Akasia News

Popolese Yogis

Local youth have been participating Rea-Liina Brunou’s yoga lessons which have been taking place on Tapani Mikkonen’s mosaic at the terrace of Villa Karo.

Juha Javanainen brought the yoga mats with him in Spring 2011, and they have been in regular use ever since, both among the scholarship holders and the local dancers and musicians.

So, terrace yoga in the dusk:

Visit to Abomey and a Spoonful of History

Royal Palace of Abomey

Scholarship holders Marjo, Rea-Liina, musician Susanna Hietala and I visited the royal palaces of Abomey. This place is of great historical importance, since it was once the capital of the great Dahomey kingdom famous for its wealth and army of Amazons, but also for slavery. Today it’s a UNESCO world heritage site.

The palace carries a sombre history. Some of the Abomey kings were effective slave traders, who, after a long period of internal slave trade, found new customers among the colonisers of the New Continent. Along with their white faces and guns, the Europeans had brought their diseases to the Americas and so indirectly killed the local exploitable workforce. The natives (Colon so misleadingly had named Indians) were reduced significantly and the Europeans had to bring in Africans to replace them. So, basically this is what led to a shift in focus from internal towards foreign slave exchange among the Dahomey kings and as a consequence sowed the seeds of the whole African diaspora.

Even if the kings did do business with the Europeans, they were unwilling to be colonized by them. And Abomey was the last bastion of resistance in the region against the colonial hegemony until the end of the 19th century. Abomey kings fought the foreign intruders whereas the kings of Porto Novo collaborated with the new patrons who eventually in addition to Dahomey conquered the northern kingdoms of Nikki , Djougou and Parakou . In 1894, the French colony of Dahomey was established between the German and English colonies. The borders of what currently makes up the republic of Benin were found by this high-handed decision. The French colony of Dahomey got independent in 1960.

Royal Palace Floor Plan

The Personnel Day of Villa Karo

On this sunny day all the Villa Karo’s staff gathered together in the shade of the acacia. The day was devoted to increasing mutual understanding, solidarity and community spirit at the work place.

Divine dwelling

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.

Vodun Ceremony in the Village of Heve

No Heart, No Blood

Yêke Yêke Voodoo Festival in Glidji, Togo

White Mami Watas

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!

Boy at the Vodun Priest

Friday Action

Two consequent Fridays Boniface and Edoh have been showing Nikita series to the satisfied Popolese spectators in the momentously bit chilly nights of Grand-Popo. We hope this series to have continuance in the Friday Cinema in future, to know what will eventually happen to the multitalented lady agent!

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.

Dinner – and Fulani tradition

I got an opportunity, with Marjo Räsänen and Rea-Liina Brunou, to get acquainted with the Fulani culture as Villa Karo’s night watchman Boubè Amadou – originally coming from the Northern Benin – invited us for dinner at his home.

Fulani’s, Fula’s or Fula people are the largest of the West African pastoralist peoples. They are spread over many countries, predominantly in Western Africa, but also in Central Africa and even Sudan. Only in Guinea-Bissau they form majority of the national population. Fula’s commonly herd cattle, but also sheep, as the family of Boubè does.

Earlier in this same blog Wiktoriina has written about her experiences of milking the Fulani cows.

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. Next one: number V.

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

First scholarship holders have arrived!

The first scholarship holders of the semester dancer Rea-Liina Brunou and docent of art pedagogy, Marjo Räsänen arrived to Villa Karo in the beginning of September.