|This article needs additional citations for verification. (September 2013)|
|Approximately 4.8 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Togo 1.2 million|
|Predominantly Vodun, with a small Islam and Christian minority|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Fon, Gen, Phla Phera, Aja people|
The Ewe (Ewe: Eʋeawó, lit. "Ewe people"; or Eʋedukɔ́, lit. "Ewe nation") are an ethnic group located in Togo (formerly French Togoland) and Volta Region, Ghana (formerly British Togoland; both formerly Togoland, the southern part of which was or Eweland or Eʋedukɔ́ ), and southern Benin. They speak the Ewe language (Ewe: Eʋegbe) and are related to other speakers of Gbe languages, such as, the Fon, Gen, Phla Phera, and the Aja people of Togo and Benin.
The Origin of the Ewe is similar to those who speak Gbe languages. It would seem these speakers have always occupied the area between Akanland and Yorubaland. Previously some historians have tried to tie them to both Akan and Yoruba ethnic groups, but more recent studies suggest these are distinct ethnic groups that are neither Akan or Yoruba, but influenced by both.
Description and culture
The Ewe are essentially a patrilineal people; the founder of a community was the established chief, and was then usually succeeded by his paternal relatives. The Ewe are divided geographically between the western part of Benin (formerly Dahomey), and Togo (southern). The Volta Region was colonized by the British and was originally called British Togoland. After the German defeat in World War I, the Ewe homeland, British Togoland and French Togoland were renamed Volta Region and Togo. The French Togoland was renamed Republic of Togo and gained independence from France on April 27, 1960. Most Ewe can trace male ancestors to their original villages and make their territorial divisions along the Republic of Togo and Volta Region lines. Extended families are the most important units of Ewe social life. Ewe have never supported a hierarchical concentration of power within a large state.
In modern times, chiefs are generally elected by consensus and get advice from elders. There are a number of guidelines regarding the behavior of chiefs. They are expected to keep their heads covered in public, and are not to be seen drinking. The people see the chief as the communicator between the every day world and the world of the ancestors. The chief must always keep a clear mind. Traditionally, chiefs are also not to see the face of a corpse. They may take part in the funeral, however, once the corpse is buried or inside the coffin. They are not to have any contact with the corpse.
Traditionally, chiefs sit on a black stool. A white stool is reserved for 'honorary' chiefs. These are auspicious individuals who have been made a 'chief' as recognition for their contribution to a village. Certain rituals cannot be performed by an honorary chief, and must be attended by the true chief.
The pouring of libations is an important ritual within Ewe society. Generally, only chiefs can pour libations, but sometimes, at a durbar, a linguist performs the role. Libations are poured three times, in honor of ancestors, life, and the libation's offerer himself.
The Ewe were shown how to weave 'Kente' cloth. In the Akan wars against the Ewe; Ewe people were captured and some remaining Ewe survivors were enslaved by Akans and made to be weavers. Ke means 'to open' in Ewe and te means 'to press'; the Ewe hold that the word Kete thus describes the weaving motion of the feet.
Ewe Language (Eʋegbe)
Ewe, also written Evhe, or Eʋe, is a major dialect cluster of Gbe or Tadoid (Capo 1991, Duthie 1996) spoken across to southern Togo, Volta Region, and as far as just across the Togo-Benin border by about three million people. Ewe, belongs to the Gbe family of Niger-Congo. Gbe languages are spoken in an area that extends predominantly from Togo, Benin and as far as Western Nigeria to Lower Weme; that is, from the Greenwich Meridian to 3oE and from the Atlantic coast to about 8oN.
