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Daniela Merolla
Mark Turin

3. From Restitution to Redistribution of Ewe Heritage: Challenges and Prospects

Kofi Dorvlo

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  • 1 I am most grateful to the reviewers for their comments and suggestions.

1This chapter presents the rituals of Hogbetsotso, a migration festival of the Anlo-Ewe people, which is celebrated every year as the re-enactment of the migration of Ewe ancestors from present-day Togo to Ghana. Ewe believe that the rituals wash away the ill-feeling and negative thoughts capable of destroying the harmony of the state. The rituals include Dɔɖeɖe, or the physical removal of dirt in the community; Aƒekpɔkplɔ, mental cleansing to facilitate the unity of the state; Nugbidodo, an act of purification to reconcile the people; Tsiƒoƒoɖi, a libation prayer; and Abaɖoɖo, a ritual to remember the departed souls of the community by reciting their names and their deeds, asking them to intercede between the dead and the living. In these rituals, gods and ancestors are invoked to protect and reconcile the people. The ancestors are also expected to give guidance and support for the years ahead.

2This chapter explores the documentation and sharing of heritage materials as a response to those Ewes who feel that the knowledge of the Hogbetsotso is disintegrating. An increasing number of people video-record the festival as cultural heritage to be kept for the future, often selling the recordings as documentary material. This chapter also calls for the creation of a “Heritage week” for both locals and tourists, and suggests that video materials be archived in local museums. The central issue is how are these rituals associated with the Hogbetsotso festival, and how they can be preserved and shared to make them relevant and beneficial to the Anlo State, and to the Ewe people, in a globalized world with competing cultural contacts and influences.

3The Anlo are one of the Ewe groups who, in the early seventeenth century, migrated from the walled city of Notsie (in the present-day Republic of Togo) and settled in the territory of what is now the present-day Republic of Ghana. The Anlo-Ewe now mainly occupy the South Eastern sector of the Volta Region of Ghana, as well as other parts of the country. According to Gayibor and Aguigah (2005), Agokoli succeeded his father Ago as the King of Notsie and his reign was marked by singular violence and tyranny, which were the primary cause of Ewe migrations. Amenumey (1997) supports the migration narrative with archeological findings which point to the fact that Ewe migrations began in present-day Benin in the eleventh century, settling in Ghana in the seventeenth century. On arriving at their present location, the Anlo-Ewe instituted many rituals to preserve the integrity of their state. These rituals have become a part of the Hogbetsotso festival, with the objective of purging the state of all possible forms of evil.

  • 2 According to Greene (2002: 16) and Venkatachalam (2015: 54), the influence of missionary discourse (...)

4The Ewe people believe that God is the Supreme Being and the creator of the world, including all of the people and things that dwell in it.2 They therefore hold the firm view that His powers transcend theirs and that He has the unique attribute of omnipresence. They feel that God is distant from them, but that He is the one who gives the spiritual force to man and it is to Him that this will return when man dies. Asare Poku (1978) notes that the people of West Africa affirm in their worship that God is a spirit and He is never represented or worshipped through any images. The Ewe also believe in the existence of smaller deities and ancestors, and they acknowledge the existence of bad spirits. This is contrary to Christianity, which does not endorse the worship of gods and ancestors.

  • 3 This is why a coin is placed in the coffin of the dead to pay Kutsiami for ferrying the soul of th (...)

5The Ewe believe that, as a mark of God’s benevolence, they were protected while experiencing many hardships in their migration from Notsie to their present settlement. The libation prayers to God affirm that without His protection they would have fallen into the hands of the enemy or become prey to the numerous wild animals that they encountered along the way. In Ewe culture, there is an unbroken relationship between the living and the dead; when the material part of a human being dies, the spiritual part continues to live. This means that death does not end life, but rather the dead live in a world close to the world of the living. These worlds are separated by a river that can only be steered by Kutsiami,3 a boatman who transports the spirits of those who die to the other side of the river where they continue to live and intercede on behalf of those who are living. There is a strong parallel with the river Styx and the ferryman Charon (or Kharon) of Greek mythology, and with the medieval Christian ideas about the afterlife which re-used both Styx and Charon

6As indicated by Meyer, “not all dead souls reached or stayed in tsieƒe [the land of the ancestors]; […] some spirits of the dead (ŋɔliwo) remained on earth to frighten and trouble the living. Those who died prematurely […] were thought of as continuing to haunt the living. […] In order to make sure that these ŋɔliwo reached tsieƒe, the living had […] to perform rites according to the latter’s wishes [of the spirits]” (1999: 64).

7The people who are living are required to perform rituals so that they can continue to benefit from the spirit world’s intercession. First, they have to maintain a healthy environment, which means reconciling all members of the living community by ensuring that they do away with things that will not promote beneficial relationships. They also need to maintain the bond that binds the living and those in the land of the dead. Bad harvest, disease, and misfortune are signs that there is a breakdown of the relationship between the living, the ancestors, and God.

