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Ewe people

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Title: Ewe people  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Tabom people, Anlo Ewe, Togo, Fon people, Kabye people
Collection: Ethnic Groups in Africa, Ethnic Groups in Benin, Ethnic Groups in Ghana, Ethnic Groups in Nigeria, Ethnic Groups in Togo, Ewe People
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Ewe people

Eʋe, Eʋeawó
Total population
Approximately 4.8 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Ghana 2.9 million  Togo 1.2 million[1]
Predominantly Vodun, with small Islam and Jews and Christian minority
Related ethnic groups
Fon, Gen, Phla Phera, Aja people
People Eʋeawo
Language Eʋegbe
Country Dugame
Flag of the Ewe people

The Ewe (Ewe: Eʋeawó, lit. "Ewe people"; or Eʋedukɔ́} , lit. "Ewe nation"[2]) are an ethnic group located in Togo (formerly French Togoland) and Volta Region, Ghana (formerly British Togoland; both formerly Togoland, the southern part of which was Eweland or Eʋedukɔ́), and southern Benin. They speak the Ewe language (Ewe: Eʋegbe) and are related to other speakers of Gbe languages, such as, the Fon, Gen, Phla Phera, and the Aja people of Togo and Benin.


  • Origins 1
  • Description and culture 2
  • Geography 3
  • Ewe Language (Eʋegbe) 4
  • History 5
  • Names (Ŋkɔwo) 6
  • Naming System 7
  • Religion 8
  • Ewe music 9
  • Ewe dance 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13
  • Bibliography 14


The Origin of the Ewe is similar to those who speak Gbe languages. These speakers occupied the area between Akanland and Yorubaland. Previously some historians have tried to tie them to both Akan and Yoruba ethnic groups, but more recent studies suggest these are distinct ethnic groups that are neither Akan or Yoruba, but influenced by both.[3][4]

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 divided geographically between the western part of Benin (formerly Dahomey), and Togo (southern). The Volta Region was colonized by the British and was originally called British Togoland. After the German defeat in World War I, the Ewe homeland, British Togoland and French Togoland were renamed Volta Region and Togo. The French Togoland was renamed Republic of Togo and gained independence from France on April 27, 1960. Most Ewe can trace male ancestors to their original villages and make their territorial divisions along the Republic of Togo and Volta Region lines. Extended families are the most important units of Ewe social life. Ewe have never supported a hierarchical concentration of power within a large state.

Ewe kente cloth

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 everyday 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.


Ewe people are located primarily in the Republic of Togo, in the Volta Region of Ghana, in parts of Benin and Yorubaland in Nigeria.

Ewe Language (Eʋegbe)

Location where Ewe is spoken in Yellow

Ewe, also written Evhe, or Eʋe, is a major dialect cluster of Gbe or Tadoid (Capo 1991, Duthie 1996) spoken in the southern parts of the Volta Region, in Ghana and across southern Togo,[5] to the Togo-Benin border by about three million people. Ewe, belongs to the Gbe family of Niger-Congo. Gbe languages are spoken in an area that extends predominantly from Togo, Benin and as far as Western Nigeria to Lower Weme; that is, from the Greenwich Meridian to 3oE and from the Atlantic coast to about 8oN.

Ewe dialects vary enormously. Groups of villages that are two or three kilometres apart use distinct varieties. Nevertheless, across the Ewe-speaking area, the dialects may be broadly grouped geographically into coastal or southern dialects, e.g., Aŋlɔ, Tɔŋú Avenor, Watsyi and inland dialects characterised indigenously as Ewedomegbe, e.g., Lomé, Danyi, and Kpele etc. (Agbodeka 1997, Gavua 2000, Ansre 2000). Speakers from different localities understand each other and can identify the peculiarities of the different areas. Additionally, there is a written standard that was developed in the nineteenth century based on the regional variants of the various sub-dialects with a high degree of coastal content. With it, a standard colloquial variety has also emerged (spoken usually with a local accent), and is used very widely in cross-dialectal contact sites such as schools, markets, and churches.

The storytellers use a dialect of Aŋlɔ spoken in Seva. Their language is the spoken form and hence does not necessarily conform to the expectations of someone familiar with the standard dialect. For instance, they use the form yi to introduce relative clauses instead of the standard written si, and yia 'this' instead of the standard written sia. They sometimes also use subject markers on the verb agreeing with the lexical NP subject while this is not written in the standard. A distinctive feature of the Aŋlɔ dialect is that the sounds made in the area of the teeth ridge are palatalised when followed by a high vowel. For instance, the verb tsi 'become old' is pronounced [tsyi] by the storyteller Kwakuga Goka.

