History of the Ewe People
The Ewe are people of rich history originating from the Nile valley which, after a transition to Oyo (Nigeria), Kétou (Benin), and finally Tado (Togo), established their roots in Notsé, Togo around the 15th century. In the 17th century, following an internal crisis, the Ewe rebelled and fled south and west to neighboring Ghana. Those who remained founded the six original districts (Alinou, Agbaladomé, Adimé, Ekli, Tégbé and Kpédomé) which still exist today.
The name Notsé is a deformation of the word Noin, which means "we stay here" in the Ewe dialect. Notsé is a village located 100 km north of Lomé (the capital city of Togo), and it's the village where S H E is headquartered in Togo.
The Ewe under King Agokoli
It is difficult if not impossible to talk about the Ewe without referring to the gigantic AGBOGBO wall. In the 15th century, King Agokoli built an imposing wall called "Agbogbo" of 14.5 km long (10 miles), 10 meters tall (30 feet) and 1 meter width (3 feet) around the village; the remains of which are still visible in places.
Legend has it that King Agokoli gave the Ewe many difficult tasks. He ordered them to build the walls of his city with mud, glass, stones and thorns, using only their hands and feet. It is said that they were asked to build a rope with only clay. They were severely punished if they refused to obey the king's orders and their lives were difficult. King Agokoli even demanded that the Ewe kill their elders to avoid sharing their wisdom and experiences.
The Flight of the Ewe
To properly plan their escape from this oppressive rule, the Ewe managed to hide one of their elders by the name of Tegli; and together they formulated an escape plan. His ingenious plan was that women had to pour water on a specific point on the wall while doing the dishes and doing the laundry. Over time, the wall became soft and all the people gathered around the wall and started to play music. At night Tegli made a hole in the wall with the "Sword of Liberation" so that women and children could escape.
Legend has it that the men walked backwards so that their footprints did not show that they had escaped. When King Agokoli's men were looking for the Ewe, they got confused because the tracks did not allow them to find the Ewe. It was a brilliant plan and executed perfectly. The flight of Notse has been told for generations and generations. Some details change from group to group, but history teaches all of us the value of our elders and the importance of working together.
History teaches all of us the value of our elders and the importance of working together.
After this flight, the Ewe dispersed almost everywhere in Togo and in neighboring countries. At the end of the 19th century, the western Ewe were attached to the English colonies in Ghana, and the eastern Ewe to the German Togoland and Benin. After the First World War, Togo was placed under the international mandate of the League of Nations and occupied in part by England and in part by France.
The problem of the division of Ewe between several countries has been raised many times, in 1920 at the NLS and in 1947 before the United Nations. The recommendations of these organizations did not prevent the division of the Ewe. Today, the Ewe people are divided between the countries of Ghana, Togo, and Benin.
The escape of Notsé due to the tyranny of king Agokoli and the following separation did not prevent the Ewe from remaining united by their language and especially by their traditions and their unique culture. They are a people who have an important sense of family and the family is always very close. All family members are honored, including the extended family: cousins and grandparents. It’s a very festive people; it is said that even under the reign of the tyrannical king Agokoli they were well known for their music and their dances.
The most important celebration of the Ewé people is called Agbogbo-za and it starts every first Thursday of September every year. More than a ritual celebration, Agbogbo-za is the biggest traditional celebration of the Ewe people and is meant to celebrate the Ewe’s escape from King Agokoli. The chiefs put on their best clothes and they dance a lot, drumming and drinking to celebrate their freedom. Over the years this celebration has drawn larger and larger crowds and has become a joyful event to celebrate the history of the Ewe.
Another fascinating part of Ewe culture is the importance placed on children's names. They choose names that have meaning or reflect the parents' spirituality or the time and circumstances of the birth of the child. The name can also refer to the day of the week the child was born. In addition, a middle name is given to them once their personality is more developed.
Today, the Ewe are mostly farmers, mainly cultivating corn and yams. Fishing, at sea and in lagoons, is an industry organized by "fishing companies" which employ specialized workers. At the end of the season, the profits are shared between all the team members, a larger share going to owners of canoes and nets.
The material culture of the Ewe is influenced by that of their neighbors. The weaving is a thriving industry; ceremonial clothes worn in Ghana and Togo are produced in large quantities. Cotton, local and imported, is dyed using the bark of certain trees. In the coastal towns, gold and silver are worked. Many markets stimulate trade, some resellers are professionals.
Political and religious organization
Ewe is a patriarchal community. The founder of each Ewe community is the chief, and is succeeded by a son or a male relationship. The patrilineal principle therefore has an important role in political segmentation.
The Ewe were subdivided into more than one hundred and twenty independent sub-tribes with a territorial base (du or duko). The capital was the fiadu or village of the chief (fia or fio), chosen by the ancients in the royal lineage.
The Ewe religion has three aspects: first, the cult of Mamwu, the supreme creator god, usually associated with heaven, and who has his appointed priests; then the worship of the Trowo spirits, created by Mamwu and intermediaries between him and men in all the circumstances of the life (one counted more than one hundred and fifty of them, some of which are more particularly attached to the lineage or the sub-tribe); and finally, the Ewe practice ancestor worship.