The Ewe (Eʋeawó “Ewe people”, Eʋedukɔ́ “Ewe nation”are a people located in the southeast corner of Ghana, east of the Volta River, in an area now described as the Volta Region, in southern Togo and western Benin. They speak the Ewe language (Eʋegbe), and are related to other speakers of Gbe languages such as the Fon and the Aja of Togo and Benin.
Description and culture
The Ewe are essentially a patrilineal people; the founder of a community was the established chief, and was then usually succeeded by his paternal relatives. The Ewe are thought to have migrated south from Nigeria (The Oyo Empire) to their present area around the 13th century. They are divided geographically between Ghana (Volta Region) and its eastern neighbor, Togo (southern). This area was colonized by the Germans and was originally called Togoland. After the German defeat in World War I, the Ewe homeland was split between France and England. Most Ewe can trace male ancestors to their original villages and make their territorial divisions along those lines. Extended families are the most important units of Ewe social life. Ewes have never supported a hierarchical concentration of power within a large state.
In modern times, chiefs are generally elected by consensus and get advice from elders. There are a number of guidelines regarding the behavior of chiefs. They are expected to keep their heads covered in public, and are not to be seen drinking. The people see the chief as the communicator between the every day world and the world of the ancestors. The chief must always keep a clear mind. Traditionally, chiefs are also not to see the face of a corpse. They may take part in the funeral, however, once the corpse is buried or inside the coffin. They are not to have any contact with the corpse.
Traditionally, chiefs sit on a black stool. A white stool is reserved for ‘honorary’ chiefs. These are auspicious individuals who have been made a ‘chief’ as recognition for their contribution to a village. Certain rituals cannot be performed by an honorary chief, and must be attended by the true chief.
The pouring of libations is an important ritual within Ewe society. Generally, only chiefs can pour libations, but sometimes, at a durbar, a linguist performs the role. Libations are poured three times, in honor of ancestors, life, and the libation’s offerer himself.
The Ewes like neighboring Akan tribes wear Kente as their traditional cloth. The style of wearing Kente is similar to Akans like the Ashantis and Akyem. The Ewe have a long history of weaving ´Kente` cloth, especially in Kpetoe (a town in the Volta region of Ghana). In the Ashanti wars against the Ewe, Ewe weavers were captured (Ashanti warriors who were captured were resettled at Worawora in the Volta Region by their captors, the Ewes)and it thus have been prisoners of war from the Ashanti / Ewe wars that taught the Ashanti how to weave. The Ashanti legend holds that they learned it from a spider. Kente might be a contaminated word for the Ashanti. Ke in Ewe means to ´to open` and te means ´to press`. The Ewe hold that the word ´Kente` thus describes the weaving motion of the feet.
The Ewe (Eʋeawo) have names (Ŋkɔwo) with significant meanings which either portray the spirituality of the parents or the circumstances in which the child was born.
These names most likely spread to the area when the Akwamu, who are Akan, had an empire which spread all the way from Ghana to modern day Benin.
Ewe religion is organized around a creator deity, Mawu. Mawu to the Ewe is the Supreme Being and is remote from daily affairs. Se is a word for law, order and harmony; Se is the maker and keeper of human souls; in an abstract sense, Se is destiny.
The Ewe have developed a complex culture around drumming. Ewe believe that if someone is a good drummer, it is because they inherited a spirit of an ancestor who was a good drummer. Music and dance are a force in cementing social feeling among members of an Agbekor society.
In general, Ewe drums are constructed like barrels with wooden staves and metal rings, or carved from a single log. They are played with sticks and hands, and often fulfill roles that are traditional to the family. The ‘child’ or ‘baby brother’ drum, kagan, usually plays on the off beats in a repeated pattern that links directly with the bell and shaker ostinatos. The ‘mother’ drum, kidi, usually has a more active role in the accompaniment. It responds to the larger sogo or ‘father’ drum. The entire ensemble is led by the atsimevu or ‘grandfather’ drum, largest of the group.