8These principles guide the Ewe people in all that they do. They perform rites with drumming, dance to songs composed to praise God, and request the ancestors to continue to intercede on their behalf. They also pour libations to give thanks to both God and the ancestors. Days are set for the observance of these rites. The local people know their roles; they are aware that if they fail to perform these rituals, sanctions will follow. These beliefs regulate the behaviour of the people in their daily lives.

Heritage Material of the Anlo Ewe

  • 4 On the history of the Hogbetsotso, see Greene (2002: 26).
  • 5 The Asogli are another Ewe sub-group who migrated from Notsie and settled in Ho, Takla, Kpenoe, an (...)

9While these rituals are also observed by other ethnic groups in parts of Ghana and Togo, my focus in this chapter will be on Anlo heritage rituals observed during fieldwork conducted by Daniela Merolla and myself in the Anlo area in 2007, and our attendance at the Anloga Hogbetsotso festival in 2011. It should be pointed out that a comparison between the Anlo and other Ewe-speaking people shows that many similarities exist between their heritage materials. This could be explained by the fact that these rites were performed and learned by the Ewe in their ancestral settlement before they scattered during migration to their present-day locations (Kodzo-Vordoagu 1994). The Anlo instituted the Hogbetsotso festival in the early 1960s to remember the migration.4 Similarly, the Asogli5 people celebrate their festival to remember the part they played in the migration. According to oral sources, they broke the thick wall of Notsie using a sword to facilitate the exodus of the Ewe from Notsie.

10Various rituals are an integral part of the festival and are performed to cleanse and reconcile members of the community. They include the following:

  1. Dɔɖeɖe: The physical removal of dirt, involving the collection and disposal of unwanted material to the outskirts of the town, beyond the gate-keeper idol that protects the state against spirits that cause deadly diseases in the community.
  2. Aƒekpɔkplɔ: The removal of negative metaphysical thought waves, which affect the unity of the state, through mental cleansing.
  3. Nugbidodo: The use of water mixed with herbs to sprinkle on people as an act of cleansing and reconciliation.
  4. Tsiƒoƒoɖi: A prayer to those members of the community who led exemplary lives before they died, to intercede on on behalf of the present-day group.
  5. Abaɖoɖo: A ritual to remember the departed souls of the community by reciting their names and their deeds, and praying to these souls to intercede between the dead and the living. I shall discuss this in more detail later in the chapter.

Drumming and Dancing

  • 6 Examples of such dances are offered in the instructional DVD Dance-Drumming of the Anlo Ewe featur (...)

11Everywhere the Anlo people are found, they come together to organise drumming and dancing as a part of their recreation. According to Ladzekpo (1970), drumming and dancing is a vigorous traditional ensemble art form actively promoted among the Anlo communities through a system of volunteer-run clubs. They appoint their own leaders and work closely under them to compose songs about how they perceive the world and the relationships they engage in. They lampoon these leaders in their songs, to remind them of what befell their despotic chiefs in the past. There are different drumming groups in the communities. This is attested in a series of varied dances, such as war dances, love dances, and recreational dances.6 The war dance relates to the royal family and those lineages that have roles to play in the royal house. The songs depict martial exploits and the dances portray the greatness of the king. The love songs and dances extol the harmonious relationship between male and female. Other songs address aspects of life including morality, the exercise of authority by rulers, and the socio-economic life of the people. Fiagbedzi (1997) classifies the kinds of music according to song type, drumming type and the instrument used. He notes that there are also leisure-time or boredom-killing dances (Modzakaɖeʋuwo). These dances are performed for entertainment during the harvest time and festivals. Examples of these dances are Agbadza, Woleke, and Akpese.

12In storytelling, a member of the audience is permitted to compose a tune for a song that is related to the theme of the story (Glihawo). At the beach, when pulling the net in during fishing, people also sing (Ƒutahawo). When people are bereaved, they sing to drive away their sorrows (Avihawo). People also perform functionally-classified dances for the celebration of their gods, Trɔʋu, and for war, Aʋadeʋu.

13Ritual dances are reserved for the members of cults. The Afa and Yeʋe cults are known to have distinctive dances for when they perform their rites. War dances are performed as a form of recreation to simulate war situations. Examples of these dances are: Gadzo, Atsiagbekɔ, and Atrikpui. On the whole, it can be said that music and dance encompass all aspects of life for the Anlo people.

Sanitation of the Community

  • 7 There are thirty-six Anlo towns. The towns are situated in divisions with their own clan heads, wh (...)
  • 8 “The purpose is to rid the community of those materials that might contain the ill will that has b (...)

