Akasia News

Afrikkalainen iltapäivä – African Afternoon in Helsinki 14.1.2012

Musiikkia Beninistä Taiteen vaihtolavalla!

Afrikkalainen iltapäivä -konsertissa Aristide de Souza tarjoaa talven taitteeseen lämpimät terveiset Beninistä. Hän esittää sekä perinteistä beniniläistä että improvisoitua musiikkia. Aristide soittaa balafonea, djembeä, laulaa ja tanssii. Mukana musisoimassa ovat myös Franck Koumolou (djembe, laulu), Maija Karhinen-Ilo (laulu) ja mahdollisesti muitakin yllätysesiintyjiä.

Lauantai 14.1. klo 15
Taiteen vaihtolava
Fleminginkatu 21

Liput 10e
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A Crash Course in Beninese French: Part III

You go to a restaurant. You spend quality time with your friends, you have a lovely dish of grilled barracuda with some wine. After eating, you ask for the check and you pay. When you get your change you ask for the toilets. And as the waitress wants to know whether you “wanna piss or take a shit” you suddenly realise that you are very far away from the images of a travel agency’s advertisement. Yes, you are in real place that is called Grand-Popo! And the waitress’ question is merely practical: the place to go at that point depends on the quality of your need.

A sign forbidding to take a shit on the beach in front of a restaurant in Grand-Popo. 'Scuse my French. Photo by Laura Pörsti.

A certain kind of bluntness is quite typical in Benin – or at least when the locals speak French. Or, one could also argue that the use of euphemisms is very usual in Western countries. Here in Europe we are more or less taught to speak about certain body parts or bodily functions only with close family members or trained medical professionals as if they were dangerous.

I’ll give you another example of Beninese bluntness.

One time, after I had missed a monthly concert at Villa Karo because of having… err… stomach problems, a person came to say hello to me the next day on the street. Although I didn’t know him, he quite typically new who I was, as there weren’t that many white people in town at the moment. By the way, when many people know you, what you have done, are doing or plan to do when you don‘t know them, you get a confusing feeling of being part of a strange live performance of the Bold and Beautiful. Anyway, after mentioning to the fellow that I had unluckily missed the concert, he replied that he knew that already. Why? He had heard from someone that I was “puking or something when the band was playing“. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Some time later I was having a drink with a local musician. As the waitress came to bring us our beverages my friend was telling me that he had a cuticle infection that made his djembe playing difficult. When the waitress heard what we were talking about, she said that the infection could be treated by inserting the finger in a woman’s vagina. I asked the waitress if the treatment was common and she said yes. The musician nodded as a sign of agreement with her and the two of us resumed our conversation about Islam in Benin as if we were in a weird Aki Kaurismäki movie.

Of course, the manner of expression varies in Benin as it does in any place depending on one’s social, economical and cultural background. During my time there I’ve also met people that speak so overtly polite, correct and poetic French that they could be characters from a classic novel by Honoré de Balzac.

However, to me the interesting point about the anecdotes I’ve cited above isn’t really the way people talk in Grand-Popo. People talk in all kinds of ways all over the world and when words are taken from people’s mouths and put in odd cultural environments they turn into funny stories. What interests me the most is that on these occasions I obviously had an impromptu meeting with my own cultural boundaries. These situations created a reaction in me: they surprised me or made me laugh as they collided with my own notions of politeness or behaviour in public places and among strangers. The logical question at this point is: how often does my way of speaking create a reaction, whether good or bad, among the locals in Grand-Popo or any place else where I‘m a cultural stranger?

Merry Christmas! – Joyeux Noël ! – Hyvää joulua!

Christmas Manger from Ivory Coast - the Wise Men (in the Museum of Villa Karo)

Only two days until Christmas! We asked a few people from Villa Karo and Grand Popo how they will celebrate the holidays this year.

Villa Karo normally arranges a Christmas dinner for the staff, their families, scholars and their friends. Everybody gathers together in the hall of Lissa Gbassa in the evening of 24th December. In a Finnish fashion, Christmas ham or “porc braisé” is served – but also fish for those who don’t eat meat.

This year some are also travelling. Some go to Burkina Faso, and for example Richard Tandjoma, who works as an accountant at Villa Karo, will be spending Christmas this time with his family in Lomé, Togo 65 kilometers from Grand-Popo.

Richard, Papa Adanou, the gardener of Villa Karo and Boniface Gossou, the caretaker of Villa Karo, all tell that Christmas is the holiday for children. Family traditions include small gifts for children, good food and music.

But Christmas is also the celebration of Christ. After dinner families join the Christmas mass. Papa tells that he will be assisting in the Nativity scene this year. On the 25th some go to church again and afterwards to visit friends and family.

Richard, Papa and Edoh, Boniface and his friend Joel and all the staff of Villa Karo wish you a merry Christmas! Joyeux Noël à tous !

Visit at the Museum: “Le petit musée de la Villa Karo”

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!