The King’s Secret
as told by Donald Linkou
We are a group of MSU students working with a large network here at MSU to assist storytellers in Benin to create books in their native tongues. The stories are in French in addition to the language of the storyteller, in this case Fongbe, in order to foster literacy in both languages. We were lucky enough to work with Donald Linkou, our Benin storyteller, on the “The King’s Secret.” Learn more about Donald, the rich culture in Benin, and oral storytelling traditions below.
About the Author:
Donald Linkou was born in Abomey in July of 1990 and lived with his loving grandmother. Donald has a Master’s degree from the University of Economics and Management and is currently teaching math classes at the local high school. “Most days I have class at 7am and I finish at 7pm because I work for two different middle schools. I spend just about 1 hour on the road getting to work. I leave the house every day at 6am and I arrive home at 8pm. At night, I prepare my lessons for the next day. Usually I go to sleep around midnight.” Donald is happiest when he is surrounded by people he loves, especially his daughter Magnificat, whose birth he describes as the happiest day of his life. He enjoys soccer and storytelling inspired by ideas in traditional songs. He drew the story ” The King’s Secret ” from an artist-composer of traditional Beninese music Alekpehanhou. Donald hopes that reader’s of his story will understand that a secret is no longer a secret when two people know its existence.
In His Words:
“My childhood was really happy. I was close to my grandmother and she took great care of me.”
“I was the only son of my mom. After my parents got divorced I stayed with my grandmother. My father got remarried and had 3 other children.”
“I like to eat beans (these are similar to black-eyed peas or cowpeas and are cooked with onions to flavor, topped with gari and red oil. You can see more about this and other street foods here.”
“Yes, I listen to music! I like to listen to music from Beninese and Nigerian artists.”
“I’m a Catholic. Spiritual beliefs are important. They give us hope of another life beyond that which we are currently in.”
We thank Donald for his story!
Benin is a small country in West Africa home to Donald, the storyteller of “The King’s Secret.” Prior to 1975, Benin was known as Dahomey, but the name was changed after it was strengthened as an independent nation. The flag of Benin consists of red, yellow, and green stripes in order to symbolize the various strengths of the country such as wealth, hope, and courage. The national language of Benin continues to be French, but with this project you will be able to explore the native languages of the many different areas in Benin. The native languages of Benin include Fon, Yorba, Mina, Dendi, and more than fifty others.
In the past, Benin was home to royalty. This ancient system of governance was unique in Africa. The king, surrounded by his retinue, governed through a centralized bureaucracy staffed by commoners who could not threaten his authority. Each male official in the field had a female counterpart at court who monitored his activities and advised the king. Conquered territories were assimilated through intermarriage, uniform laws, and a common tradition of enmity to the Yoruba kingdom in the east. The past kings of Dahomey laid a lot of emphasis on the development of arts and crafts. Weavers, jewellers, woodcarvers, potters, and iron and brass workers received patronage and the ancient city of Abomey (the capital city of Dahomey) became a haven for artists and craftsmen.
The culture of Benin is rich with strong oral storytelling traditions. Music is of utmost importance in Benin. It is a key component at most festivals and religious events. Read below about the history of storytelling and song, and learn about the song behind “The King’s Secret.” Most important to the Beninese economy is agriculture, namely the cotton industry which makes up a large portion of the economic interests of Benin as a whole. In Benin, Christianity, Islam, and Vodun are the main religious practices. Many people misunderstand the practices of Vodun, but it is in fact a traditional and culturally-significant piece of culture in Benin that is celebrated in yearly festivals. Click here to explore Benin.
The History of Song Storytelling
Benin has a long-held tradition of expressing stories through song. Songs and dances are a part of the social fabric of Benin and celebrate joyous events such as festivals, childbirth, rites of passage, or occasions of sorrow such as mourning of the dead. This particular story, “The King’s Secret,” was inspired by Alekpenhanhou, a singer of traditional zinli rhythm music. Zinli is an old West African musical tradition which originated as a ceremonial style played in royal funerals in Abomey, the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Dahomey, current-day Benin. Zinli performances are structured into long polyrhythmic cycles with continuous call-and-response chanting. Traditionally, men would sing and play the percussion instruments in a circle in the middle of which women would dance. The main percussion instrument is an idiophone called zin, which is a jug made of clay. It is accompanied by single-headed membranophones such as the kpezin. As the genre evolved during the 20th century, after the fall of the Kingdom of Dahomey, it became a popular style both in rural and urban contexts. Alekpenhanhou is the most notable zinli musician of the late 20th century, with nearly 30 albums since 1985. He draws his inspiration Fon wisdom and the events of his daily life. To check out some of Alekpenhanhou‘s music, click his name and enjoy!
Share the story! Click below to read Donald’s story or listen to the story in its native Fongbe. Donald tells us that he hopes the story will teach people that a secret is no longer a secret when two people know its existence.The King's Secret -- Simple
We would like to thank Donald Linkou for sharing this story with us, and to Sandrine Chikou and Dr. Marcy Hessling O’Neil for their work with translations. We would also like to thank Judith Vlafonou for supplying the photos in “the King’s Secret,” as well as her lovely models.
We’d also like to extend our gratitude to the Peace and Justice Studies Program at Michigan State University, the LEADR Lab, and Veterans for Peace for their generous funding.
Feel free to check out this project’s other stories and storytellers to learn more about the great people of Benin. Follow us on Instagram @ThreeSistersBenin