The Ewe people inhabit the territory equivalent roughly to the south-eastern quarter of Ghana and the southern half of TOGO.
The EWE country is bounded by the rivers MONO and VOLTA and extends from the Atlantic coast inland up to about latitude 7. 6′N. in the east and latitude 7o 20′ N. in the west. Across the south eastern boundary line a related people – the FON of BENIN (formerly DAHOMEY).
The EWE people have not always lived in their present home. Their traditions recall a migration from the east – more precisely KETU a YORUBA town in modern BENIN. KETU is also called AMEDZOFE or MAWUFE in the accounts. KETU was founded by the YORUBA people by the fourteenth century at the latest.
In it lived besides the forebears of the EWE, the YORUBA and the ancestors of the AJA, FON, and GA-DANGME. It was the expansion of the YORUBA people that pushed the EWE and related peoples westward.
The migrants went to live at TADO in present-day TOGO from where they later dispersed in various directions.
Some returned east to settle at ALLADA from where they founded the AJA kingdom of ALLADA, WHYDAH, POPO and JAKIN, and later the FON kingdom of DAHOMEY in the early eighteenth century.
The ancestors of the EWE went to live at NOTSIE, which was walled round.
Here, the entire community known as DOGBOAWO lived together, each unit in its individual ward under its own head. All of them were ruled by the king of NOTSIE. The early kings ruled well and the kingdom expanded. Trouble began when AGOKOLI ascended the throne. It is not clear whether he was the third or fifth king.
Because of his harsh and tyrannical, rule the people decided to escape. During the flight from NOTSIE the fugitives divided into three major groups. Broadly speaking, one group went to settle in the northern part of the new home. It founded the towns of HOHOE, MATSE, PEKI, KPANDO, AWUDOME, ALAVANYO, KPALIME, AGU, VE, KPEDZE and WODZE.
The second group founded the settlements of HO, AKOVIE, TAKLA, KPENOE, HODZO, KLEVI, SOKODE, ABUTIA and ADAKLU. And the third group took the southern route and went to settle in the coastal region of the new homeland. It founded TSEVIE, BE – which later gave birth to AGOENYIVE, BAGIDA and LOME – TOGO, ABOBO, WHETA, ANLO, KLIKOR, AVE, FENYI, AFIFE, TSIAME, GAME, TAVIA, TANYIGBE, etc.
Later other peoples from the west, ACCRA, ELMINA, LEKPOGUNO and DENKYERA came to settle near and amidst them. The GA (from Accra) settled around GLIDZI, the ANE or MINA from ELMINA settled at ANEXO, the DANGME from LADOKU settled at ADANGBE, AGOTIME, while the DENKYERA settled among the TONGU, along the river VOLTA.
The traditions do not provide any absolute chronology of the episodes and incidents recounted. However, in the early twentieth century when the accounts were first recorded, tradition then put the arrival of the Ewe in their new home at ten or more generations back.
Furthermore, the Ewe tradition concerning their accession to their new home is corroborated by evidence in the form of traditions of other people like the AJA, and FON and identifiable sites, recorded history and archaeological reconstruction.
On the basis of evidence from these other sources it can now be stated that the dispersal into their new home must have occurred sometime during the early seventeenth century. It would appear that the area into which the EWE moved was not completely devoid of human habitation.
But the original inhabitants were easily assimilated. As to whether what occurred was a mass movement or that of a few lineages, which later disseminated their story among the people of the dispersed settlements, the evidence points to the former rather than the latter probability.
The EWE penetrated their new homeland in a series of waves. Later, some groups broke away from the original settlements to found new ones. It was in this way that the area was filled up. The original settlements were few and dispersed. They took the form of villages consisting of small kinship groups.
The people settled down and laid claim to all the land in the area. The land was parcelled out among the various families. With the growth of the population the prestige of the leaders increased. Apart from the chiefs that had existed in the days of the sojourn at NOTSIE other chiefs now emerged.
These were mostly the original founders of villages. The kind of chieftaincy that emerged was one of a constitutional head. The chiefs reigned rather than ruled, and their powers were effectively circumscribed by the elders whom they had to consult always.
Contrary to Prof. D. Westernann’s claims, the EWE had had chiefs at least from NOTSIE onwards. Quite early chieftaincy became hereditary patrilineally either in two clans as in ANLO or two or three lineages as in PEKI, HO, NOTSIE or in individual lineages, which is the more widespread practice.
