Opening Concert of the Semester

As the sun got down on Saturday evening the first of September, Georgette and Sylvie opened the monthly concert at Villa Karo’s stage.

The audience was entertained first by a small theatrical company from Cotonou, with actors from as far as Congo D.R. and Côte DIvoire. Their play dealt with multicultural encounter in a small African village and it was starred by the Santa Claus himself, who was saved by a local sorcerer from the overwhelming heat of Africa. The audience was clearly enjoying the spectacle and especially sorcerer’s original voodoo dance made the public laugh.

Pataclowns Rehersal

After the play a talented multi-member orchestra from nearby town, Les Pigeons Verts de Comé, got up to the stage. The rhythms of the band and the beautiful voice of an originally Grand-Popolese singer Toujov filled the air. The children in the audience were asked to participate in a dancing competition on stage.

Toujov and Les Pigeons verts de Come

In the midst of all the music and dancing, a quiz was organized by a local NGO on environmental issues, which put the Popolese audience reflect among others, the importance of the shadows that trees offer, and to recall the name of the species of mosquito which carries the malaria parasite.

Full moon guarded the homeward-bound concert guests.

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!

Villa Karo Week of Maintenance

Fo Edoh

Villa Karo is preparing for the autumn semester to begin. This week has been a week of maintenance and everybody is busy preparing the house for the scholarship holders who will begin to settle in the house from next week on, as Kwassi has written already.

Eugene and Gaitan

The see is wild and the air is windy. The coolest time of the year, say the locals. Even if the air sweetly touches the human skin and deliberately winds the dogs fur, the touch is rough for the dead souls of the house. The wooden doors, the book selves, the pieces of art, the furniture — they all need someone to assist them in their encounter with the salty air. Constant work is being done by the Villa Karo staff during the year tackling the forces of nature and it all seems to culminate in this week. It’s time for waxing, washing, rubbing, polishing, cleaning and airing.

This is also a good time to arrive at Grand-Popo and to begin one’s share in writing this blog. I am the internship trainee of Villa Karo during this autumn and will be reporting on the happenings in Villa Karo during my stay here to keep the readers updated on what is going on at this corner of the world, still so unfamiliar to me.

Agathe

RECREATION IS OVER

 

Wonderful tunes from beautiful birds, terrific waves hitting the shores, whistling breeze penetrating studios upstairs are some typical feelings awaiting our new scholarship holders arriving at Grand-Popo soon for this fall 2012.

Staff members are knocking heads together to ensure a perfect reopening of Villa Karo’s doors for our daily activities. Painters, Carpenters, Gardeners are all striving to to knock the last nail home for readiness. Welcome all for a new season!

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

Workshop with the Thakamou Culture Arts

On 19th of May Villa Karo participated in the finale of the Teni-Tedji Marionette Festival, which was organized for the third time in Benin by association Thakamou Culture Arts and it’s director Jude Zounmenou. Earlier in May Thakamou performed at the concert in Villa Karo, and now it was time to let the local children and high school students participate in the act – and they were many!

The rain forced us indoors in the beginning, but it didn’t stop people from playing, singing and dancing. Familiar songs and rhythms invited the children to try the marionettes, and the artists from Thakamou group taught us how the puppets are moved and how a performance is made.

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After the workshop Teni-Tedji Festival had a succesful ending, as the performers gave one last show for the children. Next year we’ll see the 4th edition of the festival, and we warmly welcome Thakamou Culture Arts back to Villa Karo!

Here’s also a peak to Thakamou group’s project in 2011. This year’s theme in the Teni-Tedji festival was the treatment of disabled people in the society and an effort to enhance their well-being. We’ll see what next year brings!