14Cleanliness is an important aspect in the lives of the Ewe. When the Hogbetsotso festival is approaching, the elders meet to plan a clean-up exercise called Dɔɖeɖe in all of the divisions and towns under the leadership of the chiefs, priests, and elders.7 The general clean-up starts in August and ends in October. Cleanliness has a spiritual dimension and is treated as such: the people sweep everywhere, including the shrines and the markets,8 to remove all unwanted materials. They also clear bushes, de-silt drains, and drain stagnant water from gutters. All of these unwanted materials are deposited at the outskirts of the town.

15Ewe believe that disease-causing spirits normally seek permission from their gate-keeper idol before entering the community. The permission is granted when the idol realises that the people have left places untidy and have not performed the accompanying rituals. The idol will then allow the disease-carrying spirit to enter the towns and cause sickness. When this fact is brought to the attention of the priests during their routine divine investigation of the state’s spiritual position, they act with dispatch to placate the gods. However, when the rituals are performed on schedule, the disease-carrying spirit will spend little time with the gate-keeper idol. It will be turned away and go to other places where people have broken the relationship with their gods. When the waste is deposited at the shrine of the idol in the next village, the people return to their village in silence. A shot is fired at the dumping site and they are forbidden to look back. As Greene writes, the Dɔɖeɖe ritual materialises “the belief in the power of the body through the use of speech”, which conforms to older beliefs involving witchcraft, while today “witchcraft accusations are virtually non-existent, replaced by the effort to reconcile those at odds with one another” (2002: 104).

Removal of Negative Thought Waves from the Community

16Another important ritual is Aƒekpɔkplɔ, which is mental cleansing involving the use of special herbs. People believe that the state can progress when its people have favourable thoughts, as this will attract positive vibrations. If the king has wronged the people and they hate him, it will result in a situation where both the chief and the people will be ill. A similar belief is reported by Yankah (1999) about the Bono of Techiman in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana. He recounts that, in the eighteenth century, the king, Nana Ameyaw, was a tyrant who did not allow the people freedom of expression. This situation resulted in the refusal of support from the region. As a result, he lost the war with the Ashanti and he was captured; upon his release, he committed suicide.

17The Bono learnt a lesson from this and agreed to celebrate a festival in which they could criticise their chiefs and elders openly. Agovi (1995), portraying what happened during the Kundum festival of the Nzema people in Ghana, notes that people employ verbal art in the form of songs to lampoon those in authority. He also observes that the poets in the community are so skillful that these songs usually resolve problems with authority.

18The mental cleansing of the Anlo people is performed annually, before the Hogbetsotso festival. The assistants of the priest are mandated to go to all of the divisions with a calabash, carrying herbs which have properties for mental cleansing. Anyone who has any grudge against his neighbour is expected to articulate it with a prayer for the success of the state in the presence of the assistant. These verbal requests are believed to be collected alongside a coin that is placed in the calabash. Any person who has a special grievance is permitted to go to the priest and lodge his complaint using this formula. It is believed that all evil thoughts with negative waves will be collected through this method. Such a ritual will be followed with special libation prayers for the cleansing and removal of misfortune from the state.

Libation Prayer

19An important ritual that takes place across the whole country, and many parts of West Africa, is Tsiƒoƒoɖi, the libation prayer. It is performed as a part of all the rituals, and it varies according to the occasion. It is a way of thanksgiving and a humble request for protection from God through the intercession of ancestors. Verba Africana, vol. 19 has documented a libation in a storytelling session for pupils of Seva Zion Primary School. Before starting his story, Kwakuga Goka, the storyteller, poured libation to invite the ancestors to tell a story that would guide the path of the young ones. While he poured the liquor on the ground, he prayed the following:

Tɔgbuiwo, Mamawo
Mia ƒe ahae nye si
Mia va xɔe keŋkeŋ
Alebe susu nava miato gli na ɖeviwo
Woadze fiato adze gato
Ne ɖeviwo
Woazɔ ɖe eŋu estɔ

This is your drink
I pray that you take all and in return
Grant us knowledge to tell stories
To children in the proper way
To serve as a guide in their life
In the near future

  • 10 [N.a.], “Don’t Downplay Libation at State Functions”, Daily Graphic, 10 March 2011.

