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History and background

There are many different schools of thought about the origin(s) of the Ewe tribe, with a school of thought tracing the origin as far back as an earlier settlement in Adzatome, a suburb founded by Ham, the second son of Noa in the Bible; Noa being the progenitor of various tribes. It is here that we learnt about the Biblical Story of the building of the tower of Babel to enable the people get close to God, see Him and pray to Him, followed by God’s displeasure and the resultant fall of the tower and dispersion of the people into clusters of people speaking various languages instead of the single one that first united them. This story is credited as being the source of a group speaking one language today known as the Ewe language. Where this occurred is placed in Babylon in present Iraq, and various groups left to find new settlements of their own.

The Ewes are believed to have migrated and settled at the following places at one point of time along their journey to their present day land:

  • Settlement in Egypt: Oral tradition claims the Ewe people were led by an ancestor called “Gu” under whose leadership they settled at the delta of the river Nile, in present day Egypt. Other ethnic groups also settled in Egypt then, including the Jews forced by draught in their land of Canaan. There were cultural exchanges among the various people, with groups adopting practices of others with whom they lived in close proximity.

  • Settlement in Sudan: When it became difficult living in Egypt, just as the Jews left under the leadership of Moses, the Ewes also left under a leader Mi and migrated in a south-westerly direction that brought them into the Sudan where they made settlement for a while close to present day Khartoum. The stay there was short due to drought, famine and slave raids by Arab slave traders who preferred black slaves to their own kind, due to their physique and courage. At the time, there were numerous schools in and around Khartoum and some Ewes took advantage of these schools to become great scholars, merchants and farmers.

  • Settlement in Ethiopia: The Ewe people decided to leave Sudan, and going south-eastwards went into „‟Abyssinia‟‟, the present day Ethiopia. However, the slave raids continued here and some members were captured and sold and were sent to as far away as India to serve in the courts of their kings and queens.

  • Settlement between Niger Bend and the Middle Reaches of River Senegal: As the people were unable to repel the superior weapons of the Arabs and Indians, they finally decided to move out of Ethiopia too. This time, they moved south-westwards into the region between the bend of river Niger and the middle reaches of the river Senegal. All these movements occurred between AD 500 and 1200. Whilst residing at the Niger Bend, they contributed to the emergence of all three Empires of Ghana, Songhai and Mali.

  • Settlements in Nigeria, Dahomey and Togo: After the break-up of the last of these empires and by following the Niger River south-eastwards, the ancestors of the Ewes moved into the present day Nigeria, at the height of the Oyo Empire, settled briefly at Ile Ife in Yoruba-land (Osun State of Nigeria), but moved on at the fall of the Oyo Empire, and going westward, they entered Dahomey (present-day Republic of Benin). It was in Ile-Ife that they revived and perfected the art of divination (afa kaka), which their ancestors had abandoned in Mesopotamia. They also settled in Ketu, a Yoruba town in modern day Benin. Ketu is also called Amedzorpe or Mawupe in the accounts. The Yoruba people founded Ketu by the fourteenth century at the latest.

  • Settlements in the Kingdom of Tado: At Dahomey they split into three groups. The first group settled at the bank of the Mono River and named that place Tado (Tando or A’Tando), which became a powerful kingdom and the historical capital.

  • Settlements in the City State of Notsie: The second group moved on to settle between the Mono and the Haho Rivers. This settlement became Notsie, in present day Republic of Togo. The third group settled at what then was Adele country where they established the nucleus of what later became the Kingdom of Dahomey, but then called Dogbo-Nyigbo. Some members from this group moved out later to join those already settled at Notsie.  All migrants were given a portion of Notsie land by their hosts to settle on. Thus, there were various settlements of the Ewe people at Notsie, and they were all semi-autonomous with their own leaders. According to some accounts, at its greatest height, the city of Notsie consisted of thirty-six neighbourhoods. There is no evidence of how long they stayed in Notsie. However, depending on what tradition one wants to follow, they either came from Ketu to Notsie or Tado to Notsie. In Notsie,  they were known collectively as Dogboawo.


Significance of Notsie to Ewes

 

Notsie is to the Ewes as Egypt is to the Jews. In those days there was general hostility everywhere. It is in this context that two walls were built around Notsie. The first, smaller, known as Agbogbovi, was constructed during the reign of Da, perhaps in the 15th century. According to some accounts, it was built to cut off the royal enclosure from all but members of the royal clan. Like Ketu, the city of Notsie also had a second 17” x 30” wall to protect its inhabitants from external attack on all settled lands and their farmland. The entire community of Notsie lived within these encircling second walls called Agbogbo. On the advice of Agokorli III, the wall imitated two semi-circles, and facing eastward toward Tado. Notsie was divided into separate quarters inhabited by members of the different migrating groups. Each group lived in a separate area under its own head or chief. Although each of these heads was the judge in matters concerning his own people, a supreme king ruled over all of them. The early kings of Notsie ruled well and the kingdom flourished.