Ewe dialects vary enormously. Groups of villages that are two or three kilometres apart use distinct varieties. Nevertheless, across the Ewe-speaking area, the dialects may be broadly grouped geographically into coastal or southern dialects, e.g., Aŋlɔ, Tɔŋú Avenor, Watsyi and inland dialects characterised indigenously as Ewedomegbe, e.g., Lomé, Danyi, and Kpele etc. (Agbodeka 1997, Gavua 2000, Ansre 2000). Speakers from different localities understand each other and can identify the peculiarities of the different areas. Additionally, there is a written standard that was developed in the nineteenth century based on the regional variants of the various sub-dialects with a high degree of coastal content. With it, a standard colloquial variety has also emerged (spoken usually with a local accent), and is used very widely in cross-dialectal contact sites such as schools, markets, and churches.
The storytellers use a dialect of Aŋlɔ spoken in Seva. Their language is the spoken form and hence does not necessarily conform to the expectations of someone familiar with the standard dialect. For instance, they use the form yi to introduce relative clauses instead of the standard written si, and yia 'this' instead of the standard written sia. They sometimes also use subject markers on the verb agreeing with the lexical NP subject while this is not written in the standard. A distinctive feature of the Aŋlɔ dialect is that the sounds made in the area of the teeth ridge are palatalised when followed by a high vowel. For instance, the verb tsi 'become old' is pronounced [tsyi] by the storyteller Kwakuga Goka.
Ewe is bordered to the west by the Akan, and to the north by the Dagomba Northern Region and Upper East Region languages, for example, Siwu, Siya, Likpe etc., some Gur languages such as Kabiye. To the east are the Gbe dialects —Gen, Aja and Xwla— all of which have degrees of intelligibility with Ewe (Kluge 2000). Ewe is used as a second language in the Volta Region communities (Ring 1981). It is studied as a subject at all levels of education in Togo up to and including the tertiary level. In Togo, where French has been the official language, Ewe and Kabiye have been declared the two indigenous languages being promoted for official use in education, mass media, etc. Ewe is thus used for radio and TV broadcasting and in some community newspapers in Togo and some south-eastern parts of the Volta Region. In the Togo and Volta Region, Ewe is used in adult literacy programmes leading to an increasing number of publications in the language on topics of health, agriculture, and child rearing, among others (Duthie and Vlaardingerbroek 1981). French is present in the Ewe speaking communities in Togo and Benin respectively. Some speakers are bilingual or multilingual in Ewe, and French or English and/or other languages such as Hausa, Kabiye, Akposo, Yoruba etc. Due to contact with some of these languages, some words are borrowed into Ewe. In the story told by Madam Hodolo Atɔsu, she uses words like kɔnset 'concert' and flawas(i) 'flowers' both borrowed from English.
The Anlos are part of the Ewes of Togo, Benin and the South Western part of Nigeria. They have now settled in the South-Eastern coastal plains of Togo and Volta Region. The people are mainly fishing and farming folks.
The erratic rainfall pattern of the area has however made fishing highly seasonal and precarious occupation. The situation has forced many, especially the youth to venture into other viable economic and commercial activities like trading, weaving among others to survive.
The Ewes of Togo, like other major African ethnic groups, descended from the Biblical Noah. Their ancestors lived in Adzatome also known as Sumeria (Tsumeria) or Anyimewo or Mesopotani or Iraq. The settlement was founded by Ham, the second son of Noah after the Great flood. Other ethnic or cultural groups that descended from Ham and settled in Adzatome were the Cushites, Egyptians, Canaanites and Puts.
The people, according to oral tradition, left Adzatome after God confused the language they spoke and understood.
New clusters of people that spoke the same language emerged and they rallied around new leaders and left Babel which was a suburb of Adzatome to found new settlements.
The ancestors of the Ewes left under their leader called Gu and settled at the delta of the Nile River in the present-day Egypt. As time went on, they were joined by new migrants from other parts of the region.
The Jews also came to join them during the severe drought which brought famine that lasted seven years in the land of Canaan. It was there that the Ewes adopted the circumcision of their male children on the eighth day, composition of long songs, and the worship of the Jewish God Jehovah, the name they corrupted to sound Yewe. Another cultural practice the Ewes adopted from the Jews was the art of pouring of libation.
