Focus on Family: Benin

 

We continue our 'Focus on Family' series ahead of the World Meeting of Families which takes place this coming August. Today, Sr Emma Vidjannangni shares some thoughts on family life in her native Benin.

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Sr Emma Vidjannangni. Image courtesy of Sr Hortanse Dossoumon.


I am Sr Emma Vidjannangni a Sister of our Lady of Apostles (O.L.A.), a native of Benin born in Toffo, in the Plateau Department situated in the South of Benin. I am currently on mission in Parakou where I am preparing to study medicine. Parakou is the largest city in northern Benin with a population of just over 200,000.

I am a member of a family, consisting of father, mother, brothers and sisters. I am fluent in Fon, one of the many languages of Benin. Fon is practiced by a significant part of the population, mainly in the south of the country, particularly in the plateau of Abomey, Bohicon, Ouidah, Abomey-Calavi and Cotonou. My family is called 'hennû'.

From a cultural point of view, we define the concept of "family" as a whole person, a community, a community united by the bond of blood, living under one roof, led by one leader or a representative. This leader is consulted for advice, how to settle disputes or other situations.

Role of the Elders

In the family, the elderly are respected and are fundamental to the life of each member. They have   key role to play in transmitting the family history and assuring the importance of witness. Africa described the former as a "library of life". There is one common saying: "an old man who dies is a burning library." Without taking the place of parents, grandparents play a secondary role in the education of their grandchildren. This role is especially appreciated by the young people for whom they are as founders of the family and will always remain the roots of the family. They are guardians of memory, transmitters of history and of family values, assuring the link between generations. Grandparents for many, represent the “family anchor”, loving their grandchildren unconditionally.

Urban-Rural Divide

We see a difference between family life in rural areas compared to urban areas. In rural areas there is a very strong solidarity and social cohesion. Each member of the family is guaranteed security since no one could pass unnoticed. Each movement is closely followed. The family is valued in traditional societies as representing the basic unity of society, but also as the main place of education and solidarity. However in urban areas, individual living is more prevalent. In urban areas, one can lose sight of the life of a brother or sister and even of the children.

The main ways for families to earn an income in Benin is especially from agricultural work and also in self-employment. These two aspects of work in Benin are often transmitted to the children and even from generation to generation. However, it must be said that the family, since my childhood, has known great changes since there has been an increase in births and deaths.

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Image courtesy of World Atlas.

 

Impact of Western Culture

We note a positive and negative impact of Western culture on family life and traditions in Benin.

From a positive point of view we note the opening up to the world that makes us less subjugated to the tradition than before. You get to do discernment before making decisions. For example you can't force children to be anchored in the cultic tradition as our grandparents were forced to do.

With the work of the missionaries, our families today have a different way of looking at our traditions. But this is because, in my opinion, the methods adopted by the first missionaries made us believe that there was nothing good in our traditions and that we should renounce everything in order to come to Jesus Christ. This aspect raises the negative impacts which Western culture imposed on our families and traditions in Benin.

Also there is the phenomenon of the French language spoken at home by children today and which completely uproots them from their mother tongue. This aspect is accentuated due to the introduction of new technologies in our world. Let us not be uprooted from our cultures by imitation.

WMOF Hopes

The upcoming World Meeting of Families in Ireland is a very important event which I hope will reflect on the challenges that our families encounter today. It is an opportunity to touch the realities of life on a daily basis for our families, in order to find ways and means to help all to be worthy of the name “communities”. The family as an institution is the center of the building up of the human in all its dimensions. Its members have a commitment to their offspring. The best learning is done in harmony. The real basic education is given in a family which is a domestic church.

 

Sr Emma Vidjannangni, OLA Province BENIN.

 

Presently there are 26 Sisters in the OLA Province of Benin with communities in Cotonou, Ouidah, Djougou, Parakou, Save, Tanguieta and Pobe. Education and healthcare are central parts of the Beninese mission.Read more here.

** Special thanks to Sr Patricia McMenamin for translating Sr Emma's article from French to English.

*** Read more articles in the Focus on Family series here.