the firtst Loa Mawu birthed from her love making with Lisa, saw all the chaos on earth and told her children to go out among the people and remind them that only Mawu herself can give Sekpoli - the breath of life. Gbadu instructed her daughter, Minona, to go out among the people and teach them about the use of palm kernels as omens from Mawu-Lisa. When Awe, the arrogant monkey climbed up to the heavens to try to show Mawu that he too could give life, he failed miserably. Lisa made him a bowl of porridge with the seed of death in it and reminded him that only his wife Mawu could give life and that she could also take it away. According to myth, Mawu is the sole creator of human beings from clay, while her husband/brother Lisa was instructed by her to teach humans how to build civilization.

Yoruba Links

From a historical approach however, the cult of Mawu-Lisa actually diffused westwards from Yorubaland where its roots are, into the socio-religious consciousness of the Gbe speaking peoples, first from the Agbome (Abomey) plateau which had come under the control of the very centralized Dahomey kingdom. Mawu is Mowo (Yeye Mowo), who is female and consort of Orisa (Obatala) in Ife, while Lisa is Orisa also known as Obatala, the creator and sky deity of the Yoruba. In Ife, the cultural cradle of the Yoruba, both deities are twinned as Orisa-Yemowo in conjoined temples.

The gradual transformation from the word Orisa to Lisa is in congruence with the general rules of transmutation of borrowed words of Yoruba origin in Gbe lexicons to fit the Fon-Gbe phonology, which are characterized by certain sound shifts such as; the dropping of Initial Vowels i.e Ogun to Gun/Gu, the phoneme [B] to [V] i.e Oba Adjo to Avadjo or Oyinbo to Yovo,[1] and a switch from [R] to [L], i.e Iroko to Loko,[2] and the Akoro/Okoro quarters of Porto Novo into Aklon.[3]

Both ethnological research/data and oral accounts collected from the Fon themselves attest to these facts.[4] Among the Gbe speaking people, Mawu in particular but also the twinned Mawu-Lisa duplex was elevated to occupy the apex position in the hierarchy of Voduns. It became the state deity of Dahomey, but ultimately, Mawu was not originally a Fon phenomenon.[5]


  1. "Bulletin du Comité d'études historiques et scientifiques de l'Afrique occidentale française" (in fr). E. Larose. 1924. 
  2. Verger, Pierre (1995) (in fr). Dieux d'Afrique: culte des Orishas et Vodouns à l'ancienne côte des esclaves en Afrique et à Bahia, la baie de tous les saints au Brésil. Editions Revue noire. p. 36. ISBN 978-2-909571-13-3. Retrieved 17 November 2023. 
  3. Adefuye, Ade; Agiri, Babatunde (1987) (in en). History of the Peoples of Lagos State. Lantern Books. ISBN 978-978-2281-48-7. Retrieved 17 November 2023. 
  4. Chrétien, Jean-Pierre (1 January 1993) (in fr). L'invention religieuse en Afrique: histoire et religion en Afrique noire. KARTHALA Editions. p. 254. ISBN 978-2-86537-373-4. Retrieved 17 November 2023. 
  5. Joseph, Celucien L.; Cleophat, Nixon S. (5 May 2016) (in en). Vodou in the Haitian Experience: A Black Atlantic Perspective. Lexington Books. ISBN 978-1-4985-0832-2. Retrieved 17 November 2023.