The Historical Facts of the Hogbetsotso Festival - The Migration Saga of the Anlo - Ewes of Ghana

By Agbotadua Kumassah - Retired Educationist, Traditional Ruler and Historian.

The Anlos are part of the Ewes of Ghana, Togo, Benin and the South -Western part of Nigeria. They are now located in the South-Eastern coastal plains of Ghana. The people are mainly fishing and farming folks.

The erratic rainfall pattern of the area has however made fishing highly seasonal and precarious occupations. The situation has forced many, especially the youth to venture into other viable economic and commercial activities like trading, weaving and other professions to survive.

The Ewes of Ghana, like all other major African ethnic groups, descended from the Biblical Noah. Their ancestors lived in Adzatome also known as Sumeria (Tsumeria) or Anyimewo or Mesopotamia or Iraq, the settlement was founded by Ham, the second son of Noah after the Great flood. Other ethnic or cultural groups that descended from Ham and settled in Adzatome were the Cushites, Egyptians, Canaanites and Puts

The people, according to oral tradition, left Adzatome after God confused the language they spoke and understood. During the confusion of the language, new clusters of people speaking the same language emerged. These new clusters rallied around new leaders and left Babel which was a suburb of Adzatome to found new settlements.

The ancestors of the Ewes left under their leader called Gu and settled at the delta of the Nile River in the present-day Egypt. As time went on, they were joined by new migrants from other parts of the region. The Jews also came to join them during the severe drought which brought famine lasting seven years in the land of Canaan. It was here that the Ewes adopted the circumcision of their male children on the eighth day, composition of long songs, and the worship of the Jewish God Jehovah, the name they corrupted to sound Yewe. Another cultural practice the Ewes adopted from the Jews was the art of pouring of libation.

When the Egyptian Empire fell, the Ewes like the Jews also migrated under their leader Mi, into Sudan. There they were overwhelmed by the vast sea of sand of the Sahara Desert and called the place Ketu. The name Ketu means grinding sand which perhaps signifies the abrasion of the sand during the sandstorms.
The name Ketume and Khartoum give credence to the assumption that, they two names could be the same settlement. Ketume means inside the grinding sand.

After staying awhile in Sudan, the Ewes were forced again by drought, famine, and slave raids by Arabs to migrate under their leader So into Abyssinia or Ethiopia. While there, they contributed to the growth and development of Axum and the Cush empires. They were also attacked again by the Arabs. Some of them were captured and sold as slaves in India. The Ewes found it very difficult to withstand the Arab invaders and finally decided under their leader to move out of Abyssinia.

Upon leaving Ethiopia, they moved south-westwards into the region between the bend of the river Niger and the middle reaches of the Senegal River. This was between AD 500 and 1200. During their stay, they contributed to the rise of the Ghana Empire. The capital of the old Ghana Empire was Walata near Timbuktu. Even today, the Ewes refer to the people of Nigeria as ‘Alatatowo’ meaning people coming from Walata which they know to be very far away but cannot be geographically located. There is a drum in Anlo called ‘Ganawu’ meaning the drum of a hyena which when played sounds like the roar of the hyena which incidentally was the insignia of the old Ghana Empire.

The old Ghana collapsed and was replaced by the old Mali Empire, one of the most powerful and fearsome king of that empire was Mari Dzata. The word lion in Ewe is ‘Dzata’ which was the insignia of the old Mali Empire. The name Mari Dzata in Ewe means ‘Ameadi Dzata which means the man resembles or is like the lion with reference to the King who was very hard and powerful. When Mari Dzata died his empire began to disintegrate due to internal and external forces. This led to the departure of many sub-ethnic and cultural groups which formed the Mali Empire. The Ewes also left rather than serve under the new Songhai overlords who conquered the old Mali Empire.

The Ewes then moved south toward the Atlantic coast, following the great Niger River into the present day Nigeria under their leader Sasu. They settled at Ile –Ife in Yoruba land where they found the people still practicing the old art of divination which their ancestors had abandoned in Babylon. The spiritual leaders among the Ewes learnt the art which was called ‘Ifa’ in Yoruba and carried along and consulted it in their subsequent periods of migration.

