In the spring of 1974, I learned that I was to live abroad with my husband. I was just finishing my studies in Amsterdam. Being a linguist, I grabbed the opportunity to join a summer school training of the SIL in order to learn how to describe a language.
I arrived in Cotonou in the present republic of Benin in May 1975. I started a project to collect traditional stories of the former kingdom of Danxomey, in the South of Benin. This proved to be one of the most challenging projects in my life.
I started to learn the Fongbe language and I contacted the authorities to get the necessary authorisations to travel and to collect stories. That proved to be time-consuming since the political atmosphere in the country was rapidly changing. Between April and June 1976, I recorded 37 stories in three villages in the ancient kingdom of Danxomey. I was advised to stop the recording sessions for the sake of my informants.
I transcribed the audio recordings and translated the text into French together with my Fongbe Teacher. I left Benin in September 1977 with a transcription and a basic French translation in my luggage. I worked on the stories during my two-year stay in Haiti. When returned to Europe, I had to store the tapes and the handwritten manuscripts. I had to earn a living.
I picked up the old plan to publish the 37 storiesIn 2005. I digitized the audio files, and typed out the Fongbe texts on a computer while checking the handwritten manuscript against the audio files.
It became clear to me that a straightforward putting in print of the texts was no option. The stories deserved more than an explanation of its meaning. So I decided to analyse the performances from a number of angles in order to understand the stories in full.
I published the analyses of the performance in 2013. The original texts together with an English translation were published in 2014. The University of Leyden awarded me with a PHD degree for the analysis of the performance.
My next step was to give back back the cultural heritage to Benin. I travelled to Benin to prepare the project in 2014 and eventually handed over the the printed copies of the performances to the University of Abomey-Calavi in 2015. See www.verbalartfoundation.org for more details.
My most recent project was a to give an account of my fieldwork in the seventies in relation to the political context of that time, in the tradition of American and German anthropologists. The result was a third book: A journey to Gods and Comrades.