May was a month of hard work as we renewed the exhibition of the Petit musée in Villa Karo, and here it is! Ready to welcome visitors right away when Villa Karo opens it’s doors again in the end of August!
Tintti Timonen and I did the design based on Soile Rinno‘s prior exhibitions; carpenters and painters repaired the interior and the furniture designed by Tina Lotila for the first exhibition in 2002; and finally together with Georgette Singbe, Wiktoriina Hurskainen and Boniface Gossou we arranged the objects in their right places. If you’re not in Benin right now, take a look at the “musée” through the photos below!
The whole Vodun room with it’s fetishes and statues. Click to see the larger image, and click again to zoom.
Fetishes and assins (altars) in the Vodun room, the left corner from the entrance.
Left wall of the Vodun room, with an evil fetish (above) and a fetish from a sacred forest (below). The text says: “Vodun is an animistic religion, whose followers believe that nature consists of deities and spirits touching their lives. The religion has its roots in coastal West Africa and from there it travelled with slaves to the Caribbean and to Brazil.
At its heart Vodun is an everyday, social and comprehensive religion and world view, based on reciprocity, reverence for nature and mutual assistance between deities, spirits, the living and the dead.
Fa is the spirit that works as a mediator between the people and the deities. Its message is interpreted by Bokono, diviner of Fa, and the readings are executed by Vodun priests and priestesses in different ceremonies.
Colonialism, mission, political persecution and modernization have all threatened the survival of Vodun. Its nature is flexible and open to influences, the religion continually adjusts to new challenges and its position is nowadays officially recognized, especially in Benin where it is a state religion.
Fetishes are objects of some special innate power, made for many different purposes and closely connected to the Vodun religion. After a divination they embody the force of a god and are used for example for protection or as good luck charms. Some fetish objects may be placed on home altars to promote their owner’s well-being, while other ones may travel in the pockets of travelers, protecting them on their way.“
The upper left corner of the Vodun room shows fertility statues from West Africa, for example from the Ashanti, Fanti and the Baoulé cultures in Ghana and Côte-d’Ivoire.
Marriage, pregnancy, birth, divorce, death… all represented through the fetish statues. Akuaba, an Ashanti girl who is unable to have a child, is perhaps the most well known (aloft).
Hounon, fetish priest of Heviosso, guards the Petit musée across the entrance. On his left side is the fetish of Ogun, the God of Iron and on his right side a fetish with bull’s horns on his back.
Fetish statues of the Goddess of Mami Wata, God of Water, right side of the Vodun room.
“In Vodun religion the universe is divided into five basic elements: water, fire, earth, air and sky. In their own way each Vodun deity represents one of these elements. The Supreme God, the creator of the universe is called Mawu. The names and meanings of the hundreds of deities may vary from one community to another, but certain deities, such as Mami Wata, recur.
The vibrant water goddess has drawn influences from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, as well as from Buddhism. Some characteristics of Mami Wata may also have been taken from the mermaid figureheads adorning the ships that brought the first Europeans to Africa, but for example the Dogon culture of Mali and Burkina Faso told tales of mermaids and mermen as early as 4000 years ago. Mami Wata guarantees her followers speedy success, riches, good luck and good health. The goddess, who is often characterized as jealous, is known to show herself every now and then to true believers, in the light of the full moon.
Other important Vodun deity Heviosso, also known as Shango among the Yoruba people, represents the air being the god of thunder. The red color associated with Heviosso/Shango is considered to be holy. For example the boat fetishes from the fishing village Ada in Ghana often include the double-sided axe of Shango as the symbol of thunder. The owner of the fetish gains strength and Shango is prevailed upon to calm the sea winds.“
The left side of the History room presents the slave trade with statuettes and a picture of Francisco de Souza, a slave trader who lived in Ouidah and visited also Grand-Popo – giving the town it’s name.
“The Portuguese were the first to settle on what later was called the Slave Coast: the coast of today’s Togo, Benin and western Nigeria. Town of Ouidah, 45 kilometers from Grand-Popo, became center of West African slave trade. In the 18th century Ouidah had five European fortresses: English, French, Portuguese, Dutch and Danish. The beach of Ouidah became a “gate of no return” to hundred thousands, even millions of people.
Slave trade was approved in Dahomey and the kings sold their own countrymen and war prisoners as slaves. In return they got weapons, precious metals and luxury objects. King Agadja’s emblem even depicted a slave ship: to represent the prosperity slave trade brought to the kingdom.
The first slavery abolishment acts were given already in the 18th century, but the slave trade was profitable up to the 1860’s. Most of the slaves were sold to the coffee- and sugar plantations in Brazil. About 20 million Africans were victims of the trade while it was going on. Maybe only half of the sold slaves arrived alive to the new continent. Today the African diaspora is commemorated for example during the annual Vodun-festivities in Benin, every 10th January.“
Colon statuettes welcome the visitors to the history room, across the entrance. “The colonization of Benin (then Dahomey) began in 1889, when France took over the country after winning a war against its last independent ruler, king Gbehanzin. Other French colonies in West Africa were Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Niger. France also ruled large areas in other parts of Africa.
French colonial administration hired locals to work in the government, and “colon” statues represent the local people dressed in European uniforms and clothes. Today colons are sold everywhere in West Africa as souvenirs.
Independence movements started to grow stronger in different parts of the continent in the 1950’s and most French colonies became independent in 1960 or soon after. Dahomey gained independence from France finally in 1960 and it was renamed Benin in 1974.“
The upper right corner of the history room.
Old kingdoms of West-Africa are represented by the bronze statues from old Benin (area in today’s Nigeria), kings’ staffs and an application work of the twelve kings of Dahomey (modern Benin).
“The history of Benin is a succession of several kingdoms and cultures. The Fon king of Abomey subdued the surrounding countries and formed the kingdom of Dahomey in 1625. It then became the most powerful kingdom in the area, fighting wars for example against the Oyo Empire (in today’s Porto Novo) and the Kingdom of Whydah (Ouidah).
Other powerful kingdoms in West Africa were the Ashanti kingdom in modern day Ghana, and the Benin Empire of Edo culture, which formed the origins of modern Nigeria. Today kings don’t hold political power, but they have important positions in communities.“
The right side of the history room