The Reign of King Agokoli of Notsie

When the Dogbos (ewes) arrived in Notsie, their host King Adelã Atogble received them well and treated them nicely.  Ago Akoli became king just before the middle of the seventeenth century. According to all accounts, he was an energetic and dynamic leader, and he ended some of the proscriptions that inhibited the exercising of his function as leader. Unfortunately, things were not exactly the same during the new regime. It is an undeniable fact that during his reign conflicts arose. He sought to impose his will on the people and generally tyrannized them by setting them a number of impossible tasks to perform. He punished those who did not obey him and flaunted all traditions. Because of this, the name Agokoli is synonymous with singular violence and tyrannical cruelty. The reign of Agokoli profoundly marked the period and the deep legacy left in the collective memory of the Ewes as the primary cause of the different migrations from Notsie and their occupation of present-day Eweland.


The Exodus from Notsie

 

As a tradition, the Ewes (Dogboawo) were adorned mainly because of their skills in the arts of drumming, singing and dancing. They were regularly requested to entertain the King, his visitors and other favourites. Consequentially, the Ewes were allowed to play their drums, sing and dance all through the night without any interference from the authorities. Despite all these attributes of the Ewes, the new king was still very hostile to them and ruled all the immigrants with an iron hand. For example, he ordered that all elderly people should be killed, but the Dogboawo (ewes) managed to keep one old man in hiding; his name was Tegli. As King Agokoli’s rule became unbearable, various groups of the population decided to migrate. Because of the king's repressive acts, the Ewes initiated a secret plan to escape. The 17” x 30” wall that offered protection to the entire population eventually became a barrier to the Dogboawo in planning their escape. However, they finally carried out their plan through. After several consultations with the oldman, Tegli, at his hiding place, the Dogboawo came up with a plan. They instructed their women to throw water against one spot of the wall while washing their clothes and dishes. The women executed this plan without knowing the reason. One day when the elders found out that the wall was wet and soft enough, they decided to implement the final stage of their plan. The elders gathered all their people together near the wet wall and started drumming, singing and dancing. There was a lot of jubilation in the Dogbo section of the city from late afternoon throughout into the night. About midnight, while the rest of the people of Notsie went to bed and the Misego (Husago, meaning tighten your waist) drumming was at its performance peak, the Dogbo elders went and brought Tegli, the brain behind the plot, from his hiding place. He called a few of the trusted people closer to the wet wall and told them the essence of their gathering. He drew out the "Sword of Liberation" from its sheath, pointed it up, invoked the spirit of the gods and the ancestors and said a short prayer. Then he saidOh great God, Kitikata, open the door for us so that we can walk through it and leave”. With these words, Tegli thrust the "Sword of Liberation" into the wet and softened wall and bored a big hole (door pattern) into it. The men pushed and the soft wall fell before them. After scouts had gone ahead to find suitable lands for settlement, the various groups moved out of Notsie. The women, the sick, and children were led out first, followed by the elderly, while the energetic youth and middle-aged men stayed behind to continue drumming, singing and dancing. After all the others were gone, the drummers and the few remaining singers and dancers followed them. The last part of the group walked backwards on the exact footsteps of the earlier parties for about two miles so that their footprints might not betray their whereabouts. After King Agokoli discovered that the Dogboawo had escaped, he ordered a search for them and demanded their return back to Notsie. The search party however got confused: tracing the footsteps of the Dogboawo always led them back to the dwelling place of the Dogboawo in Notsie. It was a brilliant and well-executed plan. The sword (Adekpui) used by Tegli to bore the hole is said to be preserved to this day as part of the stool regalia of Togbui Asor, leader of Dogbo groups at Ho, a town in Northern Eweland. It must be pointed out here that the history of the Asorgli of Ho mentions also a leader by name Torgbui Kaklu who led their group out of Notsie.

Upon quitting the city, all the fugitives followed the same direction without a precise destination in mind. The general outcome of the exodus is the dispersion of the Ewes as a people from the first settlement they made as a group at Tsevie, in present Togo, from where under different leaders according to lineage, the group split into three – south westwards towards the Volta, northwards toward the mountain range and south-eastwards toward the sea, to frustrate the pursuit of Agokoli and finally to settle in their present homes. The old man Torgbui Tegli was reported to have died at Tsevie and was buried there.

