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Erasmus+ Programme
KA2 – Capacity building in the field of youth

Identities in motion (IDEM)

The project “Identities in motion” (IDEM) explores a common history on 3 continents, the slave trade (triangular trade) that led to the deportation of 12.5 million of Africans between the 15e and the 19e. This first globalization still impacts dramatically international relations as much as the internal balances of our societies. However, this history also created an amazing cultural fusion that changed the global culture, generating most of the artistic movements that define our contemporary cultures (jazz, blues, rock, rap, salsa, samba etc.).

Creolization of the world, transculturation: the essayists tried to characterize these cultural transformations, of which we are, each and every one of us, the depositary. This is the cultural history that our project tries to get the root of, through the prism of the exploration of the mixed part of our identities: should we not understand them as identities-relations, at the crossroads of oneself and the others, locals or strangers, and determined by our commitments, our practices and our tastes as much as inherited?

This project gathers 4 partners from Africa, South America and Europe (Péniel in Benin, Pierre Verger Foundation in Brazil, Chercheurs d’autres in French Guiana, and Samba Résille in France). This project is a 4 steps path, for teams composed by young people, artists and youth workers. Each step is defined like a place for intercultural meetings and a technical and artistic laboratory centered on what the team, from its knowledge and skills, can share and build together. The aim is more especially the meeting between traditional arts and new technologies (creation and dissemination), and therefore the project has the following objectives:

• discover original cultures (vaudou-yoruba in Benin, candomblé in Brazil, bushinengué in Guiana) and identify theirs relations through structured classes, exhibitions and immersion moments (ceremonies and traditional festivities);

• develop technical skills in audiovisual media through the realization of a web-documentary (filmmaking, sound recording, interviews, and dissemination on internet through the tool Klynt);

• create freely from the capitalized experiences (fresco art tembé in urban space in Toulouse, creation of digital pictures and video mapping under the supervision of the Toulousian photographer Stéphane Lepenant).




Alukus from French Guiana and Benin, Simonet looking for his ancestors
Mobility Benin 20-26th of april 2019

A brief history of the Alukus from Guiana

The ancestors of the Alukus from Guiana were slaves from West Africa and lived in hiding (“marroner” in french), they ran away from the plantations where they were help captive. They were hunted and had to fight to keep their freedom. The “marronage” was to resist the slavery, and also “to reconstitute themselves, to start over”, Simonet will say.

Hidden in the forest, these newly free persons built themselves a new identity, from various African ethnic groups, and integrating their ordeal of slavery. Their language is partially reconstructed and renewed. The slaves didn’t have the right to speak their language, some elements were lost, and others were brought by members of various ethnic groups. As for religion, way of life, music, songs… All these parts of culture were transformed because of the conditions of life of the slaves (separation of families, prohibition of some practices…) and of the fusion of the cultures of the members of the different ethnic groups gathered in the escape.

On the run, the Alukus took refuge in the jungle where they met the Wayanas, Native Americans from the Amazon rainforest. The Wayanas helped them to adapt to life in this environment. Then, the Alukus set up on the edge of the Maroni River.

In Guiana, “Bushinengue” is a generic term to name various ethnic groups whose ancestors were the “negmarrons”: Alukus (or Boni), Saramaca, Paramaka, Djuka (or Aukan). The Bushinengue represent 70 000 people in Guiana and 120 000 in Surinam. They don’t recognize the border between the 2 countries.

First connections

Since its first awakening in Benin, Simonet Doudou, member of the Guianese team and traditional chief Aluku in the village of Boniville on the Haut Maroni, installs a temporary cult place near a tree, very close from the building we sleep in. He conducts a brief ceremony, to ask the ancestors from Benin and from the Haut Maroni to help us succeed this project.

After breakfast, we are going to work in a cultural center called « Ouadada », which means « Welcome » here. In Maroni, we say “Ouada” to welcome the tourists, and the artist name of Cécilon Dada, another participant of the mobility, is « Ouadada »! Similarities that promise others…

During the afternoon, Gérard, manager of Ouadada, takes us to a tour of the voodoo squares of Porto-Novo, rehabilitated through his center and highlighted by Beninese artists. A voodoo priest conducts a little ceremony and invites Simonet to make a wish. He will tell us later that he wished to meet the Alukus from here. He notices also the proximity between the funeral rituals between here and there: “We don’t have so many things but the result is the same”. And he notices the similarity between the King that we visited at the end of the day and the “Grand Mon”.

Searching the Alukus in Benin

The following day, as we were walking in the capital to discover the afro-brazilian architectural heritage, Simonet talked with a Beninese woman on the market. She confirms that there are indeed “Alukus” in the city.

