In what we had been taken for a storage room, we found a temple, a divine dwelling. The gods took the heart and the blood. We ate the rest with hot corn porridge before rushing away from Zangbetos way in the narrow streets of Heve.
Me, Rea-Liina Brunou and Marjo Räsänen got our first touch with the West-African voodoo ceremonies at the annual festival of the Gé-people in the village of Glidji, Togo.
The followers of the voodoo god of the sea Mami-Wata gathered there in the mid-September in order to find out how the becoming year is going to be. In the eve of the festival the voodoo priests got to a forest and looked for a sacred stone there. The next day the stone was brought to ceremony place where all the supporters and guests were waiting. The colour of the stone tells how the year is to treat us: the lighter the colour, the better the year is going to be. For the Mami-Watas, the white colour has special significance and everyone was dressed up in white (us included). In the blazing sunlight the sea of white dresses was dazzling.
This year there was disagreement among the priests of different sects about who among them was the honoured one to carry the sacred piece of Earth to the ceremony place. The dissatisfied party started to rebel. In the midst of everyone waiting for the stone to arrive – out of the blue – big (non-holy) stones started to fall from the sky to the audience who were trying to defend themselves by using chairs as a shield. The situation turned into a small chaos as people were running in all directions. Fortunately the conflict got soon settled and a white shiny stone found its way to the ceremony place promising the best possible for this year!
As some people already know, Villa Karo has a small museum collection, created by Juha Vakkuri and Matti-Juhani Karila and first opened to public in 2001.
The objects in the collection bring together, in many different ways, West African and European or Finnish traditions and histories. The collection illustrates traditional African beliefs, especially vodun, but also the ways how Christianity and colonialism have influenced West African countries and people – and the ways how for example Finnish nature-based religions bear likeness to African ones.
In the museum, one can for example find a priest of Heviosso, the God of Thunder (like Thor in the North or Ukko in Finland) who brings justice to the world in Fon, Ewe and Yoruba -tribes’ beliefs, wearing a European bowler hat. Or a hay mask from Tikar-tribe with eyes made of Benetton-buttons.
Very interesting part of the museum is the collection of “colons” – wooden, painted dolls that depict the times of colonization in Africa. French colonial administration hired locals to work in the government, and “colons” represent the local people dressed in European uniforms and clothes. The colonization of Benin (former Dahomey) began in 1892 and the country gained independence from France finally in 1958.
Today the colon-tradition has become a part of souvenir business, and in the same way as one can find Barbie-dolls dressed as stewards, doctors or movie stars, one can find colon-dolls representing different kinds of professions, from photographers to football players and horse racers.
The collection of Villa Karo is expanding little by little, and in charge of the museum in Grand-Popo is Georgette Singbe, who gives tours of the museum for school groups, tourists and anyone interested.
The museum is open from Monday to Friday between 8.00 and 12.00 and 16.00 and 18.00, and on Saturdays from 9.00 to noon. The admission is free, like all activities in Villa Karo, so if you happen to be in Grand-Popo, Benin, be sure to pay the museum a visit!