I Receive Your Smell

The Ayizo people of Benin, West Africa speak a tonal language called Fon (pronounced “phone”). In a tonal language, the same word can have a variety of meanings depending on the pitch of the word.

For example, in the Fon language, the word “yi” (pitched high) means to receive. When this word is pitched low it means to reject.

The phrase “I love you” in Fon is (phonetically spelled) “ugh (mid pitch) yi (high pitch) wan (low pitch) nu (mid pitch) way (low pitch).” However, literally translated, this phrase means, “I receive your smell.”

For the Ayizo, the most intimate way to say that you love someone is to tell them that you receive their smell.

In my travels around the world I have often been around people whose smell was somewhat repulsive. I can honestly say that I did not receive their smell. Yet, among the Ayizo, to love someone is to receive their smell.

John 3:16 in the Fon language begins, “For God received our smell…” Imagine that. In spite of the foul stench of our sin, God received our smell and sent His only Son to die for our sins, wash away the smell, and make us “a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Cor. 2:15).

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