A Crash Course in Beninese French: Part IV

The first scholarship holders of the autumn are already in Grand-Popo, and it’s time to continue our course in Beninese French. So here are some phrases you hear really often after arriving to Villa Karo.

“Tu es en train?” (“You are [do]-ing?”) is a commonly asked question and related to the expression “Tu as fait un peu?” (“Have you done a little?”). Both refer to working, and can also be seen as compliments of just “doing something” in general. Georgette Singbe notes often that it’s common in Benin to try to avoid silences, and so the silence is broken for example by asking somebody if “they’re [do]-ing” – the same way a silence is broken in a dinner table by wishing others “bonne digestion”, because of course there is no point in wishing “bon appetit” if the meal is already finished. “Tu es en train?” is also interesting because it is weirdly missing its end, the part about the verb “faire” (“to do”): “the normal” way to ask would be “Tu es en train de faire…” plus something. But, the end is missing and because of this, the phrase is actually, literally saying something close to: “Are you in a train?”

“Pas de quoi!” (“It’s nothing”) is an everyday equivalent of “je vous en prie” (“You’re welcome”) which can be heard in Benin almost only in restaurants. We Finns find this phrase very cozy, since we also like to say, in a “negative” manner “Ei mitään” or “Eipä kestä” instead of “You’re welcome” or “Ole hyvä”. For some reason “De rien” (also “It’s nothing”) is not so often used in Benin, “Pas de quoi” is much more common.

And then there is “C’est gratuit!”, which means essentially the same thing as “Pas de quoi” and which can be funnily used also in situations which, in fact, are not free of charge (gratuit) at all, like in restaurants. “C’est gratuit” expresses the doers willingness to help: “it’s on the house” (even when it isn’t).

The previous crash courses can be found here: number I, number II and number III.

So here you go, pas de quoi, c’est gratuit! More is in a train, mera är på väg!


New Exhibition in the Petit musée de la Villa Karo!

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

Wagashi -juustoa fulaneiden tapaan

Toissa sunnuntaina päätin lähteä lypsylle. Villa Karon vartija Abdulaye lähti kanssani retkelle Agbanakin-kylään. Ensin kuljimme moottoripyörällä Grand-Popon markkinapaikan läheisyyteen, sieltä sitten ylitimme joen noin 30 sekunnissa veneellä ja pääsimme Togon puolelle. Parin kilometrin kävelymatkan aikana sohimme pitkällä puutikulla kypsiä keltaisia mangoja puista alas. Tähän aikaan vuodesta näkee paikallisten kävelevän kädet ja taskut täynnä mangoja. Vapaata riistaa! Jossain vaiheessa alkoi nenässä tuntua lehmien haju. Lantakasat höyrysivät. Olimme saapuneet fulanikylään.

Joen ylitys

Fulanit eli peulh-kansa ovat joidenkin lähteiden mukaan alkujaan kotoisin Pohjois-Afrikasta tai Lähi-idästä. Beninin fulaneilla on suurimmaksi osaksi sukujuuret Nigerissä. Fulanit ovat perinteisesti karjankasvattajia ja nomadeita. He puhuvat fulfuldea ja heidät on helppo tunnistaa ulkonäön perusteella. He ovat luonnollisesti kapeavartaloisempia kuin esimerkiksi Grand-Popon muu väestö. Heillä on usein kauniita tatuointeja kasvoissa ja nenät ja huulet ovat kapeat. Todella kaunista kansaa! Fulanit syövät paljon valmistamaansa juustoa eli wagashia ja maitoa.Apupoika Ali ja lehmät.

Abdulayen ystävällä Gadolla on noin 140-päinen lehmälauma vasikat mukaan lukien. Hänellä on kaksi avustajaa, jotka lypsävät lehmät kerran päivässä. Lehmät syövät ruohoa lähimaastossa, mutta tulvien yllättäessä niiden kanssa saatetaan kävellä jopa 100 km pituinen matka. Lypsäminen on periaatteessa helppoa. Emolehmä pysyy paikallaan kun sen takajalat sidotaan kiinni ja kun sen vasikka päästetään lypsämishetkellä nuuskimaan emonsa utareita. Tällä tavalla lehmä luulee, että oma lapsi siellä imee maitoa.


