The first stop on Mr Addra’s tour of his ancestral village was his aunt’s house, about a five-minute walk from his own. Kougbla Agninssi, an estimated 86 years old and physically strong, despite first appearances, was sitting alone on a bench in her compound when we arrived at her door, peacefully passing the time, the image of serenity. Mr Addra explained to her that we had come by to say hello, and she looked at us curiously before inviting us to sit down. Though she wasn’t expecting us, she received us well.
Mr Addra didn’t think his aunt, his father’s sister, would have much to contribute to the project. “She’s too old,” he said. “She doesn’t remember much.” But we insisted that, if she was willing to talk, we were eager to listen. She said yes, and we sat down beside her and began the process.
Our conversation lasted about an hour and, in her native tongue, Mina, Madame Agninssi had a lot to say – about her childhood and family life in pre-independence Benin, about Avlo, the village she was born in and never really left, and about her husband and her five children, most of whom are now deceased.
Mr Addra was surprised at his aunt’s articulacy and desire to tell her story. I wasn’t. I’ve met many women in villages, towns, and cities across the region, who were more than willing and able to tell their story, but who’ve never been asked. Kougbla Agninssi had something to say. All we had to do was ask.
Pictured above: (L-R) Seth Avusuglo, my Mina (Ewe) to English translator, Kougbla Agninssi, and me, Sylvia Arthur | Avlo, Benin | 11.01.23 | Images by Ernest Ankomah
Sylvia Arthur, Kougbla Agninssi, and Mr Addra | Image by Ernest Ankomah