By Carly Ahiable

 

The Anlo people of Ghana celebrated the Hogbetsotso Festival in November at Anloga, the traditional and ritual capital of the Anlo state. It was a day that unfolds Ewe history and brought a replay of memories of the legendary exodus and heroic acts of men of valour and mystical powers who liberated the Ewe-Dogbo people from the rule of tyrant King of Kings Torgbui Agorkorli of Nortsie in Togo.

The event brought together all the chiefs and elders of Anloland at a colourful durbar to mark the annual event regarded as the largest and most impressive festival in the Volta Region.

‘HOGBETSOTSO’ is derived from the word ‘HOGBE’ or ‘HOHOGBE’ the day of exodus, the moment in time when the Ewes in the Dogbo quarter of the walled city of Nortsie in Togo fled to their freedom.

According to historians, the original home of all Ewes of which the Anlo people form part, is traced traditionally to Oyo in Western Nigeria from where they migrated to their present country in the seventeenth century. There is ample evidence to prove that the Ewes stayed in Nigeria. Cultural traits of the Yoruba people can be traced among the Ewes of Anlo which is clearly evidenced in musical forms i.e. the Ganu (Anago) dance, ancestral worship, the worship of deities and divination (AFA KAKA) an art perfected by the Ewes while in Nigeria. Other traditions among the Anlo people are TRONUAWO – priest-kings and TROXOVIWO – vestal virgin shrines.

However, Nortsie is seen as the place of major exodus of the Anlo ancestry. Other historical accounts have linked Ewes to roots in North Africa, Sudan, Egypt, and the Middle East. In fact, today some Anlo elders refer to Egypt as their fatherland (Fofofe) and identify themselves as the sons of ADZA (Ham). Historians have agreed that they are from ADZATOME (Hams Jurisdiction) .

The Kingdom of Anlo is one of the largest of the Ewe coastal tribes in Ghana. The Anlo state is made up of about thirty-six major [City] states including Abor, Anyako, Keta, Weta, Afife, Flawu, Dzelukorfe, Avenor, Dzodze, Atorkor Asadame Woe, Vodza, Srorgboe, Kedzi, Tsiame, Atiavi, and Alakple. Others are Fiaxor, Dzita, Tegbi, Vodza, Anlo Afiadenyigba, Fenyi, Bleamezado, Hatorgodo, Atito, Sasinyeme, Anyanui, Tregui, Abor, Weta, Evui, Ave-Afiadenyigba and Aborlorve.

Situated 12 miles west of Keta, Anloga which is now developing at the expense of Keta because of the latter’s destruction by the Atlantic sea waves, has established itself as the spiritual home, chief city, and soul of the Anlo State.

At Nortsie, celebrated hunters and natural leaders with mystical powers such as Kugboaka, Tegli, Gemedzra, Setsi, Amega Wenya, Torgbui Takla, Kponoe Sri I, Adela Adzoma, and Tsali Akplomada played various roles to set the stage for the miraculous escape from the walled city of Nortsie.

According to oral historical accounts, in the beginning the inhabitants of the Nortsie enjoyed relative peace under various rulers until Torgbui Agorkorli emerged on the scene. He used forced labour from the Ewe-Dogbo people to build a wall around his city which measured 24 feet tall and 18 feet wide, wide enough to allow for patrols with horses. There are varying accounts about the reason for building the wall. Some historians have agreed that the walls were to prevent slave raiders from attacking the residents in the royal city whilst others believe it was to keep the kings enemies from escaping but as fate would have it for the Dogbos it turned out to be a kind of prison for them making it possible for wicked King Akorkorli to perpetuate more atrocious acts against the Ewe-Dogbos to settle scores for the killing of his son.

Oral tradition [history] has it that one day the king’s fovourite son, Ekpei [Atsifoza] and the son of Sri I, Atsifoza [Ekpei] were engaged in aquatic sport during which the Dogbo royal was almost drowned but Torgbui Sri I conspired with his elders to falsely accuse Atsifoza of drowning their son. They sent word to King Agorkorli about the supposed death of their son to get Agorkorli’s son killed for the alleged murder. This was a good opportunity to punish King Agorkorli for his wickedness to the Dogbos.

The plan of the feigned death of the Dogbo royal was executed expertly and Ekpei was taken into hiding while someone who bore semblance to Ekpei was killed and laid in state to make their case. After the funeral, King Agorkorli released his son to be killed under his tough laws similar to the Mosaic Law of “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” At long last the secret of the feigned death was revealed. Sri I was drunk one day and publicly boasted that “MIAWOE NYE ADZA VIWO TSO ADZATOME, AMEMAKUMAKU FE HLORBIALAWO” translated “We are the children of Ham from Ham’s jurisdiction (Egypt), the avengers of the living dead.”

King Agorkorli became incensed when he was informed about the Dogbo deception and ordered the killing of all Dogbo elders in revenge. However, Torgbui Tegli was taken into hiding in a sacred groove in the forests of Nortsie. His son Kelemu who did the job kept the secret and Tegli was ministered to from his hideout. [Allowed] a few Dogbo heads visited him to consult him whenever the situation arises. He was the only advisor left among the Ewe-Dogbo people whose solution to problems was without comparison in his time.

The wall of Nortsie was reinforced to prevent any possible escape of the Dogbos. It was said that the bodies and blood of King Agorkorli’s enemies were used to lay the foundation of the wall to spiritually fortify the city. In fact, any [attempted] escapee was executed. Many Dogbos died during the construction of the wall because the Nortsie supervisors under instructions from King Agorkorli mixed the clay with thorns, sharp cutting instruments, and broken bottles apparently to exterminate the workmen.

The wall was finally built after a Dogbo spiritualist neutralized the cutting effects of the foreign objects in the clay for the construction work. The wicked King Agorkorli was astonished but continued with his dreadful policies to annihilate the Dogbos in revenge for the killing of his son.

The king next ordered the Dogbos to provide him with twine made of clay. There will be mass execution if this difficult and impossible demand is not met. A powerful delegation went to Torgbui Tegli to seek his advice. He told the delegation to go and demand a sample of the clay twine from the king to help the workers to make an excellent pattern out of the old one, “XOXOAWO NUE WOGBEA YEYEA[WO] DO.”

The king was overwhelmed at the demand of the Dogbos to have a sample of the clay twine which he could not provide. His authority was threatened and he instituted harsher policies that often led to the death of many aliens in his kingdom.

The Dogbo people planned a bloody escape during which the royal guards at the gates to the city would be killed but Torgbui Tegli dropped that plan for a peaceful and tactful flight. He advised that a section of the wall should be mapped and women were instructed to pour household water and water contaminated with menstrual flow [on] a portion of the swish wall. This was to neutralize the mystical powers that were supposed to have made the wall super-hard because of the infusion of human blood and dead bodies of the king’s enemies during its construction.

The Dogbo women kept the secret and over a long period weakened and desecrated wall with the dirty water. On the day of departure ‘HOHOGBE’ the Dogbos organized an all-night drumming and dancing session as they often did. According to oral tradion, at midnight, Torgbui Tegli, carrying ‘ADEKPUI’ the dagger of liberation, was whisked into the city. He was spiritually shielded from the eyes of enemies as he possessed mystical powers and spirits of the forbearers. He pierced the wall with the dagger dealing an occultic death to the wall and the men brought the wall down. The people fled to freedom under the command and leadership of Torgbui Tsali. Torgbui Tegli was too weak to undertake the long journey. He did not die in the hands of Agorkorli. Oral tradition said he vanished (ETSI AMLIMA DOZI) and relocated himself in a distant land where he died and joined the ancestors in the land of death (TSIEFE.)

The forebears of the Dogbos, after wandering, entered Ghana and finally broke into smaller states namely Anlo, Asorgli, Gbi, Akpini, Tornu, and Hokpe. With time other traditional areas were established. Now we have to main groups, the southern Ewes which include the Anlos with their traditional headquarters and King at Anloga; the northern Ewes, referred to as the Ewedomeawo who inhabit the central belt of Ghana.

Dutor Wenya, the founding father of Anloga created a well-developed traditional institution, the clan which united his kingdom and made it powerful. In Anlo everyone belongs to one of the fifteen patrilineal clans. The Avenor people who were originally part of the Anlos have their own system that is quite separate and different in organization from the Anlo clan system.

According to history, When Amega Wenya led his people from HOGBE, he founded many communities along the route and on reaching Anloga his advanced age would not allow him to continue the journey. The old man told his tribesmen that ‘MENLO’ or ‘TORGBUI BE YENLO’, literally meaning ‘the oldman says he has recoiled (tired),’ and therefore cannot move on hence the name ENLO which was corrupted to ANLO or ‘AWUNA’ by the early European merchants and slave traders.

The fifteen clans of Anlo are Lafe, Amlade, Adzovia, Bate, Like, Bamee, Klevi, Tovi, Tsiame, Agave, Ame, Dzevi, Vifeme, Xestofe, and Blu.

The original clans from ‘HOGBE’ (Nortsie) were the Kleviawo, Ameao, Lofeawo, Amladeawo, Bateawo, Vifemeawo, Bluawo and Adzoviawo, All clans have their ancestral shrines at Anloga except the Xetsofe who have their shrine at Tsiame across the Keta Lagoon. Each clan has totems, taboos, and clan cults.

The Anlo state instituted a centralized traditional political system complete with executive authority, an administrative and judicial institutions which are administered by chiefs and elders of the state at the head of which is the AWOMEFIA, The King who is attributed with the powers of divinity and lives in a sacred place ‘AWOME’ made holy by the presence of the ancestral gods. Below him are three senior chiefs, who in the past commanded the three military divisions of the state. The kinship is vested in two royal clans, the Adzovia and Bate whose local segments at Anloga provide the AWOMEFIA, adhering strictly to a rotary system.

According to Anlo practices, when it is the turn of a clan to provide a king the elders of the clan meet to select a candidate on the basis of physical appearance, intelligence and good character. Usually the various segments of the clan each present their own candidates. They compete with one another for sometime before a candidate acceptable to all emerges.

The alternating rule was established owing to a historical incident. The stool belonged to the Adzovia clan. The Bate clan acquired succession rights as reward for a service performed by Togbui Adeladzea for his mother’s brother (Uncle) Sri the founder of the Adzovia clan.

According to the history of the Anlo heritage, when the Dogbos were fleeing Nortsie they forgot to carry an ivory stool (NYIDUZI) which is the soul of the people and the rain making stone Tsikpe, which were bequeathed to Sri I by his father Adza Asimadi through Adela Blebua. The absence of these items was said to have brought calamity to the Anlo state at appoint in history and after much divination the gods revealed that unless these items were brought back to Anloland there will be no peace for the people.

Fui, the son of the AWOMEFIA was the ideal candidate to undertake the expedition but his mother and uncle strongly opposed the decision for fear of his life. Adeledzea, the AWOMEFIA’S nephew agreed to go for the items. After two expeditions to Nortsie the mission was accomplished and the items were returned to Anloga. To reward Adzeladzea, Torgbui Sri I decreed that after his death he (Adeladzea) should become the next king but succession should be reversed to his children after Adeladzea’s death. This act of valour by Adeladzea created the rotary system of kinship in Anloga.

The different physical features of Anloga and its surrounding communities provide a multiplicity of economic activities. The costal strip which is sandwiched between the sea and the Keta Lagoon makes it an important fishing industry. Available statistics indicate that the Anlo coast is more heavily fished than any other West African coast.

Subsistence agriculture is common and crops grown include cassava, maize, pepper, vegetables. The application of guano and cattle dung to improve the fertility of the heavy clay soil in the neighbourhood of Anloga has given rise to an effective onion [shallot] growing industry.

The mixed economy of Anloga also includes a well-developed kente [kete] weaving industry poultry production and the rearing of pigs [ship, goats] and ducks. Anlo proper includes the coastal belt lying between Anyanui at the estuary of the Volta Lake, and Blekusu located about five kilometres east of Keta. It also extends north of the Keta Lagoon as far as Abor more than 40 miles.

The Anlo state provided security to its people and fought a number of wars to fend off enemies or gain more territories. The gallantry of the Anlo warriors and statesmen is summed up in the following dictum, “Anlo kotsiklolo, naketi deka nor dzome binu” meaning ‘Anlo, the unified state, one firewood is able to prepare a meal, which translated means (one man has performed the task assigned to many men).