Lehmien omistajat ovat rikkaita, mutta he eivät missään nimessä kerskaile asialla. Gado esitti vaatimatonta, mutta todellisuudessa hän hallitsee täydellisesti lehmäbisneksensä. Hän aloitti karjankasvatuksen tekemällä töitä apupoikana. Hän ei ottanut kuukausipalkkaansa vastaan kuin vasta lopuksi, kun kasassa oli tarpeeksi kuuden lehmän ostamiseen. Yhdestä emolehmästä voi muuten saada 350000-400000 frangia ja vasikastakin 150000 frangia.

Gadon kauniit lehmät

Gadon lehmät ovat todella hyvinvoivia. Emot saavat olla vasikoidensa läheisyydessä ja ruohoa riittää popsittavaksi. Olen kuullut, että fulanit eivät myöskään syö lehmiänsä kuin vasta silloin, kun ne ovat niin vanhoja etteivät enää tuota maitoa. Siksi liha on sitkeää, mutta onnellista! Gado itse ei syö lehmiänsä.

Ali pullottaa maidon

Gadon lehmistä saa maitoa noin 50-60 litraa päivässä. Ostin häneltä kolme litraa maitoa. Hinta oli 500 frangia eli noin 80 senttiä litralta. Sitten takaisin veneeseen ja juustonvalmistukseen.

Abdulayen vaimo Fatima toimi juustonvalmistajana. Maito pantiin tulelle ja sen annettiin päästä kiehumispisteeseen. Tällä välin Fatima haki pusikosta kasvin, joka ihmeekseni toimi juoksuttimena!

Kohta valmistetaan juustoa

Pitkän googlailun jälkeen löysin kasvista tietoa. Kasvilla on nimiä lähes yhtä monta kuin käyttötarkoituksiakin. Kyseessä on latinan kielellä Calotropis procera. Englanniksi se on esimerkiksi giant milkweed tai sodom apple, ranskaksi arbre à soie du Sénégal tai pomme de Sodome. Se on yleinen lähes koko Afrikassa sekä eri osissa Aasiaa. Kasvi on myrkyllinen ja sen eri osia käytetään esimerkiksi kutomiseen, tyynyn täytteenä, majojen rakentamiseen, nuolimyrkkynä, ihon hoidossa, hyttysmyrkkynä, ripulin hoidossa ja jopa härän sarvien kiillottamiseen. Kun nyt tunnistan kasvin, nään niitä itse asiassa joka puolella Grand-Popoa. Kuulin myös, että pikkupojat käyttävät kasviin muodostuvia isoja hedelmiä jalkapalloina, jotka tosin hajoavat usein ensimmäisen potkaisun myötä. Lisätietoa tästä ihmekasvista englanniksi löytyy muun muassa täältä.

Kasvi murskataan morttelissa

Kasvia tarvitaan vain pieni määrä

Fatima ja Calotropis procera

Fatima hakkasi vartta noin kymmenen sentin mittaisen palan mortteliin ja pala murskattiin kunnolla. Hän kaatoi kuumentunutta maitoa pienen määrän murskeen joukkoon ja kaatoi sitten liotetun nesteen takaisin kattilaan siivilän läpi. Tämä pieni määrä kasvin mehua riitti juoksuttamaan juuston! Maitoheraa alkoi muodostua hyhmettyvän juuston pinnalle ja Fatima kaapi sitä pois. Lopulta Fatima kauhoi juustomassaa pieniin koreihin. Melkeinpä samantien hän käänsi juustot toisinpäin koreihin ja näin korikuvio antoi kauniin kuvion juustoille. Juustojen annettiin valua hetken koreissa kunnes ne sitten upotettiin kylmään veteen viilentymään. Näin ollen kolmesta litrasta maitoa saatiin neljä kaunista juustoa ja vieläpä ilman eläinperäistä juoksutetta.

Valmiit juustot myyntikunnossa

Kori antaa kauniin kuvion juustolle

Juustomassa kauhotaan koreihin

Illalla friteerasin juustoviipaleita maapähkinäöljyssä ja söin niitä tomaattikastikkeen, alokon eli paistetun ruokabanaanin ja kom-maissimassan kanssa. Hyvää! Seuraava tehtäväni on miettiä, miten Calotropis proceransaisi kasvamaan Suomessa.

