There are hundreds of ethnic groups in Africa, and most have their own language, traditions and culture. This article is going to focus on the Ewe people and their incredible story.
THE HISTORY OF THE EWE PEOPLE
There are 5 million Ewe People; approximately 2.7 million in Ghana, 2.1 million in Togo and 0.2 million in Benin. The Ewe people are also a minority ethnic group in Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. They speak the Ewe language.
Some archaeological evidence suggests that they can be traced back to the 13th century, to Oyo, Nigeria. Other oral and archaeological traditions suggest that a series of migrations started in the 11th century and that the present Ewe settled in Ghana in the early 17th century. It is also said that the Ewe people might have spent time in Egypt, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
When the British, Belgian, French, German and Portugese colonies created borders in the 19 th century, the Ewe people were divided; the Ewe speaking people of West Africa inhabit the areas between the river Volta in modern Ghana and the river Mono on the western borders of the Ancient Kingdom of Benin. This has meant that the Ewe People, like many other ethnic groups in Africa, have developed different dialects amongst themselves, and are ruled by different governments. One of their most famous and exciting stories is their escape from Notsie and the tyranny of King Agokoli; after the Ewe people were divided, this story was even used by Ewe tribe to argue that the Ewe are one people with one common language.
The division has led to some religious and cultural differences, but the Ewe people are strongly united by their language and are especially known for their vibrant and unique traditions and cultures.
CULTURE AND FESTIVALS
The Ghanaian Ewe People also know how to party; it is said that even under King Agokoli’s tyranny they were still recognised for their music and dance! There are many festivals throughout the year and one of the largest is called Hogbetsotso. The Hogbetsotso festival is held in the Volta area on the first Saturday in November. It is known as the ‘Festival of the Exodus’, which celebrates the escape from King Agokoli. The chiefs dress in their finest clothes and there is plenty of dancing, drumming and drinks in celebration of their freedom.
Over the years the festival has drawn bigger and bigger crowds, and has become a light-hearted celebration and account of the Ewe legend; during the re-enactment of the escape from Notsie, King Agokoli is portrayed as a bumbling and drunken fool, rather than an evil tyrant.
Another fascinating part of Ghanaian Ewe Culture is the significance of naming their children. They choose names that signify either the spirituality of the parents, or the time and circumstances of the child’s birth. The name may also refer to the day of the week that the child is born. However, they are given another name once the child’s personality develops.
ESCAPE FROM NOTSIE
Much has been said about their famous migration story, and the tale is significant for the Ewe People.
Legend has it that King Agokoli gave all sorts of difficult tasks to the Ewe people. He ordered them to build the city’s walls with mud, glass, rocks and thorns, using only their bare hands and feet. It is even said that they were asked to build a rope out of clay! They were severely punished if they refused to obey these orders, and so there lives were extremely difficult.
King Agokoli also demanded that the Ewe People kill their elders, to stop them getting any wisdom and experience. However, according to the story, one elder was hidden, and he came up with an escape plan; his name was Tegli. His cunning plan was that the women should throw water against one spot of the wall whilst they were washing their clothes and dishes. When they did this, the wall became soft, and so all the people gathered near the wall and started to play music. Whilst they did this, late at night, Tegli carved open a hole in the wall with ‘the Sword of Liberation’, which created space for the women and the children to climb out.
According to legend the men walked out backwards so that their footprints would not show that they were leaving. When King Agokoli’s men were searching for the Ewe People, they were very confused by the tracks and could not find them. It was a brilliant and perfectly executed plan.
The escape from Notsie has been told orally from generation to generation so some details may be different depending on where you are, but for everyone the story teaches us the value of our elders and working together.
MODERN DAY COMMUNITY
Many of the modern day Ewe people are farmers, blacksmiths, fishermen, spinners, weavers, and traders. The women usually work as merchants, who buy and sell these materials.
The Ewe people have a great sense of family, and the families remain very close throughout their lives. The founder of each Ewe community is the chief, and he is succeeded by his sons or his male relatives when he dies; this type of community is called a ‘patrilineal community’. All members of the family are honoured, and this includes the extended family as well, such as cousins and grandparents. One of the reasons the family is so close is because the Ewe people believe in the supernatural powers of their ancestors, which creates a bond between different generations of each family.
The chiefs have to follow many rules whilst they are in charge. They must keep their heads covered in public and they cannot be seen drinking, as the chiefs must always be ready to communicate with the ancestors. They are also not allowed to look at the face of a corpse or touch a corpse, although they may be in charge of funerals if the body is already buried. The chief also has a special black stool that is just for him.
The Ewe people are also known for being very independent; many of their decisions are made by the elders or the chiefs within each village. They even have their own flag!
These are some historical insights into the Ewe People, but there are countless other stories and fascinating rituals that belong to this wonderful group.