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])

Dominique Sewane, Rapport final en vue de l’inscription du Koutammakou, pays des Batammariba au Togo, sur la liste des sites classés du Patrimoine mondial de l’Unesco, décembre 2002, 102 p. Document used for article

Dominique Sewane, La Lance et le Serpent. Rituels du dikuntri et du difwani des Tammariba du Togo, École Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, 1999, 2 vol., 446 p. (Anthropology Thesis) Document used for article

Dominique Sewane, Le souffle du mort : la tragédie de la mort chez les Batammariba du Togo, Bénin, Plon, Paris, 2007, 849 p. (ISBN 978-2-266-17579-1) (cf notes de lecture [13] et [14]) Document used for article

Dominique Sewane, (under name Myriam Smadja) « La maison qui s'enfonce sous la terre (Tamberma du Togo) », in Pour Jean Malaurie : 102 témoignages en hommage à quarante ans d’études arctiques (dir. Sylvie Devers), éditions Plon, Paris, 1990, p. 79-89 (ISBN 9782259019132)

Dominique Sewane (under name Myriam Smadja) « Les affaires du mort (Tamberma du Nord-Togo) », in Systèmes de pensée en Afrique noire, no 11, 1991, p. 57-90.

Dominique Sewane, « Celles qui tombent chez les Tammariba du Togo », in Familiarité avec les dieux. Transe et possession (Afrique noire, Madagascar, la Réunion) (dir. Marie-Claude Dupré), Presses Universitaires Blaise-Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand, 2001, p. 185-221 (ISBN 978-2-84516-147-4)

Dominique Sewane, "Le premier sorgho et la confrérie des Vrais Hommes chez les Tamberma du Togo », in Cuisine et société en Afrique – Histoire, saveurs, savoir-faire (dir. Monique Chastement, François-Xavier Fauvelle-Aymar et Dominique Juhe-Beaulaton), Karthala, Paris, 2002, p. 85-102 (ISBN 9782845862784)

Dominique Sewane, La Nuit des Grands Morts. L’initiée et l’épouse chez les Tamberma du Togo (préface de Jean Malaurie), Economica, Paris, 2002, « coll. Afrique Cultures », 272 p. (ISBN 9782717844849) (note de lecture par Suzanne Lallemand dans le Journal des africanistes, 74-1/2, 2004, p. 527-529 [12])

Dominique Sewane, Les Batãmmariba, le Peuple voyant : carnets d'une ethnologue, Éd. de La Marinière, Paris, 2004, 189 p. (ISBN 2-7324-3209-1)

Dominique Sewane, « Puissance du nom. Les noms secrets des Batãmmariba du Togo, Bénin », in La mort et l’immortalité : encyclopédie des savoirs et des croyances (dir. Jean-Philippe de Tonnac et Frédéric Lenoir), Bayard, Paris, 2004, p. 855-866 (ISBN 9782227471344)

Dominique Sewane, « La tombe et ses orientations », in Antigone et le devoir de sépulture : actes du colloque international de l'Université de Lausanne (mai 2005) (dir. Muriel Gilbert), Labor Fides, Lausanne, novembre 2005, p. 161-176 (ISBN 2-8309-1173-3)

Dominique Sewane, Rapport de coordination du Programme de sauvegarde du Patrimoine culturel immatériel des Batammariba du Koutammakou – Première Phase (novembre 2008-novembre 2009)

Dominique Sewane, « Le Koutammarkou, haut lieu de l’humanité », in Dieux, rois et peuples du Bénin : arts anciens du littoral aux savanes (dir. Hélène Joubert et Christophe Vital), Musée Branly, Somogy, 2008, p. 106-111 (ISBN 978-2757201855)

Dominique Sewane, Rites et pensée des Batammariba pour les écoles primaires du Togo - Ministère des enseignements primaire secondaire et de l’alphabétisation du Togo, Patrimoine Culturel Immatériel de l’UNESCO, éditions Haho, Lomé (Togo), 2009 (in Programme de sauvegarde du Patrimoine immatériel des Batammariba – Unesco-Japan)

Dominique Sewane, « Le voyant, le devin et le maître du savoir chez les Batammariba (Togo, Bénin) », in Les Justices de l'invisible (dir. Soazick Kerneis et Raymond Verdier), L'Harmattan, Paris, 2013, p. 145-180 (ISBN 9782336328041) (actes du colloque de Paris)

Dominique Sewane, « Carnets de terrain au Koutammakou (Togo) », in Revue de la BNF, 2013/3, no 45, p. 40-48

Dominique Sewane, " Transmission des savoirs au Koutammakou", in Regards scientifiques sur l'Afrique depuis les indépendances (dir. M. Lafay, F. Le Guennec-Coppens, E. Coulibaly), Karthala, Paris, 2016, 486 p., pp. 179–209


External links[edit]

« 'Ceux qui malaxent la peau fine de la terre'. Les Batammariba. Anthropologie de 'l'habiter' (3) », blog Regard éloigné, 11 janvier 2013, consulté le 8 octobre 2015

« Chaire UNESCO "Rayonnement de la pensée africaine-préservation du patrimoine culturel africain" (718) | | UNESCO », sur www.unesco.org (consulté le 14 octobre 2015) Document utilisé pour la rédaction de l’article

40th Session of Unesco Heritage – Istanbul: THE ETHIC VALUES OF KOUTAMMAKOU (By Dominique Sewane) – Courrier des Afriques


Carnets de terrain au Koutammakou (Togo) - Cairn.info