On arrival at Benin, the Ewes split into three groups. One group settled near the banks of the Mono River and called the settlement Tado. The second group settled between the Mono and the Haho River which later became Notsie. The third group settled in the Adele country and established the nucleus of Dahomey Kingdom or Dogbonyigbo.

After staying at Dogbonyigbo for a while, the ewes moved to Togo and settled in Notsie. Here, they were referred to as the Dogboawo due to their relationship with the settlement at Dogbonyigbo.
The Dogbos had a leader called Wenya, he had his nephew Kponoe, the first chief of all the Dogbos in Notsie under the stool name Sri I. They and the people of Notsie lived under King Agorkoli and shared many things in common.

They however had misgivings about each other, especially with regard to succession to the Tado Stool. One day during a drumming session at Notsie quarters of the Kingdom, a dispute arose between a Dogbo elder called Aga and and a Notsie elder called Sui. The dispute spread like wild fire resulting into fights. The Dogbo Elder, Aga was brutally hit on the forehead with a sharp instrument by a Notsieman called Dzedua who was a close relation of King Agokoli.

Elder Aga was carried home unconscious by his compatriots and was treated. All attempts to by King Agokoli to have access to the injured man for treatment proved futile.

The Dogbo elders met and resolved to retaliate. A Dogbo elder died shortly after the incident and they sent word to Agokoli that, Aga had died of his injuries.

By law and convention operating at the time, Dzedua was handed over to the Dogbos and was executed. The Dogbos made it a taboo for anyone to reveal that secret.

The Dogbos then decided to organize a final funeral rite for the alleged dead Aga. Food and drink were in abundance. An elder got heavily drunk and unfortunately blurted out the secret saying “ Miawoe nye Adza fe viwo tso Adzatome, amemaku maku fe hlobia lawo’ which literary means – we are the children of Adza from Adzatome, the avengers of the death of the living.

The diplomatic blunder was reported to King Agokoli who immediately turned into a vengeful tyrant and he and his council decided to punish the Dogbos for their sins.

They were ordered to erect a security wall of swish twenty-four feet high and eighteen feet thick around the Kingdom. The swish was mixed with hedgehog’s bristles, prickly thorns and broken pots. After working all night, they returned home limping. They were also ordered to make ropes using swish or clay. Again the youth were mobilized for military service to expand the Kingdom. When all avenues for peaceful settlement seemed closed, the Dogbos and their neighbors met and resolved to escape from the walled city. Gallant hunters including Tsali were secretly dispatched to search for news areas for settlement. The women were asked to empty all bath water and any waste water against the wall to soften and desecrate it.

On the appointed night, using wild drumming and dancing, the great wall was broken and the people left walking backwards. The various Ewe groups moved out making the final dispersal to their present locations.

Amega Wenya led the group that journeyed south towards the sea. This group comprised of the Anlo, Tsevie Ametiave, Be, Togo,Viepe, Ave, Fenyi, Dzodze, Flawu group. The advanced party of the Anlos led by Agbona, one of the sons of Wenya on reaching Atiteti near Wheta was directed to go through a narrow creek to Kedzi where Amega wenya beheld for the first time, the full stretch of the coast with the golden sand. He then proclaimed “we are on the sand” hence the name Kedzi. Later, he named Keta which he called the ‘head of the sand’ Later, Tegbi and Woe were founded. His children Akuga and others founded klikor and Wheta.

When Wenya and the group reached Anloga, he made that famous proclamation: “Menlo” which literary means- I have coiled -with reference to his advance age. This was because he was too old and could go no further. This proclamation became the name of the Anlo State he founded.

The Anlo Ewes instituted Hogbetsotso to commemorate the exodus of the Ewes from Notsie. The word ‘Ho’means to uproot or move, ‘Gbe’ means day and ‘Tsotso’ means crossing over. So Hogbetsotso means the day the people rose up and move out of Notsie. It is celebrated every year on the first Saturday of November.

Contact the author : 0243833668