HISTORY OF EWES
The Ewes are indigenous peoples inhabiting the coasts of the republics of Ghana, Togo, and Benin in Africa. The name is also applied to their language. They traditionally have been organized in small kingdoms, with the kings chosen from among the chiefs. Descent follows the male line, and property is held in common, although individual ownership of personal possessions is permitted. Inheritance passes to the maternal uncle, with movable property going to the paternal uncle and the children. The basic economy is agricultural. Traditional Ewe society has featured a highly developed judicial system and complex religious beliefs. According historians, Eweland extends from the Mono River, on the western border of Benin, across Togo and into southeastern Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast and British Togoland) as far as the Volta River. South to north, it extends from the coast into the heavily forested hills, a distance of 130 km (80 mi). The region covers about 26,000 sq km (10,000 sq mi) and is densely populated. Tradition places the origin of the Ewes on the Niger River, to the northeast of their present location. In their new location they found themselves in the path of the slave trader. Just before the coming of the British, French, and Germans in the 19th century, the Ewes were persistently attacked by the Ashanti people from the northwest. In 1884, when the German protectorate of Togoland was established, the Ewes were divided between British and German territory. After World War I (1914-1918), with the defeat of the German army, the League of Nations again divided Eweland, granting territory mandates to both Great Britain and France. In 1945 the League of Nations was dissolved and the United Nations was formed. One year later the United Nations granted Great Britain and France trusteeships over their respective territories. The purpose of these trusteeships was to bring about the eventual self-government of the territories.
After World War I, and more persistently afterWorld War II (1939-1945), Ewe leaders worked toward national unity. In February 1946 a convention was held by the Ewe Unionist Association at Accra, capital of the Gold Coast, at which representatives of French Ewe organizations were present. This convention led to a meeting in Accra in June 1946 of a more formal All-Ewe Conference, which set up permanent working committees. The conference sought to unite the Ewes of French and British Togoland in an independent administrative unit. For a full decade, the All-Ewe Conference kept the issue of unification on the agenda of the United Nations Trusteeship Council. A highly organized campaign resulted in the presentation of 800 petitions to the United Nations, while sufficient funds were raised to send 25 representatives to New York in this period. After several hearings, a Trusteeship Council mission was sent to investigate matters in 1949 and 1952.Shortly thereafter, Great Britain announced its intention to withdraw as trustee from British
Togoland. The United Nations then supervised a plebiscite, or public vote, to settle the fate of the territory. This took place in May 1956, after a year of preparation. The people voted 93,365 for unification with the Gold Coast and 67,422 against.
BELIEF IN GOD
Before the Bremen missionaries reached West Africa in the 19th century, the Anlo-Ewe knew God and called him “Mawu”. When they invoke his presence, they elaborate on the name: “O Mawuga Sogbolisa, Kitikata adanu wo to amesi wo asi wo afo.”This means the Great God who created hand and foot. But they have worshipped him through their traditional intermediary deities. Some of them are: Yewe, Eda, Nana, Mamiwota, Afa, etc. Before medical science was known in West Africa, the priests of these deities healed our patients.
The traditional healers do not take God’s Supremacy lightly. He created the universe and everything in it: water and herbs. Because they use water and herbs to treat their patients, the healers always give God credit when their patients survive. Their usual expression is “God has blessed our efforts. If someone is ill, you only let the person wash him or herself with the water in the basin before the icon” or wash him or her with the herb water and the sick person will recover. A West African god of thunder and lightning, Yewe, is worshipped among the Fo of Benin and the Ewe of Togo and Ghana. It is called Shango among the Yoruba of Nigeria. Like African Christians who adopt what we are told are Christian names, the initiated members of Yewe are given the Yewe names. The new name would be announced at the member’s graduation performance to inform the community and to forbid the public from calling the member by his or her old name. Anyone who calls the member by his or her forbidden name after the official introduction will have committed an offense against the member and the deity. The offender will be summoned and tried before a jury of priests and the Yewe elders according to the laws of the religion. If the offender is found guilty, he or she will pay a heavy fine.