Ewe is bordered to the west by the Akan, and to the north by the Dagomba Northern Region and Upper East Region languages, for example, Siwu, Siya, Likpe etc., some Gur languages such as Kabiye. To the east are the Gbe dialects —Gen, Aja and Xwla— all of which have degrees of intelligibility with Ewe (Kluge 2000). Ewe is used as a second language in the Volta Region communities (Ring 1981). It is studied as a subject at all levels of education in Togo up to and including the tertiary level. In Togo, where French has been the official language, Ewe and Kabiye have been declared the two indigenous languages being promoted for official use in education, mass media, etc. Ewe is thus used for radio and TV broadcasting and in some community newspapers in Togo and some south-eastern parts of the Volta Region. In the Togo and Volta Region, Ewe is used in adult literacy programmes leading to an increasing number of publications in the language on topics of health, agriculture, and child rearing, among others (Duthie and Vlaardingerbroek 1981). French is present in the Ewe speaking communities in Togo and Benin respectively. Some speakers are bilingual or multilingual in Ewe, and French or English and/or other languages such as Hausa, Kabiye, Akposo, Yoruba etc. Due to contact with some of these languages, some words are borrowed into Ewe. In the story told by Madam Hodolo Atɔsu, she uses words like kɔnset 'concert' and flawas(i) 'flowers' both borrowed from English.


The Ewes are an ethnic group in West Africa who are spread mainly between the Mono and the Volta rivers within the borders of Ghana, Togo and Benin. The Ewes "had been on the move" for a long time, migrating from Tando, in modern day Western Nigeria to Notsie (ŋɔtsie) in Togo. Notsie was their last settlement before migrating and settling in their current place Eweto or Ewenyigba. They have now settled in the South-Eastern coastal plains of Togo and Volta Region. The people are mainly fishing and farming folks. The erratic rainfall pattern of the area has however made fishing highly seasonal and precarious occupation. The situation has forced many, especially the youth to venture into other viable economic and commercial activities like trading, weaving among others to survive.

Names (Ŋkɔwo)

The Ewes (Eʋeawo) have names (Ŋkɔwo) with significant meanings which either portray the spirituality of the parents or the circumstances in which the child was born. Generally, most of the names are unisex.

The table shows some of the names and their translations.

Name in Ewe Translation (Meaning)
Agbenyega Life is great (If you have life you have everything)
Akorfa (Akɔfa) Comfort
Akpenε Thank thee
Aseye Praises
Butsɔme Think of tomorrow
Dɔmenyo Kindness
Dzifa Peace at heart
Dzigbɔɖi Patience
Dziɖuɖu Victory
Dzidzɔ Joy/Happiness
Eɖinam Destiny Provides for me
Eɖem He saved me
Elinam He is there for me
Elikplim He's with me
Esinam He has heard me
Etɔnam He has answered my call/prayers
Eyram He has blessed me
Fafa Peace
Gameli There is time for everything
Klenam Shine
Kekeli The Light is here
Lebenε Take care of it/him/her
Makafui (Kafui) I will Praise him
Mawuli God exists
Mawuena God giving
Mawunyo God is good
Mawuko Except God (Only God)
Mawusi In God's hands
Nubueke A new day has dawn
Nunana God's Gift
Nopenyo The sweet place
Nyonator The maker of good things
Seɖina Destiny provides
Seɖinam Destiny provides for me
Selɔ̃m Destiny loves me
Senyo God is Good
Senanu It is the destiny that gives
Yayra Blesses
Xoese Believe
Xɔse Faith

Naming System

Additionally the Ewe use a system of giving the first name of a child as the day of the week that the child was born. This arises from a belief that the real name of a child can only be determined after the child has shown its character. However, as a child is a person, not an object, the child must be referred to by some name in the interim, so a name is provided based on the day of birth. A final name is given at a naming ceremony, seven days after the date of birth.