Oral tradition says the Central and Northern Dogbo groups were led out of Tsevie by leaders who included Akoto, Kodzo De, Amega Lee, Asor and Bisiaku and they led the various branches to settle places like Hohoe, Matse, Peki, Asorgli, Awudome, Ve, Gbi, Kpando, Logba, Alavanyo, Kpalime, Agu, Kpedze, Wodze, and other towns. Amega Lee however left the group and went on his own with some followers/family southwards till he made a settlement close to “Ge” or Accra, which is Legon, still bearing his name. He left later to go in search of the main Dogbo group which had settled at Aŋlɔga. From the central and northern groups, some Dogboawo went and founded the settlements of Ho, Akovia, Takla, Kpenoe, Hodzo, Klevi, Sokode, Abutia, and Adaklu all in the central part of their new home.

The third group made up of various sections of the Dogboawo moved together southward. The group split at Gafe and further divisions occurred within the sub-groups as the southward movement, coupled with the founding of various settlements, progressed. They include the founders of Be (Togo), Wheta, Anlɔ, Klikor, Ave, Fenyi, Afife, Dzodze, Mafi, Agave, Tavie, Tokoe, and Tanyigbe.


Present-day ewe land

 

The Ewes, like some other ethnic groups, have remained fragmented under the three different flags, just as they were divided among the three colonial powers after the Berlin Conference of 1844 that partitioned Africa. A portion of the Ewes went to Britain, another to Germany, and a small section in Benin (Dahomey) went to France. After World War I, the League of Nations gave the Germans-occupied areas to Britain and France as mandated territories. Those who were under the British are now the Ghanaian Ewes, those under the French are Togo, and Benin (Dahomey) Ewes, respectively.


The Ewe language

According to UNESCO grouping of languages (1985), Ewe is a community language of Africa and its homeland stretches between three West African countries, namely, the Republics of Ghana, Togo, Benin (Dahomey) and to Badagry in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. According to linguists (and also Westermann and Bryan, 1952), the Ewe language (Ewegbe) belongs to a member of the Kwa family of sudanic languages. There are several dialects (variants) of the Ewe language as spoken in Eweland. The dialectical difference, as in the case of all languages with dialects, are found in one or more of the following:  speech sounds used, choice between synonyms and forms of words, pitch/tonal variations and mode of expressions.

Culture and society

 

The Ewe people are a patrilineal people. Each lineage is headed by the male elder.

 

 Music

 

The Ewes have developed a complex culture of music, closely integrated with their traditional religion. This includes drumming. Ewes believe that if someone is a good drummer, it is because they inherited a spirit of an ancestor who was a good drummer.

Ewe music has many genres. Lyrical songs are more prevalent in the southern region. In the north, flutes and drums generally take the place of the singer's voice.

 Dance

The Ewes have an intricate collection of dances, which vary between geographical regions and other factors. Examples include the Adevu, Agbadza,  Atsiagbekor , Atsia, Bɔbɔbɔ, Agahu, Gbedzimido, Gota, Tro-u , Sowu among others.

 

 Arts

 

Religion

 Traditional religion: The traditional Ewe religion is called Voodoo. The word is borrowed from the Fon language, and means "spirit". The Ewe religion holds Mawu as the creator god, who created numerous lesser deities (trɔwo) that serve as the spiritual vehicles and the powers that influence a person's destiny. This mirrors the Mawu and Lisa (Goddess and God) theology of the Fon religion, and like them, these are remote from daily affairs of the Ewe people. The lesser deities are believed to have means to grant favors or inflict harm.[

 The Ewes have the concept of Si, which implies a "spiritual marriage" between the deity and the faithful. It is typically referred to as a suffix to a deity. Thus a Fofie-si refers to a faithful who has pledged to deity Fofie, just like a spouse would during a marriage.  Ancestral spirits are important part of the Ewe traditional religion, and shared by a clan.

 Islam: Islam arrived in Ewe region in the 17th century, and remained concentrated in its north among the wealthy nobles and trans-Saharan traders. Islam has remained a minority religion among the Ewe people, with continued strong presence in the north, and some regions such as Lomé in south of a significant presence.

 Christianity: Christianity arrived among the Ewe people with the colonial merchants and missionaries. Major missions were established after 1840, by European colonies. German Lutheran missionaries arrived in 1847. Their ideas were accepted in the coastal areas, and Germans named their region Togoland, or Togo meaning 'beyond the sea' in Ewe language. Their works gave rise to the EP (Evangelical Presbyterian) Church.  Germans lost their influence in World War I, their Christian missionaries were forced to leave the Togoland, and thereafter the French and British missionaries became more prominent among the Ewe people.

Ho – the capital of the Volta Region




References:


  1. Dr. A. Kobla Dotse (2011): The Origins and Brief History Of The Ewe People

  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ewe_people