When the Egyptian Empire fell, the Ewes like the Jews also migrated under the leadership of Mi to Sudan. They were overwhelmed by the vast sea of sand of the Sahara Desert and called the place Ketu. The name Ketu means grinding sand which perhaps signifies the abrasion of the sand during the sandstorms.
The name Ketume and Khartoum give credence to the assumption that the two names could be the same settlement. Ketume means inside the grinding sand.
After staying awhile in Sudan, the Ewes were forced again by drought, famine and slave raids by Arabs to migrate under their leader, So into Abyssinia or Ethiopia. While there, they contributed to the growth and development of Axum and the Cush empires. They were also attacked again by the Arabs. Some of them were captured and sold as slaves in India. The Ewes found it very difficult to withstand the Arab invaders and finally decided under their leader to move out of Abyssinia.
Upon leaving Ethiopia, they moved south-westwards into the region between the bend of the river Niger and the middle reaches of the Senegal River. This was between AD 500 and 1200. During their stay, they contributed to the rise of the Ghana Empire. The capital of the old Ghana Empire was Walata near Timbuktu. Even today, the Ewes refer to the people of Nigeria as ‘Alatatowo’ meaning people coming from Walata which they know to be very far away but cannot be geographically located. There is a drum in Anlo called ‘Ganawu’ meaning the drum of a hyena which when played sounds like the roar of the hyena which incidentally was the insignia of the old Ghana Empire.
The Ghana Empire collapsed and was replaced by the old Mali Empire, one of the most powerful and fearsome king of that empire was Mari Dzata. The word lion in Ewe is ‘Dzata’ which was the insignia of the old Mali Empire. The name Mari Dzata in Ewe means ‘Ameadi Dzata which means the man resembles or is like the lion with reference to the King who was very hard and powerful. When Mari Dzata died his empire began to disintegrate due to internal and external forces. This led to the departure of many sub-ethnic and cultural groups which formed the Mali Empire. The Ewes also left rather than serve under the new Songhai overlords who conquered the old Mali Empire.
The Ewes then moved south toward the Atlantic coast, following the great Niger River into the present day Nigeria under their leader Sasu.
They settled at Ile –Ife in Yoruba land where they found the people still practicing the old art of divination which their ancestors had abandoned in Babylon. The spiritual leaders among the Ewes learnt the art which was called ‘Ifa’ in Yoruba and carried along and consulted it in their subsequent periods of migration.
On arrival at Benin, the Ewes split into three groups. One group settled near the banks of the Mono River and called the settlement Tado. The second group settled between the Mono and the Haho River which later became Notsie. The third group settled in the Adele country and established the nucleus of Dahomey Kingdom or Dogbonyigbo.
After staying at Dogbonyigbo for a while, the ewes moved to Togo and settled in Notsie. Here, they were referred to as the Dogboawo due to their relationship with the settlement at Dogbonyigbo.
The Dogbos had a leader called Wenya, he had his nephew Kponoe, the first chief of all the Dogbos in Notsie under the stool name Sri I. They and the people of Notsie lived under King Agorkoli and shared many things in common.
They however had misgivings about each other, especially with regard to succession to the Tado Stool. One day during a drumming session at Notsie quarters of the Kingdom, a dispute arose between a Dogbo elder called Aga and a Notsie elder called Sui. The dispute spread like wild fire resulting into fighting. The Dogbo Elder, Aga was brutally hit on the forehead with a sharp instrument by a Notsieman called Dzedua who was a close relation of King Agokoli.
Elder Aga was carried home unconscious by his compatriots and was treated. All attempts by King Agokoli to have access to the injured man for treatment proved futile.
The Dogbo elders met and resolved to retaliate. A Dogbo elder died shortly after the incident and they sent word to Agokoli that Aga had died of his injuries.