Lyrical songs are more prevalent in the southern region. In the north, flutes and drums generally take the place of the singer’s voice.
The Ewe have an intricate collection of dances, which vary between geographical regions and other factors. One such dance is the Adevu (Ade – hunting, Vu – dance). This is a professional dance that celebrates the hunter. They are meant both to make animals easier to hunt and to give animals a ritual ‘funeral’ in order to prevent the animal’s spirit from returning and harming the hunter.
Another dance, the Agbadza, is traditionally a war dance but is now used in social and recreational situations to celebrate peace. War dances are sometimes used as military training exercises, with signals from the lead drum ordering the warriors to move ahead, to the right, go down, etc. These dances also helped in preparing the warriors for battle and upon their return from fighting they would act out their deeds in battle through their movements in the dance.
The Atsiagbekor is a contemporary version of the Ewe war dance Atamga (Great (ga) Oath (atama) in reference to the oaths taken by people before proceeding into battle. The movements of this present-day version are mostly in platoon formation and are not only used to display battle tactics, but also to energize and invigorate the soldiers. Today, Atsiagbekor is performed for entertainment at social gatherings and at cultural presentations.
The Atsia dance, which is performed mostly by women, is a series of stylistic movements dictated to dancers by the lead drummer. Each dance movement has its own prescribed rhythmic pattern, which is synchronized with the lead drum. ‘Atsia’ in the Ewe language means style or display.
The Ewe-speaking people in the central and northern parts of the Volta Region of Ghana cultivate the Borborbor dance. Borborbor (originally ‘Akpese’) might have originated in the Kpando area, and is said to have been created by the late Mr. Francis Kojo Nuadro. He is thought to have been an ex-police officer who returned to Kpando and organized a group in the middle to late 1940’s. The dance has its roots in the ‘Highlife’ popular music of Ghana and other West African countries. Borborbor gained national recognition in the 1950’s and 1960’s because of its use at political rallies and the novelty of its dance formations and movements. It is generally performed at funerals and other social occasions. This is a social dance with a great deal of room for free expression. In general, the men sing and dance in the center while the women dance in a ring around them. There are ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ versions of Borborbor; the fast Borborbor is believed to come from the Kpando area and the slow version from Hohoe. The slow one is called Akpese and the fast one is termed to be Borborbor. Lolobi-Kumasi is known for doing a particular fast version of the slow version.
The Gabada dance was originally juju and not a social dance. Its original use was as part of a ritual used by men for seducing women. The dance was done after the juju had worked.
Agahu is both the name of a dance and of one the many secular music associations (clubs) of the Ewe people of Ghana, Togo, and Dahomey. (Gadzok, Takada, and Atsiagbeko are other such clubs). Each club has its own distinctive drumming and dancing, as well as its own repertoire of songs. A popular social dance of West Africa, Agahu was created by the Egun speaking people from the town of Ketonu in what is now Benin. From there it spread to the Badagry area of Nigeria where migrant Ewe fisherman heard, adapted, and eventually took it to Ghana. In dancing the Agahu, two circles are formed; the men stay stationary with their arms out and then bend with a knee forward for the women to sit on. They progress around the circle until they arrive at their original partner.
Gota uses the mystical calabash drum of Benin, West Africa. It was originally called “drum of the dead” and was played only at funerals. It is now performed for social entertainment. The most exciting parts of Gota are the synchronized stops of the drummers and dancers.
Tro-u is ancestral drum music that is played to invite ancestors to special sacred occasions at a shrine. For religious purposes, a priest or priestess would be present. There are fast and slow rhythms that can be called by the religious leader in order to facilitate communication with the spirit world. The bell rhythm is played on a boat shaped bell in the north, but the southern region uses a double bell. The three drums must have distinct pitch levels in order to lock in.
Sowu is one of the seven different styles of drumming that belong to the cult of Yewe, adapted for stage. Yewe is the God of Thunder and lightning among the Ewe speaking people of Ghana, Togo, and Benin. Yewe is a very exclusive cult and its music is one of the most developed forms of sacred music in Eweland.