On the day after, the teams go to Ouidah, the city from where the slaves were leaving. For many participants, this day was really emotional. Tread on these places makes vibrate the human beings that we are, question our origin, our history, our identity, participate in our personal trip. Many participants, like the Alukus in Guiana or the Brazilian people, have ancestors that suffered these ordeals and lived the terrible crossing. Here, the history of human kind marked by the slavery resonates with the history of the individuals.

On our way back, Simonet says to us that he really wants to meet the Alukus from Benin before he gets back. He wants to “take some news from the family”. And at night, the Guianese team plays its traditional drums to thank the divinity for their welcome.

The meeting

Thanks to Gérard, the manager of the Ouadada center, a meeting is organized between Simonet and one Aluku from Benin. Two people from Samba Résille, Simonet, Gérard and our “intermediary” go to a bar in the city. We learn that the person we are waiting for is called “Minakode Aluku”, and is a deputy really appreciated by the population.

Simonet tells us a little bit more about his ancestors. In Guiana, the Alukus kept the memory of the names. They got deported in Surinam, ran away, were being hunted down. They fought back with some weapons, knives, sabers and… mysticism. When they were hiding in the forest, they met the Boni, they are now one family. These slaves, coming from the north of Benin, were warriors. Then the Alukus met the Wayanas while they moved back up the river to go to a safer zone. There were a few conflicts between them, but finally they got along and support each other.

The deputy Aluku arrives. Simonet tells him the story of the Alukus in Guiana, says the names of the villages where they live, that they created. An honorable hug follows and Simonet gets out his traditional outfit as Gérard explains the IDEM project. The deputy does not speak French, Gérard translates for him. The deputy clarifies that he is really happy to see us. The context of the elections in the next days does not allow him to do as much as he would like to, he assures that he will go to Guiana to meet his family. He is really touched by Simonet’s approach and would have loved to present him the different branches of the Alukus. Simonet is really moved. The deputy tells him that the voodoo will go to him.

Simonet misses the words: “The words I said have to be more important than the words I forgot to say”. For him, the ceremony he did when he arrived produced “a good effect”. Simonet describes Boni, who fought with the Alukus, who took care of the women and the children, and was a great warrior. He talks about the river “Aluku Liba”; it’s the conquest that gave the river its name.

For the deputy, it’s thanks to the voodoo that the Alukus are tolerant, and if they take care of it, they will be rich. Simonet talks about the wood and the gold in the Aluku Guianese territory, that they cannot take advantage of. But now that Simonet came, he is going to be rich because “the voodoo brings wealth”, assures the deputy.

We take the car and we are drove to the library “United leaders of Mededjonou”, of which the deputy is a big sponsor. A primary school teacher comes to present it to us.

Then we leave and we head for the villages near the border with Nigeria to get to the deputy’s house. We recognize it immediately: a big building with 3 floors next to small houses. On the terrace, portraits of parents, uncles and aunts of the deputy, attract attention. He presents them to us and Simonet takes pictures of them. After entering the living room, the deputy comes and goes, and we understand that he changes his planning (the elections happen in 2 days) to welcome Simonet. Then, he invites us in a small room outside, where he shows us different potteries representing his ancestors.

While we are about to get back to the Oudada center, where the other participants are preparing our international diner, they announce to us a new meeting…

A royal moment

After the deputy, we are drove to the king of the Alukus, more precisely like written on the entrance of the palace: “His majesty Kpotéhoun Allanmakoun 18th king of Adjarra, enthroned the 19th of  october 2018”. Another inscription lists all the kings of Adjarra that preceded him, until the founder Attawa, who reigned from 1722 to 1749.

After his enthronement, the king spent a few months in a voodoo convent, and he is here since 3 weeks ago. The salutation to the king is with bended knees, with the head tilted to the ground. Simonet says to him that he is happy to meet him because he didn’t expect it, and tells him his search: the Aluku deputy they told him about, the confirmation by the lady in the market…  So he said to himself that thanks to the grace of gods, he would try to meet him. In Ouidah, he asked the guide who said that he would try to help him, his trust got stronger, and he talked about it to Gérard from Ouadada and to Hamza from Samba Résille. The meeting was not planned; Simonet would have wanted to give him a present.

The king asks him to bend his knees and he blesses him (Gérard is translating). “May the gods protect your life, may the gods make your home happy with joy and wealth”. Then the king blesses the deputy who allowed this meeting with Simonet: “May God gather you, you won’t forget each other and you will get along forever”. The king blesses the group, wishes us a comeback in peace and that “our stars shine eternally”.