20In the formal libation prayer of the Hogbetsotso that we attended in 2011, the priest, Kporvi Nyidewu, accompanied by two assistants, was the celebrant. On such an occasion, the priest steps forward, leaving the two assistants behind. The members of the family are seated and they listen pensively. The priest, holding a calabash containing water mixed with cornflour, calls God and then recites the names and appellations of the ancestors, thanking them for interceding on behalf of the living and protecting the land. He then requests a bumper harvest in the coming year and good health for the people. Occasionally, the two assistants respond in support of the priest to indicate that the humble request he is making is the wish of all assembled. The water mixed with cornflour in the calabash is poured on the ground, followed by liquor. The priest returns to the family and the elders welcome him with special greetings, as if he has returned from a distant land – the world of ancestors and spirits. He responds by saying that he has seen the ancestors and that they accepted the offering and agreed to continue to protect them. Not much is written on this subject, but a few religious leaders think that it should be analysed, in order for us to come to the realisation of the good things in libation and not to consider it sentimentally. Archbishop Akwasi Sarpong supports libation as a form of prayer. However, a number of Christians hold contrary views.10

Ensuring the Dead Settle in the Ancestral World

21Abaɖoɖo, the laying of the mat ritual, is another important ceremony performed after the death of members of the clan. These rituals are generally performed before Hogbetsotso, which is the first week of November. This is to make sure that the spirits of the dead are properly accepted in the ancestral world before the festival. Clan members assemble at the village courtyard and the elder hands over a ceremonial mat to the chief celebrant. He lays it in the centre of the semi-circle and recites the names and appellations of the departed ancestors. The members of the clan listen pensively, because this is the occasion when they will learn about the lineage of those who have passed on. They will also hear the celebrant’s appellations that allude to the important contributions the ancestors made to the community when they were alive.

22Water is mixed with cornflour in a calabash, and as the celebrant dips his hand in the mixture, the names of the ancestors are called one by one with their appellations. They are humbly requested to accept the mixture with their supplications. The priest prays that the recently departed, whose souls are believed to be transported by the boatman across the river to their world at the other bank, are formally integrated in the world of the ancestors and the water from the pots is poured on the ground as their names are recited again. Liquor is poured, and the celebrant asks the ancestors to continue to intercede on their behalf with God, as well as fight the bad spirits who work against the members of the clan. He also prays for the progress of the state. The celebrant then steps back, and he is welcomed back from his distant journey to the land of the ancestors. This is followed by the serving of drinks to all of the people present. Next, while the royal war drum Atrikpui is played, dances around the empty pots of water are performed. This is accompanied by the firing of muskets. Nutsuakor (1977) notes that after all of this, people engage in conversation about social issues and the youth who have reached marriageable age are encouraged to marry in the family.

Reconciliation of the People in the Anlo State

  • 11 All the important ‘gods’, are referred to here as divinities. They have their symbols surrounding (...)

23One of the most important traditions is Nugbuidodo. This ceremony is meant to bring peace among the people of Anlo. It takes place on the Thursday before the festival. On this day, all the people of Anloga, the capital city, assemble at Agɔwoʋɔnu, the house where the performance will take place. Here, Togbui Wenya, on arrival at Anloga, performs the ceremony of establishing a settlement (Kodzo-Vordoagu 1994). This place is believed to be the abode of the gods and ancestors. The Awomefia, King of Anlo, and his elders first go to the house of Awadada, the Field Marshall, to verify that none of the accoutrements that will be used for the ceremony have been tampered with. This is to ensure that these artefacts are spiritually intact. The Awomefia leads a procession with special songs to all of the divinities known in the town, announcing his presence to make them formally aware of the reconciliation ceremony.11 When he is satisfied that this is done, he enters the house and takes his ceremonial seat, followed by the Field Marshall, the Chiefs, Priests, Elders and a cross section of the people present. The king’s linguist and diplomat is usually the Master of Ceremonies on occasions like this.

24The traditional poet and speech mediator announces that all is ready for the ceremony to start, and the Awomefia begins to make his address to the people. He ostensibly complains about what happened in the year under review. The address is directed to the following people: the Field Marshall, the Chiefs of the Right, Left and Central wings, the people, and those in charge of the herb. The herb is incorporated into all of the sections of the speech because the herb is believed to have the capacity to remove the ill-feelings that will pour out from the address, ridding the state of the negative thought waves that will harm it.

25The king, conscious that he is in the presence not only of the people but also of the gods and the ancestors who are omniscient, solemnly pours out his grievances. An extract from his speech is presented below:

Sɔhεawo siwo nye Aŋlɔ ʄe adzagba kple sika
Womá womele ɖeka o
Emawo hã nye vevesese le dzi me nam,
Egbe nesee wòage ɖe amatsia me
Ɖekawɔwɔ neva Aŋlɔ me, miawɔ ɖeka.
Zikpui siwo katã le tenyea,
Wosu gbɔ gake fia mele geɖe dzi o
Mi efiawo mie nuteƒe wɔm abe alesi
Mia tɔgbuiwo wɔe hegblȇ ɖe anyi na mi ene o.
Mele hadzi ge ade Aʋadada, aga dzi ade Ɖusifia kple Miafia ha.
Ne mele wo dim be makpɔ la, nyemele wo kpɔm edziedzi o
Wome kpekpem ɖe ŋunye abe alesi dze ene o
Ema hã nye tamebubu blibo nam be fiawo mesɔ gbɔ ʄo xlãm o.
Ɖekawɔwɔ neva Aŋlɔ me, miawɔ ɖeka.
Zikpui siwo katã le tenyea, wosu gbɔ gake fia mele geɖe dzi o
Ema hã nye vevesese nam, eya hã neyi ɖe amatsia me.
Ɖekamawɔmawɔ le Aŋlɔ dukɔa me ya gavem wu nuwo katã
Eye mele edom ɖe ame sia me gbɔ be nye taɖodzinue nye
Be miawɔ ɖeka, mianɔ ɖeka
Aŋlɔdua miagbugbɔ miafɔe ɖe tsitre.
Aŋlɔdua mieva zu kokoe na du bubuwo.
Emawoe nye nye vevesesewo.
Ne emae nye nua, ke nege ɖe amatsia me.

  • 12 I am grateful to Rev. Edem Dande for the translation of the verbal interactions at the 2011 Nugbui (...)

26A translation of this extract is as follows:12

The youth who are the precious jewels
For the adornment of the Anlo state
Cannot act as one; they are divided
These are heavy burdens on my heart
Those in charge of the herb should hear
Let it go into the herb.
The stools under me are many
But only a few of them have chiefs occupying them.
You, the chiefs are not following the standard
Set up by our ancestors in the performance of your duties.
I am pointing the same accusing finger at you,
The Field Marshall, the Right wing and the Left wing.
I do not have you supporting me at all times as expected.
I am extremely worried
There is widespread disunity in the Anlo state.
I want to make a passionate appeal to all
It is necessary for us to unite as one body.
Other communities now ridicule us.
These things are actually disturbing my soul.
If that is the cause of the ill feeling among us,
Then let it go into the herb.

27As the king concludes his presentation, it is believed that the negative thought waves will have found their way into the herbs. The chief’s diplomat announces that the priests should note that the king has made an allusive statement against all three of the wings, and summarises what he said by explaining the proverbs.

28The Field Marshall then takes his turn to present his side of the case, pointing out what needs to be done in order to obtain unity in the state. The opportunity is given to the wing chiefs to respond to the allegations and the people point out all of the omissions on the part of the rulers. In 2011, a section of the speech of Mr. Yevu Dzeklo, a spokesperson in Ewe, was as follows:

Miae Awɔmefia dze agbagba gake
Nu ɖeka si ke mededem le miagbɔ o,
EÞ enya wɔ koa ke egblȇ mi ɖi adzo ayi ablotsi.
Enye mi sɔheεawo ƒe didi be alesi mianɔviawo
Dzo le mia domii alebe womegali o,
Gake dzɔgbevɔetɔe wogblȇ ame aɖewo ɖe megbe
Abe wo viwo ene kple wo srɔwo.
Adze abe, ametsitsiwo gblɔna
Le Aŋlɔ me be ‘etɔ kua vie dã’.
Alebe mieva kpɔkpɔm be ɖeviawo va le dadãm.
Koa mienɔ mɔ kpɔm be miaƒe fiagãwo-
Domefia kple Ɖusifia woale mi aʄo ʄu miabu tame aɖe
Tso ameyinugbeawo ŋu, vevietɔe nye
Nu siwo wogblȇ ɖe megbe
Abe wo viwo kple wo srɔwo ene.
Alebe nu mawo katã nye helehele aɖe tsi akɔta na mi
Alebe miele veve sem tso nuwɔna siawo ŋu.
Ne nu mawo nye nua egbea
Mienɔ anyi ɖe afii le nugbui dom
Egbe nase woayi ɖe amatsia me.

Our king has done well but there is one thing
We are not pleased with:
His frequent visits abroad without prior notice to his council
Is not helpful to the development of the state
There was a disturbance in the state
And some people lost their lives
We have seen that the children
Of these departed souls
Are really suffering
However, nothing was done
To support them.
The youths think that their efforts
Have not been recognised
And rewarded appropriately.
If these are the causes
Of the indiscipline in the state,
As we sit here today
For this reconciliation rite,
Let the herb hear it and put an end to it.