Wagashi, kom ja aloko tomaattikastikkeessa

Villa Karo in May

One more month before it’s time for the last scholarship holders to leave Villa Karo’s residency and return to Finland. It’s been a good year with, as usual, many moments of happiness and times of being lost in translation, cultural faux-pas’ and moments of mutual understanding in Villa Karo. But it’s not the end of the year yet! Here’s what’s happening in the times to come.

This year’s second last sholarship holder translator, researcher Simo Määttä will reach Grand-Popo by the time I post this writing. He’ll be working at the residency for five weeks with a research project before coming back to Finland. Beninese painter Yves Midahuen, the last scholarship holder of this year, will arrive in Villa Karo on the 4th of May and stay there for four weeks. At the end of his stay he’ll put on an exhibition in Villa Karo’s Lissa Gbassa for the month of June. It’ll be this springs third and final exhibition in Villa Karo.

Fisher men by Yves Midahuen

Teni-Tedji, a marionette group, will be holding a workshop in Villa Karo for the children of Grand-Popo on the first weekend of May. We shall get back to you about this with pictures.

Villa Karo’s own multitalented board member Anna Ovaska and curator Tintti Timonen will be working on a new museum exhibition in Villa Karo’s museum during the month of May. The exhibition will open in September of this year to the people of Grand-Popo, scholarship holders and passing tourists. At the same time Anna will be laying down the foundations of Villa Karo’s upcoming first virtual exhibition. Yes, you heard me right! You’ll get to see what Villa Karo’s collections and the new exhibition has to offer even if you aren’t able to go and see by yourself! At the same time, hopefully, VK’s homepage’s appearance and content will be finally updated. The project is trarting now and will be finished by the end of the year.

But not all upcoming events are taking place in Benin. The 2nd of June Villa Karo will take part in a festival that will take place at Narinkkatori, in Helsinki. The other organisers are Walter ry, radio SPIN FM, 09 Helsinki Human Rights, Namika, Funk on ry and FIDA among others. We’ll have there our former scholarship holder Camilla Heidenberg performing and holding a workshop with her husband Georges Agbazahou. Also five artists affiliated with VK will take part in charity event with five graffiti painters. A big plate of street culture and sports with a flavouring of Villa Karo will be offered to you on Narinkkatori that day.

During the months of summer, although it’s quiet in VK, we’ll have a big piece of the centre’s heart here in Finland with us as VK’s director Kwassi has kindly agreed to lend us here our chère Georgette and cher Richard from VK. They will come here in July to meet friends and acquaint and learn from their Finnish colleagues in August. Welcome Georgette and Riku!


These two words are sufficient to keep alive a generation. Before computer era the world was as natural as ever, post men were happy to ride and distribute mails here and there, ships and planes made brisk business but this was subverted by invention of computer and internet. Western world and industrialized nations rapidly grew with these new technologies that bade farewell to an older generation.

Despite great unemployment created by this innovation, the world seems to be happy. Back in Grand-Popo, the craze by the youth to possess a computer, get connected to the internet for a chat with friends and relatives abroad is felt everywhere. If we comb our memory back to early years of Villa Karo’s operation when Scholarship holders are happy without internet, it was another world of communication when telegrams took days and days to reach Finland. In those days slow connection 28kbs modems were appreciated with modest desk top computers. Inhabitants of Grand-Popo queued up in the Library waiting for messages from Finnish friends (Stipendiates). Downloading and sending mails took irritating hours, a real “corvee” in the past especially when there is an attachment.

Today, it is a different story all together; people of all ages seek for nearest internet café just to get in touch with the outside world. All hotels with internet access are inundated with more clients every weekend even if they are expensive. Internet network companies like MOOV, GLO, KANAKOO and MTN revolutionized the system with MOKKULA services, a system well praised and accepted by all as the only means of internet communication though relatively slow compared to ADSL or WIFI.

In Villa Karo almost all Stipendiates are surfing satisfactorily with MOKKULA in their studios, under the akasia trees or anywhere in the open garden whilst in town, folks seeking for news, students and pupils besiege the two available internet cafes for researches and chatting with friends on facebook.


