Tammari people

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A Tammari house. The thatched structure in the middle of the roof (left) covers sleeping quarters, whereas the one on the right is a granary. The cylindrical structures in the walls are used for storage or for keeping small livestock.
Person Otammari
People Betammaribe
Language Ditammari

The Tammari people, or Batammariba, also known as Somba, are an Oti–Volta-speaking people of the Atakora Department of Benin and neighboring areas of Togo, where they go by the name of Taberma. They are famous for their two-story fortified houses, known as Tata Somba ("Somba house"), in which the ground floor is used for housing livestock at night, internal alcoves are used for cooking, and the upper floor contains a rooftop courtyard and is used for drying grain, sleeping quarters, and granaries. These evolved by adding an enclosing roof to the clusters of huts joined by a connecting wall that are typical of Gur-speaking areas of West Africa. The Tammari are mostly animist by religion. Their language is in the Gur family.

The Batammariba are agronomic herdsmen who inhabit the hills and valleys Being clannish by nature, they oppose any form of domination and servitude. Historical research has traced their migration from diverse regions, settling in small groups, while preserving their societal practices of origin. It would be a mistake to presume that the Batammariba tribe form a homogeneous society. The Batammariba language is a strong common link and despite disparities in ceremonial practices, they all affirm allegiance as "Serpent Children". They believe to be the offspring of a grand,invisible, underground "Serpent Mother" who bore the first eggs of their ancestors.

Link to the Land After years (or maybe centuries) of wandering, the Batammariba settled in the valleys. This was a preferable way of existence to their former history of conflict over law imposing warlords and chieftains. Their name implies a close connection to the land where rituals are practised. The underground region is the domain of dead spirits to whom the Batammariba owe their very existence with nature and the ability to generate. The Batammariba do not consider themselves to be landowners but as caretakers. Their settlement could not have happened without the intercession of The Babietiba, first settlers, who belonged to a highly culturally evolved group of foragers, then introduced them to the “true owners of the region”: underground forces incarnates into a source such as a rock or a tree. Ancestors of Batammaribas concluded an alliance with these forces, swearing they would respect some agricultural rules and respect the pieces of land that belonged to these forces. In exchange of what, the ancestors where allowed to build houses, to harvest the soil. Initiations or rituals are meetings with underground forces. This link to the underground forces demanded bravery, self-mastery, and discretion, essential qualities by which the Batammaribas are formed from a young age.

The Takyenta The Takyenta, traditional dwelling, is typically constituted from mud and surrounded by towers that support garrets, evoking a medieval citadelle. The dwellings each have a masculine south orientation and a feminine north orientation. Models of takyentas differ from village to village. The storied construction with its solid walls acts as a protective fortress to keep out invaders and repel fatal spear attacks on its inhabitants. It also served as protection against leopards who, according to the village elders roamed freely in the overgrown bush. Building the fortress took several months and required much skilled labor. The upper floor was a living space and a safety haven. Up until 2000 parents and their children slept in elevated box structures placed on the sides and center areas of the terrasse.These boxes were also designed to protect the inhabitants and their guests from the midday heat. Nowadays the fortresses are reserved for ancestral devotional ceremonies. The souls of the ancestors reside in the earthern cone-shaped altars. Strangers cannot enter the temple area without permission from the head of the home. On the exterior south side of the fortress are the altars containing animal spirits of animals that were formerly hunted and killed. The altar can also contain underground spirits by which those ancestors who possessed the gift of "sight" had made a pact. Therefore, the connection between the dwellings and the sacred alters of the village is extremely strong.

Foundation of Batammaribas

This connection is a cosmic expression of Batammariba spirituality and they have shown themselves to be intractable concerning their foundation. They maintain a strictly age based hierarchy between the elders and the younger ones (as in all African societies) but oppose any form of centralized power, rejecting hereditary chieftains. Two, four or six clans can form a "village" or, to be more precise, a "territorial groupement" centered around the rituals upheld by each clan. A ritual center is the foundation of the village and is organized around a cemetery, a large initiation house for the youth, and the head serpent sanctuary. The clans share and recognize a certain family bondage as they all descend from the same founding fathers. Another important pillar of the Batammariba is an exceptionally preserved system of funeral rites and initiation ceremonies. Those responsible for the rituals are imbued with authority and are chosen following rigorous ethics notably discretion and self-mastery as, for example, if one is threatened with a knife, prefers to be killed than to kill. Nowadays the Batammariba accord the same importance to their rituals. The youngest amongst them, whether schooled or not, leaves or stays in the village, will very rarely not keep the cycle of initiation tradition. Fidelity to tradition, like caring and respecting the land on which their survival depends, their natural pride, warrior traditions, and hunting skills are being intensely revived with ceremony. This has permitted the Batammariba to resist outside influences that negate their determination to maintain a millenary heritage that makes their culture so remarkable.

Those who have studied this people :

Leo Frobenius

German anthropologist and archaeologist (1873-1938). The archives of the Institute Frobenius associated with the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main (including four scientific collections and important image bank), are regularly consulted.

Paul Mercier

Anyone interested in populations of Atakora, can refer to different works of Paul Mercier. His investigations in the region in 1950 Natitingou concern the movements of the different subgroups tammariba and their neighbors. His numerous articles accurately describe their social organization and land tenure. Prodigious research, still unmatched, if we consider that they were carried out alone, and for the first time, in a relatively short time.

Albert Marie Maurice

Military Natitingou in 1950, Albert Marie Maurice (1913-200211) has conducted extensive research on this company. His photographic archives of great value, are in the Academy of Sciences of oversea.

Rigobert Kouagou

Originally from Natitingou (Benin), Rigobert Kouagou was always passionate about its origins and language, Ditammari,whose he is one of the specialists. He is the author of poems and stories translated into French.

Dominique Sewane

French ethnologist Dominique Sewane  : since the 1980s, researches focused mainly on funeral and initiation rites of Batammaribas of Togo, which resulted in numerous publications and reference works.


Marie et Philippe Huet, Koutammarikou - Somba Portraits - Nord Bénin, éditions Hesse, 2012, 155 p. (ISBN 978-2357060210)
Rigoberto Kpanipa Kouagou, 'L'identité Tammari', Université nationale du Bénin, Cotonou, 1984 (Master's Thesis)

Rigoberto Kpanipa Kouagou, Le défi identitaire du peuple Tammari, FACTAM, Natitingou, République du Bénin, 2002.

Koumba N. Roussey, Le peuple otammari, Essai de synthèse historique, Université nationale du Bénin, Cotonou, 1977 (Master's Thesis)

Albert-Marie Maurice, Atakora, Otiau, Otammari, Osari, Peuples du Nord-Bénin (1950), Académie des sciences d’outre-mer, Paris, 1986, 481 p.

Paul Mercier, Tradition, changement, histoire. Les « Somba » du Dahomey septentrional, ed. Anthropos, Paris, 1968, 538 p. (compte-rendu par Jean-Pierre Chrétien, Annales. Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations, année 1969, vol. 24, no 3, p. 640-648, en ligne sur Persée [11])