29Those in charge of the herbs turn them, mixing the leaves and sprinkling water on them, and they firmly believe that all of the evil thoughts and deeds which came from the king, the elders and the people will go into the herbs, and thus they can move forward, united as one people. In 2011, as they mixed the herb, Mr. Aʋlavi Besa, the Chief Priest for the occasion, uttered the following words repeatedly:

E e egbea, egbee nenye le gbeʄe
Mieva do wò gba,
Etrɔ zu ŋugbi miedo gba,
Miedo ŋugbuia na Awɔmefia, eduawo, efiawo nanye ama kekeke
Oo! Amevɔwo tɔe yi! Amevɔwo tɔe yi! Miatɔe nye fie.
Efiaa, fiagbe wòdona, Egbea mie gbe do ge, miekpɔ Awɔmefia.
Mie gbe do ge, mie dom ɖe ku dzi o, miedom ɖe ahe dzi o.
Ɖagbe, ɖagbe, ɖagbe, akoe ɖagbe, asi ɖagbe, evi ɖagbe, ketɔ neku hee.
Eye ame yi ke be Awɔmefia meganɔ ne yeanɔ o ɖe,
Nedze ŋgɔ, neyi nɔʄea, neyi nɔʄea wòavae nɔ anyi.
Egbe ya mie dodom fia hã,
Efiawo nesɔ, edu ta bleatɔ vɔ adȇa miawo nu nesɔ.

Yes, today you’re a plant in the forest,
We plant you today,
You have become a reconciliation herb we plant today,
We plant this herb for the king,
The chiefs and the entire community.
Oh! This is for the enemies! This is for the enemies.
Ours is the evening. A chief should speak like a chief.
Today we plant this herb because we have got a king.
As we plant this herb we do it not for death and not for poverty.
We want blessings in terms of money,
Commercial activity, children; the enemy should die.
Anyone who wishes evil for the king
Should take the lead and dwell in the other world.
The herb that we plant today, the chiefs should be united
All the thirty-six towns should be united.

30Water is poured onto the herbs. Then comes the moment when it is splashed on one another, starting with the Awomefia and the wing chiefs. Then it is the present community members’ turn. Afterwards, this herbal mixture is collected into fifteen pots for the fifteen clans of Anlo state. The clan elders take charge of these pots to give this sanctified water to their members, according to their need.

31The elders point out that the breakup of order in Anlo resulted in the inability of the people to come together and contribute payment for the ram that was used for the reconciliation rites. Everything was left in the hands of a small group and their leaders, whereas it is actually the collective responsibility of all in the state. The ram is slaughtered for communal feasting on that day. Finally, all is set for the people to disperse. The Awomefia take the lead and, with songs of joy, move out of Agɔwoʋɔnu. They leave the place in the same order as they arrived. The people return to their homes to prepare for the grand durbar which is taking place the next day. This occasion calls for people to dress in their traditional garb, and it is attended by people from all walks of life. This includes a political figure, to assure the people that they will have their fair share of development projects in the country.

Preservation of Heritage Material

32These preparations are done for the Hogbetsotso festival because of the people’s conviction that they enable them to forge ahead to develop the area in unity and good health. What clearly stands out is the sanitation ritual, which embodies the general cleanliness of the community and the repair of social cohesion. In addition, there are the democratic ideals of the consultation of the masses before decisions are taken, the submission of the king to the people when he is questioned in public, and the sharing of thoughts and feelings with the whole community. These are very commendable principles which are upheld for the healthy development of any social group.

33Expressions of gratitude to God and the ancestors are not left out of the rituals; they are often expressed in the libation prayer. Calling out the names of the ancestors and their achievements preserves them for posterity. While most people do not appreciate the value of the rituals because they have not considered them critically, almost all of the ethnic groups in Ghana use libation as a form of prayer, with very little differences in the actual performance.

  • 13 Coe (2005: 88). Okyeame Akuffo was a Research Fellow of the Department of Linguistics, University (...)

34Libation was carried out during public performances and state functions (Greene 2002: 80; Coe 2005: 88–89), in addition to Christian and Muslim prayers. Realising the importance of this traditional way of expressing gratitude to God through our ancestors, Okyeame Akuffo was made a State Linguist (speech mediator and poet) by President Nkrumah in the early 1960s.13 He poured libation with zeal and exceptional oratory, praising God, praying to Him and reciting the names of the ancestors in Akan.

  • 14 See Nehusi (2013); Sarpong (1996); Opoku (1978) for arguments for and against libation prayer. The (...)
  • 15 On the demonisation of local practices see Meyer (1999).

35Libation is no longer performed at state functions, and sadly there is an informal14 debate as to whether it should be continued at all. It would appear that those in authority are more sympathetic to Charismatic Christian arguments against the pouring of libation; many people who oppose it feel the mention of deities and ancestral spirits is demonic. While some agree with this and believe that libations should be left out of state functions, others think the names of the ancestors should continue to be recited because the great things their forbears did are a model for the youth. The traditionalists also maintain that many people do not know their family line beyond their proximate generations, partly because of the absence of some of these rituals. Because of this, people are easily misinformed about the Ewe beliefs and their culture, ending their discussions with erroneous conclusions.15

36Interviews with teachers, school children, and elders in Accra, Anloga, and in the surrounding areas about their knowledge of the festival and the rituals that are performed before it begins were quite revealing.16 A majority of the people confessed that all they knew was the drumming, the dancing, and the durbar of the chiefs. Members of the Christian Charismatic faith declared that these rituals should be left to “non-believers”, because a Christian should not promote anything that is designed to communicate directly or indirectly with deities and idols. A first result of the interviews was the production of two volumes belonging to the Verba Africana Series17 with the aim to document Ewe cultural heritage and present it with scientifically informed materials and articles addressing various publics. Thanks to the technological opportunities, non-linear hypertexts offer short pieces of information, videos, and sounds for the average reader, while an interested audience with specialized knowledge can access multiple levels of detail through additional hyperlinks.. Documentation is necessary to protect vital aspects of this rich cultural heritage from being lost. At the moment, some of the rituals are almost extinct.