By law and convention operating at the time, Dzedua was handed over to the Dogbos and was executed. The Dogbos prohibited anyone from revealing that secret.
The Dogbos then decided to organize a final funeral rite for the alleged deceased Aga. Food and drink were in abundance. An elder got heavily drunk and unfortunately blurted out the secret saying “Miawoe nye Adza fe viwo tso Adzatome, amemaku maku fe hlobia lawo’ which literary means – we are the children of Adza from Adzatome, the avengers of the death of the living.
The diplomatic blunder was reported to King Agokoli who immediately turned into a vengeful tyrant and he and his council decided to punish the Dogbos for their sins.
They were ordered to erect a security wall of swish twenty-four feet high and eighteen feet thick around the Kingdom. The swish was mixed with hedgehog’s bristles, prickly thorns and broken pots. After working all night, they returned home limping. They were also ordered to make ropes using swish or clay. Again the youth were mobilized for military service to expand the Kingdom. When all avenues for peaceful settlement seemed closed, the Dogbos and their neighbors met and resolved to escape from the walled city. Gallant hunters including Tsali were secretly dispatched to search for news areas for settlement. The women were asked to empty all bath water and any waste water against the wall to soften and desecrate it.
On the appointed night, the great wall was broken and the people left by walking backwards. The various Ewe groups moved out to their present locations.
Amega Wenya led the group that journeyed south towards the sea. This group comprised the Anlo, Tsevie Ametiave, Be, Togo, Viepe, Ave, Fenyi, Dzodze, Flawu group. The advanced party of the Anlos, led by Agbona, one of the sons of Wenya on reaching Atiteti near Wheta was directed to go through a narrow creek to Kedzi where Amega wenya beheld for the first time, the full stretch of the coast with the golden sand. He then proclaimed “we are on the sand” hence the name Kedzi. Later, he named Keta which he called the ‘head of the sand’ Later, Tegbi and Woe were founded. His children Akuga and others founded klikor and Wheta.
When Wenya and the group reached Anloga, he made that famous proclamation: “Menlo” which literary means- I have coiled -with reference to his advance age. This was because he was too old and could go no further. This proclamation became the name of the Anlo State he founded.
The Anlo Ewes instituted Hogbetsotso to commemorate the exodus of the Ewes from Notsie. The word ‘Ho’ means to uproot or move, ‘Gbe’ means day and ‘Tsotso’ means crossing over. So Hogbetsotso means the day the people rose up and moved out of Notsie. It is celebrated every year on the first day of November.
The Ewes (Eʋeawo) have names (Ŋkɔwo) with significant meanings which either portray the spirituality of the parents or the circumstances in which the child was born. Generally, most of the names are unisex.
The table shows some of the names and their translations.
|Name in Ewe||Translation (Meaning)|
|Agbenyega||Life is great (If you have life you have everything)|
|Butsɔme||Think of tomorrow|
|Dzifa||Peace at heart|
|Eɖinam||Destiny Provides for me|
|Eɖem||He saved me|
|Elinam||He is there for me|
|Elikplim||He's with me|
|Esinam||He has heard me|
|Etɔnam||He has answered my call/prayers|
|Eyram||He has blessed me|
|Gameli||There is time for everything|
|Lebenε||Take care of it/him/her|
|Makafui (Kafui)||I will Praise him|
|Mawunyo||God is good|
|Mawuko||Except God (Only God)|
|Mawusi||In God's hands|
|Nubueke||A new day has dawn|
|Seɖinam||Destiny provides for me|
|Selɔ̃m||Destiny loves me|
|Senyo||God is Good|
|Senanu||It is the destiny that gives|
Additionally the Ewe use a system of giving the first name of a child as the day of the week that the child was born. This arises from a belief that the real name of a child can only be determined after the child has shown its character. However, as a child is a person, not an object, the child must be referred to by some name in the interim, so a name is provided based on the day of birth. A final name is given at a naming ceremony, seven days after the date of birth.
