Background of the Anlo Ewe
Anlo Ewe is a sub-group of the Ewe people, Avenor Ewe. The Anlo Ewe are a sub-group of the Ewe people of approximately 6 million people. They inhabit southern Togo, southern Benin, southwest Nigeria, and south-eastern parts of the Volta Region of Ghana. Meanwhile, a majority of Ewe are located in the entire southern half of Togo and southwest Benin. It is thought they migrated to their present home from Notsie, Togo sometime in the later part of the seventeenth century. The move is said to be more of an escape than migration from a regime change in the city.
Socio- Political system
The current political system stems from the necessity of military organization to deal with the conflicts in the 17th and 18th centuries. Upon the arrival in the French Togoland, the Ewe people split into smaller subtribes or chiefdoms. Each was autonomous but acknowledged that they are all a single people. The Anlo is one of these tribes.
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Historically, the power of the central authority is rarely invoked, only in times of war or the need of serious judicial counseling. The king is chosen from one of two royal clans either the Adzovia or Bate; selection does not follow the traditional monarchical rule of primogeniture. The clans rotate the designation of kings, keeping one single clan from maintaining power. The selection is made by the elders of the clan from several candidates presented by the various sections of the clan. The elected king holds a position of divinity living in seclusion, only dealing with the three senior chiefs in charge of the geographical regions. These three chiefs as well as the sub-chiefs and head-men in their respective areas have jurisdiction in investigation of crimes and to settle local disputes. The involved parties do have the right to appeal to the king after a ruling has been made in a lower court. Historically the council of elders is more influential based on the Anlo belief that the power of the king is vested in the people. “Du menɔa fia me o. Fiae nɔa du me” (The people do not live with the King. It is the King who lives with the people). If the King ruled out of favor of the people they had the right to replace him.
The Anlo-Ewe is a patrilineal people. Members each belong to a clan in which they believe to have descended along the male line. In most of the larger settlements all of the clans are represented, sometimes by more than one lineage. Lineages are defined as a branch of the clan in which the male and female members can trace relationships back to a common male ancestor. The lineage, in contrast to the clan, is exogamous. Each lineage has its own symbols, ancestral shrine, common property and a lineage head. The head is usually the oldest surviving member of the lineage. He has the final say in most all decisions and disputes and regulates all dealings with lineage interests including land dispersal. On top of secular activities, the lineage head is also the chief priest. He leads many of the ceremonies and serves as the link between the living and dead as all religious offerings are presented to him.
The smallest unit within a lineage is a hut; this is either a wife and her unmarried children or the same with the husband as well. There is a practice of polygyny although a small percentage of men actually have more than one wife. The man is the head of the household or afe and can act without interference except from his father. There is a large respect for elders and as long as a father is around the son is expected to comply with any of his demands.
Traditionally, the Anlo-Ewe have one supreme God; Mawuga Kitikata or just Mawu. This god is believed to be all powerful and everywhere at once. There are no shrines or devotional ceremonies because of this omnipresent belief and instead the people practice religion through lower level divinities. These include Yewe, Afa, Eda, Nana, and Mami Wata. The first two are the most popular, each having a membership initiation process to worship.
Yewe is the god of thunder and lightning. When members are initiated under Yewe, a Yewe name is given at a graduation ceremony. The person’s old name now becomes taboo and if used, the speaker can be put in front of a council of priests to be sentenced to pay a large fine.
Afa is the astral god of divination, also the younger brother of Yewe. Members do not get new names and keep their birth names. Performances are at the forefront of devotional activities for Afa. Members and non-members celebrate Afa together; however, the non-member must wear white clothing and cannot dance next to a member unless at a funeral.
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As elderly respect is in high regard in the Ewe society, funerals traditionally are extravagant events incorporating a multitude of events over a month’s span. In a more modernized and mobile society funeral ceremonies now usually take place over a single weekend, sometimes several weeks after death to allow for distant relatives to travel and allow for accommodation of employment or work.
Sometimes distant family members may commission performances months after death if they could not be present at the actual funeral.
The name nlo (of Anlo) is said to derive from the Ewe term ‘nlo’ which means rolling up or folding into oneself.
Nukunya, G.K.. Kinship and Marriage Among the Anlo Ewe. London School of Economics Monographs on Social Anthropology No. 37. New York: Humanities Press Inc., 1969.
Kathryn Linn Geurts (2003-09-01). “On Embodied Consciousness in Anlo-Ewe Worlds”. Ethnography. Eth.sagepub.com. 4 (3): 363–395.
Amenumey, D. e. k. (1968). “The Extension of British Rule to Anlo (South-East Ghana), 1850-1890”. The Journal of African History. Cambridge University Press. 9 (1): 99–117.
Featured image source: Blackpepper
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