The sharing

We get back to the Ouadada center, with the deputy who accepted our invitation, to share with the other Aluku members of the project, but also to share this meeting with the participants. Because this mobility in Benin has been conceived like a return to the culture source and this reunion of descendants of common ancestors in the African continent is a beautiful symbol of it.

And after a few moments of formal exchange, this improvised meeting is happening in the more spontaneous and natural way: dancing and following the rhythm of the drums!

© Cécile Benoist, April 2019 – Project K2 IDEM – Erasmus + / Samba Résille


 Beyond the words… In the interstices of the mobility
Brazil, 20-26 of October 2019

No Brasil, toda criança que ouve um tambor responde com seu corpo. /
In Brazil, every child who hears a drum responds with his or her body. Dona Cici

In Benin, during the first mobility of the IDEM project, we were able to observe the limits of language. In the groups from Toulouse, Guyana and Benin, few members speak Portuguese and, on the Brazilian side, the same goes for French or English. What could be more frustrating for people who come together and are really willing to exchange? Spontaneously, intuitively, to communicate is to speak… The desire to know, to question, to explain. In the short time allowed for the mobility, the comprehension of words would be more than useful!

However, we know that communication lies largely beyond language: in gestures (that warm way of greeting each other in Brazil), in looks (complicit, seductive, questioning, disturbing, friendly, impenetrable, admiring), in movements (taking a place, leaving one’s place, touching one’s face, placing one’s hand on the other’s arm), in breaths, smiles and sighs (of heat, irritation, fatigue, relief). At the heart of our cultural and artistic practices, we also play with the sometimes impenetrable nature of language, by singing songs whose meaning we don’t always understand because we lack the culture that would allow us to understand them. We let ourselves be carried away by the melodies and rhythms.

Moreover, a language is not limited to words, it is imbued with music, with tones, cadences, syncopations, harmonies, tempos, energies, silences. According to Carlos Barros, our singer-guide during the Pelourinho’s visit, Bahia’s “sung speech” comes from the Fon and Yoruba languages of Benin. If the words have been forgotten, the memory of the melody of these languages has been perpetuated.

Despite slavery, spatial and temporal distance, the bodies have also kept the memory of rhythms and gestures, of dances. Thus, many of us were amazed by the connivance between Beninese and Brazilian people, the understanding of the names of the deities even before the translator opened his mouth, the extreme similarity of the rhythms, instruments, dances and religious rites that we were able to observe throughout this mobility in Salvador.

Communication through language remains of infinite richness, but its limits in this project lead us to take a step aside to pay particular attention to what happens beyond words and in particular to be attentive to emotions and sensations, ours and those of others. To what makes us react or simmer, to what intimidates us, frightens us, makes us uncomfortable, shakes us, agitates us, reassures us, to what makes us dizzy, to what annoys us, makes us angry, attracts us, get us passionate or makes us laugh, to what excites us, inspires us, galvanizes us. Accepting this overflow of emotions when we attend a candomblé ceremony for the first time, or those tears that well up when learning a song (the meaning of which will only be understood when we translate it when we return). Noticing that one rhythm makes us shake while another let us indifferent, to be delighted that I get along with this person whose language I don’t understand, to take a new look at a neighbor who was previously perceived as hostile. Detecting a face on a facade by the effect of pareidolia, being moved by a connection between a reading and the present moment, being surprised by a play of light and shade. Noting that most French people don’t appreciate okra, the sticky food popular in Brazilian cuisine, while they enjoy acarajés…

Everyone can understand what lurks, what floats, what creates an atmosphere, whether within the framework of the programme or not, because a mobility is also successful thanks to the interstices of discussions, organized activities and visits. There are these little moments of contemplation of the urban landscape while waiting for an Uber, exchanges of glances with the inhabitants of a “peripheral” district, the hesitant curiosity of the children who are waiting for the beginning of their workshop, the delicious silences during meals, the shared relaxation during a cigarette break, this conjuration of tiredness in laughter around a coconut water or a caipirinha. Tiny moments filled with nuggets of emotions and sensations… Everything that I don’t write down in the notebook that follows me everywhere during the mobilities.

© Cécile Benoist, October 2019- KA2 IDEM Project – Erasmus + / Samba Résille

Creation of the IDEM logo

During the first meeting in May 2019 on the visual identity of the project, the Visual Art group defined the following “key” ideas:
– A tree, it is the common point to all our cultures
– Flags, colors to represent our countries, our cultures, our diversities
– Movement as a dynamic or an evolution
– Roots,
– People
Here are the first researches submitted to the votes of the participants to guide Stéphane Lepenant, graphic designer, towards the final logo that represents this cooperation.