Economic measures announced by the Nigerian Government to impregnate sanity in public finances also provoked total instability in neighboring countries. On the 9th of January, the Federal Government of Nigeria announced subsidy suspension on petroleum products which resulted in price increase of petrol, a controversial decision taken and aired during a nationwide radio and television broadcast by President Goodluck Jonathan became a point of discord between Nigerian and her population. Few hours later strike action was pronounced by various Nigerians trade unions who unified their forces to force the iron hands of Goodluck Jonathan to revert to the old pump price of N65. The new pump price of N141 was judged too exorbitant by a populous nation of 150,000,000 inhabitants.

This situation rapidly generated panic in countries like Cameroun, Togo and Benin. Artificial scarcity was suddenly created by illegal road side vendors of gasoline. One could openly see these vendors everywhere in Benin, who procure their petroleum products fraudulently from Nigeria through middle men who smuggle them across the borders both by land and sea at a price three times lower than the official pump price thus paralyzing the officially registered petroleum companies in Benin. The strike action negatively affected motorists and nearly crippled some commercial activities throughout the country. Most of these commercial activities between these two sister countries almost came to a standstill as most customers from Nigeria were unable to make the trip across both borders for normal business.

The biggest market in West Africa “Dantokpa” in Cotonou keskusta got paralyzed for days. Motorists thronged one time abandoned Government filling stations to fill their tanks as unauthorized informal street vendors tripled their price per liter to make more profit. Long queues were noticed everywhere, cities most affected were Cotonou, Porto-Novo and Abomey though other cities like Lokossa, Bohicon, Dassa, Natittingou, Comé were also slightly affected. Transport fares tripled, prices of food stuff received sky rocketing shocks and market ladies who normally chant to attract customers became sour and slightly rude to express their disagreement with fares charged by zemidjans and taxis.

For days, Benin felt the importance of Nigeria, as a powerful cum important neighbor. Every home in Benin felt the pinch of the Nigerian strike action as if we are living in Nigeria.

Vodou day in Grand-Popo

For a decade now, I had witnessed almost all the Vodou ceremonies regarding annual commemoration of Vodoo festival that takes place every tenth of January. Those who had migrated to Benin and witnessed this event in the past should count themselves lucky. Lucky because they had received blessings from number of Vodou spirits present during the ceremonies.

As a preacher, I admire those who are driven by curiosity to deepen their knowledge and discover more about Vodou and I am ready to dish out some secrets holding aloft our religion in exchange for a transparent bottled liquid, not trying to sell my religion but transparent oblige as in other religions.

This year’s celebration was stuffed with colorful activities enrolled in different performances involving all Fetish priests and Priestesses followed by adepts of Heviosso, Mamiwata, Tron-Kpetodeka Zangbeto, Sakpate, Age-vodou etc who converged at Gbecon, Grand-Popo to demonstrate their fidelity and attachment to Vodou religion. A great multitude defied the heat, struggled to witness a five hour procession through sandy couloirs between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mono River. All started with the sacrifice of a goat to all the vodou spirits by a famous fetish priest from Gbecon.

A beautiful scene that attracted the attention of the crowd for a while was a fleet of canoes that transported beautifully dressed Mami Wata adepts across the river from Hève. The men aboard responded rhythmically, with their bodies and paddles to chants from adepts, unified their movements and ferried all to their destination; “PLACE DE VODOU”.

Kokouhoun Adept in Trance

Interesting performances during the procession were so mysterious that visitors, new to such occasions bombarded me with questions to which I was unable to answer publicly. More questions without answers rained lot of doubts in the minds of numerous visitors who adventured for the first time to Grand-Popo and Ouidah. The departure of the supreme head of Benin’s Vodou religion DAGNRON GUEDENGUE signified the end of 10th January vodou day celebration. People got dispersed into their respective communities for a big feast mostly organized by Chief Fetish Priests for adepts and friends.

Villa Karo hosted a group of important Vodou personalities who took refuge in Lissa-Gbassa to avoid being drowned by admirers. A delicious dakoin served with barracuda accompanied by some centiliters of unidentified transparent hot stuff proclaimed the end of an interesting afternoon.

Heviosso Chief Fetish Priest

NB: I am creating a special platform for Questions and Answers for vodou in the near future. A Bientôt

2.2.2012: and here it is!