The Ewe naming system is as follows:

Ŋkeke/Nkeke (Day) Ŋtsu/Ntsu (Male) Nyɔnu (Female)
Dzoɖagbe (Monday) Kɔdzo, Kwadzo, Kojo, Kudjoe Adzo, Ajo, Adjoe
Braɖagbe, Blaɖagbe (Tuesday) Kɔmla, Kɔbla, Kwabla Abra, Abla, Brã
Kuɖagbe (Wednesday) Kɔku, Korku, Kwaku, Awuku Aku, Akua
Yawoɖagbe (Thursday) Yao, Yaw Yawo, Yawa, Yaa, Awo
Fiɖagbe (Friday) Kofi Afua, Afi, Afiwa
Memleɖagbe, Memliɖagbe (Saturday) Kɔmi, Kwami Ami, Ama, Amé
Kɔsiɖagbe, Kwasiɖagbe (Sunday) Kɔsi, Kwasi Akɔsia, Akɔsua, Esi, Kwashiwɔ, Awusi

Often, people are called by their birth date name most of the time, the given name being used only on formal documents. In such cases, children with the same birth name are delineated by suffixes: -gã meaning big, -vi meaning little. So for example, after the birth of another Kofi, the first child called Kofi becomes Kofigã, and the new child Kofi. A subsequent Kofi, would be Kofivi, or (Kofitse mostly among Wedome and Tɔngu Ewes). Sometimes this renaming happens twice, as the second Kofi may have originally been called Kofivi, while the eldest retained Kofi, thereby necessitating that they both be renamed on the birth of the third Kofi.


The following are six most important Ewe annual religious observations, celebrated among Ewe Christians, Jews, and Muslims: (1.) Christmas, observed in December by Christians, (2.) Rosh Hashanah, observed around September each year by Jewish people across the globe, (3.) Hajj (Pilgrim to Mecca) and (4.) Ramadan (Breaking of the fast), celebrated around October and June consecutively by Muslims every year, (5.) Passover or Exodus, an observation marking the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, celebrated annually around April, also by Jews, and lastly (6.) Easter, marked by Christians usually in March.

Ewe religion is organized and centered around a creator/creatress deity, Mawu and Lisa. Mawu and Lisa (Goddess and God) to the Ewe is the Supreme Being and is remote from daily affairs. In addition the Ewe believe in many secondary gods (trɔwo) that are worshipped in unique ways. They also believe in spirit ancestors and divination is practised. 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.

Ewe music

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.

Ewe dance

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 Bɔbɔbɔ (originally 'Akpese') is said to have been developed by Francis Kojo Nuatro. He is thought to have been an ex-police officer who organized a group in the middle to late 1940s. The dance has its roots from Wusuta and in the 'Highlife' popular music across West African countries. Bɔbɔbɔ gained national recognition in the 1950s and 1960s 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 Bɔbɔbɔ. The slow one is called Akpese and the fast one is termed to be Bɔbɔbɔ.

Agahu is both the name of a dance and of one the many secular music associations (clubs) of the Ewe people of Togo, Dahomey, and in the south-eastern part of the Volta Region. Each club (Gadzok, Takada, and Atsiagbeko are other such clubs) 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. 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. The calabash was originally called the "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 Togo, Benin, and in south-eastern parts of the Volta Region. Yewe is a very exclusive cult and its music is one of the most developed forms of sacred music in Eweland.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Ewe". 
  2. ^ Basic Ewe for foreign students, p. 206.
  3. ^ Flash of the Spirit: African & Afro-American Art & Philosophy by Robert Farris Thompson
  4. ^ Translating the Devil: Religion and Modernity Among the Ewe in Ghana by Birgit Meyer
  5. ^ "Ewe". Ghana Web. Ghana Web. Retrieved 24 September 2014. 

External links

  • The pride of Ewe Kente
  • Ewe Stories and Storytellers
  • African Proverbs: Guide to Conduct the Moral Value of Ewe Proverbs
  • Traditional Ewe stories retold, in English


  • Ewe (Heritage Library of African Peoples) by E. Ofori Akyea
  • A handbook of Eweland: Volume I, edited by Francis Agbodeka
  • A Handbook of Eweland: Volume II, edited by Kodzo Gavua
  • The Ewe of Togo and Benin, A handbook of Eweland Volume III
  • Eʋe Dukɔ ƒe Blemanyawo, Eŋlɔla: Charles Kɔmi Kudzɔdzi (Papavi Hogbedetɔ)
  • African Rhythm: A Northern Ewe Perspective by Kofi Agawu
  • Gahu: Traditional Social Music of the Ewe People
  • Kpegisu: A War Drum of the Ewe by Godwin Agbeli
  • Gahu: Traditional Social Music of Ewe People
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