Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Oral History from Ghana (the Ewes and others)

It is really hard to find any post-European history about Ghana and Ghanaian tribes. Most of what we know is oral history and it’s hard to separate myth from fact. Stories that are obviously myth have become accepted as fact making it difficult for some of us to believe anything. In primary school we learned about the migration of the Ewes and other tribes but that wasn’t enough for me. I pestered my Dad and any adult I could find to tell me more about our history.

Over the years I’ve tried to gather as much oral history about my tribe, the Ewes, as possible. I’m going to share a few of the less know ones in this post.

In Ghana, the Ewes are sometimes referred to as ‘Ayigbe-fuɔ’, by the Akans and ’Ayigbe-tsɛmɛin’ by the Ga people. Some people find this name offensive others don’t.
It is believed that the Ewes and the Gas migrated to their present locations around the same decade. The Ewes first settled at Nortsie in present day Togo and began farming. The Gas later joined them but after a few years, their population increased considerable and they decided to move to a new land they didn’t have to share. Some of Ewes moved to modern day Ghana in the Volta Region and some of the Gas moved to Accra. The gas who decided to stay (in present day Togo) were led by the Crown Prince called ‘Ayi’ and those who left were led by the King. The migrating Gas left behind some of their royal paraphernalia, gods and priests in the care of Ayi.  
A few years later the King died and a delegation was sent to Ayi to come back home with the gods and priests and take his right full place as King. By that time the Gas and Ewes had intermarried and Ayi had been made a King.
Ayi decided he didn’t want to leave his new home and sent the delegates back to the elders with the messages, “yaa kɛɛ amɛ akɛ, ‘Ayi Gbɛ’”. 

yaa kɛɛ amɛ akɛ”, means, “Go tell them…” in Ga
And “Ayi Gbɛ”, means, “Ayi refuses or says no” in Ewe. 

The delegates took the message back but pronounced “Ayi Gbɛ” as “Ayigbe”. The elders were no sure of what to make of the message as they didn’t understand Ewe. A new Ga King was later installed but to this day, when the Gas celebrate their annual festival, Homowo, parts of the traditional rites have to be done in Togo.

I was in class four when I heard the story of Okomfo Anokye and Otumfour Osei Tutu and all I could think was, “Wow, this sound just like Merlin and King Arthur”. Both feature a mysterious and powerful wizard, Okomfo Anokye and Merlin. Both stories talk about a King from humble beginnings, Arthur and Osei Tutu, both feature glorified furniture, the Golden Stool and the Round Table and both have an unremovable sword.
The origin of Okomfo Anokye is a bit sketchy. Some say he just walked out of the forest one day and some say he was born to Ano and Yaa Anubea, both from Awukugua-Akuapim.
Some Ewes believe that Okomfo Anokye was the twin brother of Togbe Tsali a power wizard who lived among the Ewes while they were in Nortsie. Anokye and Tsali decided the two powerful wizards could not occupy the same land and since Anokye was the younger twin he had to leave and find his own path. Anokye traveled west till he reached the land of the Ashantis where he was known as “Ɔkɔmfoa ɔfri Nɔtsie” (The priest/wizard from Nortsie). Somewhere along the line, Ɔkɔmfoa ɔfri Nɔtsie” became Okomfo Anokye.

Okomfo Anokye's Sword

It is believed that Okomfo Anokye's sword can never be removed and so long as it remain planted in the ground, the Ashanti Kingdom will never end.
(me fooling around with Ghanaian Mythology and European Mythology)

Kente is a very colourful cloth worn by many tribes in Ghana. Kente is loom woven mainly in Bonwire in the Ashanti Region and Agotime Kpetoe in the Volta Region
The Akans believe that Kente was invented by a farmer (or Hunter) in Bonwire who observed a Spider weaving its web and later went home and tried his hand at it. The Ewes from Agotime Kpetoe believe the Akans learnt the art of weaving Kente from them. This post is mainly about Ewes so I will tell their side of the story. Someone else can tell the Akan version.
The people of Kpetoe believe that Kente has been with them for so long that the origin is unknown. It is believed that Ashanti’s learned to weave Kente by visiting some Ewe weavers. The Ewes explained the weaving process to the Ashantis by say, “Kɛ” with means open and “tɛ” which means press. The “Kɛ-Tɛ” is the method of weaving Kente. The Ashantis who learned from the Ewe took this knowledge back home and introduced it to others. They named the cloth “Kente” and attempt to explain “Kɛ-Tɛ” to other weavers.

The Akans and Ewe have a long history of mistrust. No one is really sure of the root of this but there are many stories that seek to explain it. This is the one I know.
The Ashantis were warriors who liked nothing better than conquering other tribes and expanding their kingdom. When the Ewes settled in the Volta Region, it is believed that some of them ventured inland as far as into the Ashanti Kingdom to trade. The Ashantis decided to gather information from these traders in an attempt to go east and conquer the Ewes. The only thing stopping them from reaching Eweland was the Volta River and the Ashantis didn’t know how to cross the river. They hired a few Ewe traders to help them cross when they got there. The plan was to cross the Volta in canoes in small batches till everyone was at the other side. However anytime the boat got into the middle of the river, the Ewe boat men would turn over the canoe and drown the Ashanti warriors who were unable to swim then go back for another batch of warriors. This went on for a while before the Ashantis found out something was not right. When they found out, they killed as many of the boat men they could find and vowed never to trust an Ewe ever again.

Note that none of these stories can not be in anyway confirmed as truth. Every tribe has different versions of these stories. Feel free to share any story about any Ghanaian tribe in the comment section.

ɛ ➡ the 'E' sound found in 'bed' ie bɛd
ɔ ➡ the 'O' sound found in 'box' ie bɔx

The Story of the Ancient Ewe Language 
(in Ewe with Subtitles in English and other languages)