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The incomplete early history of the Ewe-speaking people of West Africa:
Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and Ghanaian
By Dr. Doris Dzameshie
Akyea, E. O. (1998) writes that more research needs to be done on the early history of the Ewe (P.15). This is very important for Ewe-speaking people, their family and friends in the diaspora and the younger generation to understand the past and the way of life of the Ewe speaking people.
Akyea, E. O. (1998) argued that the Ewe migrated from the east about 500 years ago. They were originally part of the Oyo Kingdom of the Yoruba people in Nigeria. During the wars in the 1300s, many of the Oyo people fled west to Ketu (Ketou) in the present-day Benin.
According to Adediran, B. (1994), before the Odùduwà migrations reached western Yorùbáland, the area occupied by the Fon extended as far as the Ògùn River. Indeed, it is widely accepted by
the Yorùbá, the Aja, and in scholarly circles that the original home of the Aja-Ewe peoples was in the region of modern Kétu and that they were pushed westward to Tado by the expansion of
the Yorùbá, ostensibly from Ilé-Ife.
The Aja (Adja), the Fon, and the Ewe, according to Shillington, K. (2005), are often classified together in the historical literature under blanket terms such as the Aja, the Aja-Ewe, or more recently, the Gbe. Although distinct from each other, the Aja, the Fon, and the Ewe
share a common set of cultural beliefs and practices, their languages all belong to the Kwa subgroup of the Niger-Congo language family, and they have a collective history of migrations from areas to the east of their present locations. These migrations originated from Ketu, a walled city in present-day southeastern Benin, probably in the 15th century, according to oral traditions.
According to Akyea, E. O. (1998), it is believed that in Ketu, the Ewe separated themselves from the other refugees and began to establish their own identity as a group. Due to Yoruba attacks and conflict between the various peoples of Ketu, a large section of the
population moved west again in the late 1400s. They moved in two large groups. The first group, including both Ewe and non-Ewe, settled at Tado in Togo after 1450. Some of these migrants split away from the main Ewe group at Tado and settled even farther west. The second group of migrants fled Ketu later. They stopped for only a short time in Tado before moving to settle Notsie, in the south central region of Togo, around 1600. In this second group were the Anlo, Be,
and Agu, together with the bulk of all the people that later came to be called the Ewe.
The Ewe adopted aspects of the Yoruba governmental system that they had lived under in Oyo. Over time, many changes occurred, and regional variations developed in the Ewe political
system. Akyea, E. O. (1998) writes that they are divided into numerous sub-groups, called Dukowo (Chiefdoms). Each chiefdom (duko) is ruled by a paramount, or chief.
In conclusion, as indicated by Akyea, E. O. (1998), there is a need for more research on the history of Ewes of southwestern Nigeria. However, there is strong evidence that Ewe-speaking
people lived in the old Oyo Empire, of which Badagry was a part. It is practical to note that when people migrate, not all of them leave. It is also practical that people who leave their homeland leave family behind to which they sometimes return. Also, people of a particular tribe may move to other areas not captured by oral tradition or historians because they were not of a significant
number. Based on this, it is my recommendation that any written history that excludes the history of Ewes of southwestern Nigeria, more so from Badagry, is incomplete.
Recommendations for more research for scholars of Ewe history:
- It is accepted by the Yorùbá, the Aja, and in scholarly circles that the original home of
the Aja-Ewe peoples was in the region of modern Kétu (this was originally in Oyo
Empire). Do more research to tease information about the Ewes out of the history of the
Badagry was a part of Oyo Empire, as evidenced by maps of old Oyo Empire.
Researchers need to identify the contributions of the Ewe-speaking people to the success
of that empire.
The Ewes adopted aspects of the Yoruba governmental system that they had lived under
in Oyo. Over time, many changes occurred, and regional variations developed in the
Ewe’s political system. More research is needed on similarities and differences.
Akyea, E. O. (1998). Ewe. New York: Rosen Pub. Co.
Adediran, B. (1994). The frontier states of western Yoru?ba?land: Circa 1600-1889: state
formation and political growth in an ethnic frontier zone. Ibadan, Nigeria: IFRA.
Shillington, K. (2005). Encyclopedia of African history. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn.