Numbering about 7 million people, the Ewe people inhabit southern Togo, south western Benin, and south-eastern parts of the Volta Region of Ghana. They are an ethnic group with a patrilineal society governed by a hierarchal, centralized authority.
The Ewe language is part of the Gbe language cluster which is spoken in a littoral band of West Africa between the Volta and the Weme (Oueme) rivers which includes other languages such as Fon, Aja, Waci (Ouatchi), Xwela (Hwla) and Gen or Mina. Ewe itself has several dialects such as Anlo, Agave, Kpando, Awlan, Avenor, Peki, Dzodze and many more spoken between the Mono river to the east and the Volta river to the west. All gbe languages share some degree of mutual intelligibility.
It is said the forebears of the Ewe, Aja, Fon and Ga Adangme lived together with the Yoruba in Western Nigeria till the imperial expansion of the Oyo people which made the Ewe and related peoples in the Gbe family migrate westward and establish their own identity as we shall later see.
The Ewe ancestors migrated initially from the Oyo hinterland first to Ketu also called ‘Amedzofe’, a Yoruba town now in modern Benin republic. The Yoruba had founded Ketu by the fourteenth century through Soipasan who was a progeny of Oduduwa from Ife, cradle of Yoruba civilization. Oyo on the other hand has its progenitor in Oranmiyan, another progeny of Oduduwa.
From Ketu some left for Tado, a small town now in present day Togo near the western bank of the Mono river on the Benin border. It was at Tado that the actual Gbe identity formed (initially as Aja) and from where they dispersed in two main directions. The ancestors of the founders of the Dahomey kingdom as well as those of the Gun, Hwla or Xwla, Hweda or Xweda which later became Ouidah/Whydah and Mahi (Maxi) were the first group. They returned east to settle at Allada where they founded the Aja kingdom of Allada, Whydah, Popo and Jakin.
Later on within this first group, some royal princes and their followers migrated northwards from Allada into the Abomey plateau where they mixed in with the aboriginal people of the land who happen to have been a Yoruba subgroup or people of Yoruba provenance similar to the Ketus and Egbas of western Yorubaland. These people were known locally as the Gedevi and are today revered as ancestors in the Fon religion and world view. It is the mixing of these Aja migrants from Allada in the south and the Gedevi already on the land that birthed the identity of the Fon people, and later on the Fon kingdom of Dahomey in the 1600s. All these groups are today recognized to have descended from Aja-Tado via Ile-Ife.
Historians are divided on the movement pattern of the second group who were the ancestors of the Ewe, as some put the line of migration as being; Oyo–Ketu–Notsie, or Oyo–Ketu–Tado-Notsie.
The second line or branch from Tado migrated westwards into Notsie in south-central Togo, also known in historical documentation as Notse and Nuatja. In Notsie, ca.1500, their host king Adela Atogble received them well but his successor, Ago Akoli (Agorkoli), proved himself a tyrant. Having ordered the murder of Ewe elders, he ordered the building of a defensive wall around the city of Notsie. The entire community known as ‘Dogboawo’ lived together, each unit in its individual ward under its own head under the king.
The Ewe, meanwhile, hid an elder, Tegli, in a sacred grove to solicit ideas from him. It was Tegli who advised the Ewe women to form the habit of throwing wastewater at portions of the wall to weaken it overtime for the grand escape they desired.
The vile king of Notsie or Nuatja had also for his entertainment tasked the Ewe men and women to drum, sing and dance through the night for hours. During one of such performances, Tegli, himself a mystic, was carried to the grounds where he drew the “Sword of Liberation,” summoned the gods, and pierced the wall proclaiming, “O Mawuga Kitkata, wuwo na mi ne miadogo, azo adzo” (Oh great God Kitikana, open the door for us so that we walk through).
During the flight from Notsie under the leadership of Torgbui Tsali, the people fled to freedom divided into three major groups. One group settled in the northern part of the new home. It founded the towns of Hohoe, Matse, Peki, Kpando, Awudome, Alavanyo, Kpalime, Agu, Ve, Kpedze and Wodze. The second group founded the settlements of Ho, Akovie, Takla, Kpenoe, Klevi, Abutia and Adaklu.
The third group settled in the coastal regions of the new homeland. It founded Tsevie, Be – which later gave birth to Agoenyive, Bagida and Lome, Abobo, Wheta, Anlo, Klikor, Ave, Fenyi, Afife, Tsiame, Game, Tavia, Tanyigbe, and so on.
No single ‘Ewe Duko’ (Ewe State) was able to permanently impose its authority on the others and thereby create a unified state although the Anlo and Ge tried to expand to attain boundaries that would ensure prosperity and political power, according to accounts.
The state of Anlo is one of the largest of the Ewe coastal tribes in Ghana. The Anlo state is made up of about thirty six city states including Fiaxor, Dzita, Tegbi, Vodza, Anlo Afiadenyigba, Fenyi, Bleamezado, Hatorgodo, Atito, Sasinyeme, Anyanui, Tregui, Evui, Ave-Afiadenyigba and Aborlorve. Abor, Anyako, Keta, Weta, Afife, Flawu, Dzelukorfe, Avenor, Dzodze, Atorkor, Asadame, Woe, Vodza, Srorgboe, Kedzi, Tsiame, Atiavi and Alakple make up the list.
Owing to the destruction by the Atlantic sea waves, the once flourishing centre of Keta lost its place of pride to Anloga which is now the chief city and soul of the Anlo State.
The fifteen clans of Anlo include 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 totems, taboos, and clan cults. Clans have their ancestral shrines at Anloga except for the hetsofe (xetsoe) who have their shrine at Tsiame across the Keta Lagoon.
Among the Anlo corrupted as ‘Awuna’ by the early European merchants and slave traders, the chieftain is the ‘Awomefia’, whose three senior chiefs, in times past, commanded the three military divisions of the state. The kinship is vested in two royal clans, the Adzovia and Bate whose local units at Anloga “provide the Awomefia, adhering strictly to a rotary system.” Anlo proper includes the coastal belt lying between Anyanui at the estuary of the Volta Lake, and Blekusu located about five kilometers east of Keta. It also extends north of the Keta Lagoon as far as Abor more than 40 miles.
The people engage in subsistence agriculture and grow crops like cassava, maize, pepper, and vegetables. An onion (shallot) growing industry abounds. There’s also a thriving ‘kete’ weaving industry and poultry production. In Anlo-Ewe society, funerals are taken seriously. Newborn Anlo Ewe boys are circumcised on the seventh day after their birth and also named on this day, which is exactly the same way it is done amongst the Yoruba people. Newborn Anlo Ewe girls also have their ears pierced on the seventh day and named.
Cultural traits of the Yoruba are visible with the Anlo-Ewe spanning ancestral worship, the worship of deities such as Gu (Ogun) and divination of Fa (Afa) perfected by the former while in Nigeria. Traditionally, the Anlo-Ewe have one supreme God, Mawuga or simply Mawu which in the Youba religion is known as Olodumare.
This has been the oral literature passed down for generations among the Ewe speaking people about their ancestral origins.