37As indicated above, the emergence of the Christian Charismatic movement in the country, and the misrepresentation of facts about heritage materials, are posing a great challenge to researchers working on them. These groups are intolerant and vocal antagonists of rituals and practices as they present them as aspects of idol worship. A small group of people is given access to record the rituals, but they do not have the capacity to archive them and they are not able to spread awareness of the educational value that these materials possess. A simple search on the internet shows that dozens of recordings of the Hogbetsotso festival, as well as marriage rites, naming celebrations, and religious songs, are available on YouTube, Facebook, and Ghanaian local and national websites. Unfortunately, recording cultural heritage is not sufficient. As indicated by Merolla:

[A]udio-video recording has […] become a fundamental tool for studying oral performances and documenting them for future generations. At the same time, video documentation is not the “ultimate solution” since it only covers a part of the performance; as is the case with written transcription, it implies a process of selection and thus contains the risk of manipulation. Audio-visual recording technology is not only a mechanical tool to record events; it affects what is documented. (2012: 156)

  • 18 The Cultural Banks obtained the Culture for Peace Prize by the Chicar Foundation in 2015. See the (...)

38People in the area possess a captivating heritage which can only be understood when their discourse and symbolic forms are discussed under the guidance of someone who has the appropriate knowledge of what they represent. Those who condemn these rituals are not fortunate enough to have anyone to account for their value. I therefore suggest organising a forum for people who ascribe value to the culture and aspire for its promotion. The initiation of discussion on how to organise a “Heritage week” in the Ewe communities for both locals and tourists would be of great help. During such a week, the importance of these practices could be supported by providing excerpts of performances, explications in the form of short theatre pieces and lectures, and question-answer meetings with pupils, students and the general public. Moreover, participants in the forum and the Heritage week could pressure school authorities to add topics to the curriculum that would give those who pass through the school system knowledge of the rituals and why they are performed. This would make the country’s youth appreciate African festivals, beliefs and rituals. Finally, I suggest that the skills of museum staff be enhanced through in-service training so that they can assist with this project. Inspiration could be taken from the Cultural Bank projects in Mali, Benin, and Togo, which offer “rural populations an opportunity to place their valuable cultural objects in a village museum rather than selling them. In exchange, the villagers are offered financial loans and management training” (Mew 2008).18 A rebranding and packaging of heritage materials should be worked out by those engaged in the training of the personnel. When the museum staff is trained the service that it will be capable of providing will be highly valued by people in the country, including students and, most importantly, tourists who want to learn about the community’s heritage.



[N.a.] “Don’t Downplay Libation at State Functions”, Daily Graphic, 10 March 2011.

Agovi, K. (1995) “The King is not Above Insult: The Politics of Good Governance in Nzema Avudwene Festival Songs”, in: Furnis, G. and Gunner, L. (eds.) Power, Marginality and African Oral Literature (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press): 50–73.

Amenumey, D. E. K. (1997) “A Brief History”, in: Agbodeka, F. (ed.) Eweland. The Ewes of Southeastern Ghana, vol. 1 (Accra, Woeli Publishing Services): 14–27.

Asare Poku, K. (1978) West African Traditional Religion (Singapore, FEP International Ltd.).

Coe, C. (2005) Dilemmas of Culture in African Schools: Youth, Nationalism, and the Transformation of Knowledge (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press).

Fiagbedzi, N. (1997) “Anlo-Ewe Music and Dance”, in: Agbodeka, F. (ed.) A Handbook of Anlo-Eweland: The Northern Ewes in Ghana (Accra, Woeli Publishing Services): 153–176.

Gayibor, N. L. and Aguigah, A. (2005) “Early Settlements and Archaeology of the Adja-Tado Cultural Zone”, in: Lawrance, B. (ed.) The Ewe of Togo and Benin (Accra, Woeli Publishing Services): 1–13.

Greene, S. E. (2002) Sacred Sites and the Colonial Encounter: A History of Meaning and Memory in Ghana (Bloomington/Indianapolis, Indiana University Press).

