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mahogany culture: exposition

19th century transatlantic slave trade particularly affected the areas today known as the home of the ethnic or language group of the Yorùbá people, located in Nigeria and the Republic of Benin. They were shipped mainly to the ports of Brazil and Cuba, while the Christian mission had not yet started its devastating work in their homeland. In the diaspora, the worship of the Yorùbá deities, the so-called Orisha, developed into a religious system beyond ethnic boundaries. African culture had to be adapted to the colonial politics and the hostile environment. However this camouflage looked like, its core is a tradition linked to another continent. Though the Yorùbá tonal language is not actively spoken anymore, it passed on in Cuba as a vocabulary for songs, prayers and rituals. For a long time, persecuted culture survived hidden in the resistance, but with the formation of the Cuban nation it became an important part of the people’s identity. With the exodus of economic and political refugees, Santería spread across America.


The video shows a comparison of Yorùbá words, mainly such ones as used in the religious sphere, spoken by a male speaker born in Ondo, Nigeria, and a female speaker from Havana, Cuba. The video illustrates a gap, which is defined through the different pronunciations. In between them lies the history of slavery, geographical distance, and a time span of several generations. Knowledge and memory passed down by generations for ritual purposes, with love and hope, within family bonds. The video was originally published on the blog by the artist Moussa Kone.


Moussa Kone (born 1978) lives and works in Vienna, Austria. He studied Fine Arts at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna. His work is shown in exhibitions and featured in collections worldwide. He realized and curated art projects and publishes artist books in collaborations with authors. He is board member of the Susanne Wenger Foundation and dedicates his work to linguistic explorations, researching Yorùbá language and culture.

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