I am here (mu le fiyé)

Composer Herman Rechberger was in residency in Villa Karo in 2003 and 2004 respectively.

I am here (mu le fiyé).

Are you there? (o le funu á).

I hope so! (mu le bú).


When I was in Grand-Popo for the first time, I quickly noticed that the majority of the population speaks French as if ashamed of their own mother tongue. Monsieur Richard, a local Mina translator and vodun festival organizer, immediately got me excited about learning the local language. I myself, am a representative of a minority language. I was born in Austria, but my mother tongue is not German but the dialect of Upper Austria, which differs from Germany in the same way as Danish from Sweden. As a passionate supporter of minority languages and a member of the worldwide organization Save Minority Languages. Mina is a relative of the widely spoken Ewe language in Ghana and Togo, the difference being more or less the same as in the dialect of Karelia and kirjasuomi.


On a continent where more than a thousand languages are spoken, a common language is needed as a means of communication. Due to this abundance, the official language of many African countries is the language of colonial times. With forced French, general literacy has risen by a few tens of percents - this is probably the only thing that can be attributed to colonialism. A Benin teacher said that back in the 1970s and 1980s, children were punished if they got caught speaking their own mother tongue.


While at dinner with the late Mayor of Grand-Popo, Eugéne Kpadé, he showed me a book of poetry he had written in French. I asked why he doesn’t write in his own native language. The answer was short and dismayed: “If I write in my language, no one will read. But why don't you, a linguist, start making a dictionary of my language? ” The next day, the whole village knew that “Papa podó,” Father Belly, would begin to make a dictionary of Gengbé, or Mina. Since I had already studied the basics of Mina's language with Richard Akakpo, a small Mina-Finnish dictionary for residents was soon created with Richard's help. The extended version was made in French and in 2007 it was distributed to Benin and Togolese schools as a textbook. The book includes an introduction, grammar, lots of useful phrases, and a dictionary section of about 1,500 words.


"Benin Agricola", I have decided that the dictionary will keep expanding. My dream is to make a story book that contains both Finnish and Beninese stories and fairy tales related to the sea. This is work that I have already started.

In addition, I always remember encouraging the Africans I know to speak to their children their own mother tongue alongside the dominant language.