Klugah, M. A. (2013) “Recounting History through Linguistics: A Toponymic Analysis of Asogli Migration Narratives”, African Journal of History and Culture 5–8: 151–159.

Kobla Ladzekpo, S. and Pantaleoni, H. (1970) “Takada Drumming”, African Music 4–4 (1970): 6–31.

Kodzo-Vordoagu, J. G. (1994) Anlo Hogbetsotso Festival (Accra, Domak Press Ltd.).

Mew, S. (2008) “Public Access to Museums in Ghana and Mali”, in: Voogt, P. (ed.) Can We Make a Difference? Museums, Society and Development in North and South (Amsterdam, Royal Tropical Institute [KIT]): 98–108.

Meyer, B. (1999) Translating the Devil: Religion and Modernity among the Ewe in Ghana (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press).

Nehusi, K. (2013) “Libation: A Ritual of Heritage in African Life”

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Opoku, A. K. (1978) West African Traditional Religion (Singapore, FEP International)

Sarpong, P. (1996) Libation (Accra, Anansesem Publications).

Spieth, J. (2011) The Ewe People. A Study of the Ewe People in German Togo (Accra, Sub-Saharan Publishers),

Venkatachalam, M. (2015) Slavery, Memory, and Religion in Southeastern Ghana, c. 1850-Present (London/New York, International African Institute/Cambridge University Press).

Yankah, K. (1999) “Free Speech as Therapeutic Discourse: Ethnography”, in: Ameka, F. K. and Cantoments, K. Osam (eds.) New Directions in Ghanaian Linguistics (Accra, Black Mask Ltd.): 425–447.


1 I am most grateful to the reviewers for their comments and suggestions.

2 According to Greene (2002: 16) and Venkatachalam (2015: 54), the influence of missionary discourse contributed to present attributes of God, while the figure of Mawu – which assumed the characteristics and name of the Christian God – was a rather distant deity in pre-Christian times.

3 This is why a coin is placed in the coffin of the dead to pay Kutsiami for ferrying the soul of the departed to the ancestral world.

4 On the history of the Hogbetsotso, see Greene (2002: 26).

5 The Asogli are another Ewe sub-group who migrated from Notsie and settled in Ho, Takla, Kpenoe, and other neighbouring villages in the Volta Region of Ghana. According to oral history, they separated from the Anlo when they reached a place called Tsevie (Klugah 2013: 155).

6 Examples of such dances are offered in the instructional DVD Dance-Drumming of the Anlo Ewe featuring the Ghana Dance Ensemble (Vijay Rakhra Productions 2006).

7 There are thirty-six Anlo towns. The towns are situated in divisions with their own clan heads, who serve under chiefs.

8 “The purpose is to rid the community of those materials that might contain the ill will that has been brought into the market by Anlo and non-Anlo citizens alike when engaged in the sometimes rancorous business of trade” (Greene 2002: 104).

9 Verba Africana, vol. 1 can be consulted at

10 [N.a.], “Don’t Downplay Libation at State Functions”, Daily Graphic, 10 March 2011.

11 All the important ‘gods’, are referred to here as divinities. They have their symbols surrounding the outer perimeter of Agɔwoʋɔnu. The procession is led by the Chief to announce the presence of the group to the gods before entering Agɔwoʋɔnu.

12 I am grateful to Rev. Edem Dande for the translation of the verbal interactions at the 2011 Nugbuidodo ceremony.

13 Coe (2005: 88). Okyeame Akuffo was a Research Fellow of the Department of Linguistics, University of Ghana.

14 See Nehusi (2013); Sarpong (1996); Opoku (1978) for arguments for and against libation prayer. The most impressive are the arguments advanced by Archbishop Akwasi Sarpong in support of libation prayer at national functions in Ghana. He notes in his words that libation is a national heritage that could hardly be discarded. He also points out that the absence of libation at national functions could have serious spiritual repercussions on the nation.

15 On the demonisation of local practices see Meyer (1999).

16 In 2006, Daniela Merolla and I conducted these interviews and collected oral narratives at Seva in Southeastern Ghana.

17, vol. 1, Ewe Stories and Storytellers from Ghana and vol. 4, Hogbetsotso: Celebration and Songs of the Ewe Migration Story. Interview with Dr. Datey-Kumodzie.

18 The Cultural Banks obtained the Culture for Peace Prize by the Chicar Foundation in 2015. See the project description at


Senior Lecturer at the General and Liberal Studies Department of the University of Health and Allied Sciences in Ho, Ghana. He gained his undergraduate degree in English and Linguistics at the University of Ghana, and he did his graduate work at the same university, where he was appointed Research Fellow at the Language Centre. He was awarded a Ph. D. from Leiden University in 2008. His doctoral research, which was funded by the Endangered Languages Programme of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), focused on the documentation of the language and culture of the Logba people. Email:


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