The Ewe naming system is as follows:
|Ŋkeke/Nkeke (Day)||Ŋtsu/Ntsu (Male)||Nyɔnu (Female)|
|Dzoɖagbe (Monday)||Kɔdzo, Kwadzo, Kojo, Kudjoe||Adzo, Ajo, Adjoe|
|Braɖagbe, Blaɖagbe (Tuesday)||Kɔmla, Kɔbla, Kwabla||Abra, Abla, Brã|
|Kuɖagbe (Wednesday)||Kɔku, Kwaku, Awuku||Aku, Akua|
|Yawoɖagbe (Thursday)||Yao, Kwawu, Kwao||Yawo, Yawa, Yaa, Awo|
|Fiɖagbe (Friday)||Kofi||Afua, Afi, Afiwa|
|Memleɖagbe, Memliɖagbe (Saturday)||Kɔmi, Kwami||Ami, Ama, Amé|
|Kɔsiɖagbe, Kwasiɖagbe (Sunday)||Kɔsi, Kwasi||Akɔsia, Akɔsua, Esi, Kwashiwɔ, Awusi|
Often, people are called by their birth date name most of the time, the given name being used only on formal documents. In such cases, children with the same birth name are delineated by suffixes: -gã meaning big, -vi meaning little. So for example, after the birth of another Kofi, the first child called Kofi becomes Kofigã, and the new child Kofi. A subsequent Kofi, would be Kofivi, or (Kofitse mostly among Wedome and Tɔngu Ewes). Sometimes this renaming happens twice, as the second Kofi may have originally been called Kofivi, while the eldest retained Kofi, thereby necessitating that they both be renamed on the birth of the third Kofi.
Ewe religion is organized around a creator/creatress deity, Mawu and Lisa. Mawu and Lisa (Goddess and God) to the Ewe is the Supreme Being and is remote from daily affairs. In addition the Ewe believe in many secondary gods (trowo) that are worshipped in unique ways. They also believe in spirit ancestors and divination is practised. Se is a word for law, order and harmony; Se is the maker and keeper of human souls; in an abstract sense, Se is destiny. Ewe people are also Voodooists.
The Ewe have developed a complex culture around drumming. Ewe believe that if someone is a good drummer, it is because they inherited a spirit of an ancestor who was a good drummer. Music and dance are a force in cementing social feeling among members of an Agbekor society.
In general, Ewe drums are constructed like barrels with wooden staves and metal rings, or carved from a single log. They are played with sticks and hands, and often fulfill roles that are traditional to the family. The 'child' or 'baby brother' drum, kagan, usually plays on the off beats in a repeated pattern that links directly with the bell and shaker ostinatos. The 'mother' drum, kidi, usually has a more active role in the accompaniment. It responds to the larger sogo or 'father' drum. The entire ensemble is led by the atsimevu or 'grandfather' drum, largest of the group.
Lyrical songs are more prevalent in the southern region. In the north, flutes and drums generally take the place of the singer's voice.
The Ewe have an intricate collection of dances, which vary between geographical regions and other factors. One such dance is the Adevu (Ade - hunting, Vu - dance). This is a professional dance that celebrates the hunter. They are meant both to make animals easier to hunt and to give animals a ritual 'funeral' in order to prevent the animal's spirit from returning and harming the hunter.
Another dance, the Agbadza, is traditionally a war dance but is now used in social and recreational situations to celebrate peace. War dances are sometimes used as military training exercises, with signals from the lead drum ordering the warriors to move ahead, to the right, go down, etc. These dances also helped in preparing the warriors for battle and upon their return from fighting they would act out their deeds in battle through their movements in the dance.
The Atsiagbekor is a contemporary version of the Ewe war dance Atamga (Great (ga) Oath (atama) in reference to the oaths taken by people before proceeding into battle. The movements of this present-day version are mostly in platoon formation and are not only used to display battle tactics, but also to energize and invigorate the soldiers. Today, Atsiagbekor is performed for entertainment at social gatherings and at cultural presentations.