Afa, the younger brother of Yewe, is the West African astral god of divination. It originated in IIe -Ife in Nigeria among the Yoruba who call it Ifa. The Fo of Benin call it Fa and the Ewe of Togo and Ghana call it Afa. As a visionary deity, Afa sees the past as well as the future and communicates that through “Agumaga” to a diviner. Agumaga is a divining chain with four concaves on each side of the chain and looks like a horseshoe when held by the loop. The diviner holds the loop-like head and throws it on a mat to communicate with Afa in the spirit world to answer questions.When the divining chain lands on the mat, the concaves are guided by both the spirits of Afa and the client to turn in an unpredicted manner to reveal the sign that would answer the client’s question. The first “kpoli” or sign that reveals itself would answer the question. The client also may ask questions for clarification.When the process is over, the diviner will analyze the literature of the kpoli that answers the question and what the client needs to do or not to do to experience his or her good wishes.
Consultation with Afa is not limited to individuals. Groups may consult on group issues. A social dance group may consult a diviner to find out if their group’s perfomances would be successful. If they would not, would there be anything they could do to assure their success. Also, elders of all the other deities, including Yewe, consult Afa diviners to know what their deities want done before their annual festivals begin. Membership in Afa is by personal choice. Unlike Yewe, the members do not adopt new names after initiation; they keep their given names. Both members and non-members perform its music provided the non-members wear white clothing like the members. But non-yewe members do not perform alongside the members unless the performance is at a funeral of a member. On that day only, the non-members will perform alongside the members and sing the Yewe songs with immunity. That day’s performance is always referred to as “free-for-all.” A non-member who sings the songs a day after the free-for-all performance violates the moratorium and he or she will pay a stiff fine.
Supremacy of God is recognized among Afa members also. After invoking the names of the major kpoliwo or signs, the officiating priest will call another sign, “Kpoli, Gudafluwogbe” to deliver the congregation’s requests to God, to leave the bad omens there, and to bring God’s benediction to the members.
Afa divinity has 16 “Dunowo” or twin signs, but there are a total of 257 “Kpoliwo”or signs. From 1-16 are the twins and the combination signs are called “viklewo”i.e.the 17th. It is the combination of the 13th and the 15th signs of the twins. In casting, the signs are not formed manually. They are formed when the Agumaga is thrown on the mat. ( see the signs below) Because “Kpoliwo” are astrally connected, there might be some similarities between them and zodiacal signs. But “kpoliwo” are neither based on one’s date of birth nor assigned to anyone by the high priest of the religion. Each member’s sign will emerge through the initiation process. This process is objective and influencedonly by the spirits of the person and the divinity.
When the Agumaga is thrown on the mat, the pattern it makes determines the Kpoliwo or sign. Here are examples of the first seventeen Kpoliwo.
1. Gbemedzi Tototo,lololo
2. Yekumedzi Bokono tedu kpokpo
3. Wolimedzi Gbodovi mebu na
4. Dimedzi Wodi kpa
5. Losomedzi Akpa bie nu ne xe
6. Nolimedzi Agbali kpata
7. Ablamedzi Ebe xexi me no
8. Aklamedzi Adenyra mewua
9. Gudamedzi Ebe yeti,yeti
10. Samedzi Awuito awuida
11. Ekamedzi Eka dzelele, nka
12. Trukpemedzi Ezie avu to, avu ha
13. Tulamedzi Tumbe, dombe
14. Letemedzi Ezu si gla ye
15. Tsiemedzi Kata dzie dza
16. Fumedzi Fumedzi, hekpa
17. Tsietula Klevovi mefoa to wo de o
(Some Dancers of the Afa music)
(Source: Dutor Anya Cultural Center, Anyako, Ghana)