The Atsia dance, which is performed mostly by women, is a series of stylistic movements dictated to dancers by the lead drummer. Each dance movement has its own prescribed rhythmic pattern, which is synchronized with the lead drum. 'Atsia' in the Ewe language means style or display.
The Bɔbɔbɔ (originally 'Akpese') is said to have been created by Francis Kojo Nuadro. He is thought to have been an ex-police officer who organized a group in the middle to late 1940s. The dance has its roots in the 'Highlife' popular music in West African countries. Bɔbɔbɔ gained national recognition in the 1950s and 1960s because of its use at political rallies and the novelty of its dance formations and movements. It is generally performed at funerals and other social occasions. This is a social dance with a great deal of room for free expression. In general, the men sing and dance in the center while the women dance in a ring around them. There are 'slow' and 'fast' versions of Bɔbɔbɔ. The slow one is called Akpese and the fast one is termed to be Bɔbɔbɔ.
Agahu is both the name of a dance and of one the many secular music associations (clubs) of the Ewe people of Togo, Dahomey, and in the south-eastern part of the Volta Region. Each club (Gadzok, Takada, and Atsiagbeko are other such clubs) has its own distinctive drumming and dancing, as well as its own repertoire of songs. A popular social dance of West Africa, Agahu was created by the Egun speaking people from the town of Ketonu in what is now Benin. From there it spread to the Badagry area of Nigeria where migrant Ewe fisherman heard, adapted. In dancing the Agahu, two circles are formed; the men stay stationary with their arms out and then bend with a knee forward for the women to sit on. They progress around the circle until they arrive at their original partner.
Gota uses the mystical calabash drum of Benin, West Africa. The calabash was originally called the "drum of the dead" and was played only at funerals. It is now performed for social entertainment. The most exciting parts of Gota are the synchronized stops of the drummers and dancers.
Tro-u is ancestral drum music that is played to invite ancestors to special sacred occasions at a shrine. For religious purposes, a priest or priestess would be present. There are fast and slow rhythms that can be called by the religious leader in order to facilitate communication with the spirit world. The bell rhythm is played on a boat-shaped bell in the north, but the southern region uses a double bell. The three drums must have distinct pitch levels in order to lock in.
Sowu is one of the seven different styles of drumming that belong to the cult of Yewe, adapted for stage. Yewe is the God of Thunder and lightning among the Ewe speaking people of Togo, Benin, and in south-eastern parts of the Volta Region. Yewe is a very exclusive cult and its music is one of the most developed forms of sacred music in Eweland.
- The pride of Ewe Kente http://www.africanfabric.co.uk/bks_001.php
- Ewe Stories and Storytellers http://www.let.leidenuniv.nl/verba-africana/ewe/main.htm
- African Proverbs: Guide to Conduct the Moral Value of Ewe Proverbs http://www.bookfinder.com/author/n-k-dzobo/
- Traditional Ewe stories retold, in English http://books.google.com.au/books?id=uX9xQa3Ri74C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Ewe (Heritage Library of African Peoples) by E. Ofori Akyea
- A handbook of Eweland: Volume I, edited by Francis Agbodeka
- A Handbook of Eweland: Volume II, edited by Kodzo Gavua
- The Ewe of Togo and Benin, A handbook of Eweland Volume III
- Eʋe Dukɔ ƒe Blemanyawo, Eŋlɔla: Charles Kɔmi Kudzɔdzi (Papavi Hogbedetɔ)
- African Rhythm: A Northern Ewe Perspective by Kofi Agawu
- Gahu: Traditional Social Music of the Ewe People
- Kpegisu: A War Drum of the Ewe by Godwin Agbeli
- Gahu: Traditional Social Music of Ewe People