Though the office was hereditary, yet within the particular lineage or clan it was elective. In course of time the original settlements expanded to become the individual states of present-day Eweland, some of which encompassed a number of towns and stretched over substantial land areas.
The names of the original nuclear settlements came to be applied to all the area occupied by the people originating from them. For example ANLO derived from ANLOGA the nuclear settlement and WATSI from NOTSIE. These states or DUKOWO varied in size from WODZE, which is a single city state to ANLO, which had 36 towns. In 1906, the North German missionary Jacob Spieth counted 120 of these.
In the days of poor communication when vast areas lay much unexplored the territorial unit was perforce small. The DUKOWO were independent of one another except by way of trade. Each DUKO considered itself an autonomous unit, however all acknowledged that they were all essentially one people.
Some of these DUKOWO are the following. Along the coast going east away from the river Volta, are ANLO, BE, GE. Inland behind the coastal DUKOWO are PEKI, ADAKLU, TOVE, HO, KPANDO, WATSI etc.
The EWE did not evolve a single all – encompassing state. A number of reasons account for this.
Some were geographical, others were economic. Another crucial reason was that no single EWE DUKO was able to permanently impose its authority on the others and thereby create a unified state. For example, ANLO and GE tried to expand to attain boundaries that would ensure their political and economic survival, and also confer on them prosperity and political power.
But both were operating at the same time and in the same restricted area, that is the EWE coastal belt. Furthermore, both depended a good deal on the same economic activity-trade in slaves. This clash of territorial and economic interests led to many conflicts and wars between them in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Neither, however, enjoyed absolute military superiority over the other, so complete military defeat became impossible. Therefore permanent conquest could not be achieved. The conflict between ANLO and GE was never to be permanently resolved in favour of either. The frequent clashes merely resulted in stalemate or transient acquisition of territory by one at the expense of the other.
Foreign political and military intervention in the EWE territory also contributed to the inability of the EWE to evolve a single political unit. This contributed to the inability of either ANLO or GE to completely dominate the other and possibly the rest of EWELAND. The consequence of foreign intervention was generally to disorganise the territory and accentuate the division of the states.
In the period before the imposition of colonial rule over the EWE, the states that intervened in EWELAND were GRAND POPO, AKWAMU, DAHOMEY and the European state of Denmark. The intervention by GRAND POPO and DAHOMEY was inconsequential while that of the other two had a greater and more enduring impact.
From the late seventeenth century AKWAMU began to help ANLO in its wars with GE and more importantly those with ADA and other states west of the river VOLTA. A number of writers like WILKS, KEA and more recently GREENE and ACHEAMPONG have claimed AKWAMU hegemony over ANLO. The so-called evidence in support of this claim is however contradicted by the known facts.
The AKWAMU-ANLO relationship was one of a politico-economic alliance. Through its alliance with ANLO AKWAMU was assured of regular supplies of salt and dried fish and the coastal markets to which she could take its slaves for sale. For its part ANLO was assured of military assistance. Since the late seventeenth century (1682) various witnesses and writers have testified to the persistence of this alliance.
Despite the linguistic difference and the geographical separation between the two peoples, the AKWAMU-ANLO entente was to endure into the nineteenth century. So intimate and persistent was the relationship that some versions of ANLO traditions actually claim that the AKWAMU also evolved from KETU, like the EWE.
The ANLO-AKWAMU alliance provided a wider dimension to the numerous wars that ANLO fought with the GE to the east and ADA and its allies to the west. As a riposte to the ANLO-AKWAMU alliance, GE also found allies in the enemies of ANLO and AKWAMU, to wit, ADA, GA, AKWAPIM etc.
The ANLO-GE conflicts occupied the closing years of the seventeenth and the best part of the eighteenth centuries. These conflicts derived from a clash of competing political and economic interests. They came to an end by the close of the eighteenth century. Neither state had succeeded in expanding permanently at the expense of the other, nor in absorbing it.
However, it is fair to state that the GE state which, on the whole, proved the stronger of the two was only prevented by the actual or threatened intervention of AKWAMU and ASANTE on certain decisive occasions.
On the other hand it would appear that ANLO was generally more involved in its conflicts with its western neighbours.
ANLO’s quarrels with these people – ADA, GA and AGAVE were mostly due to a clash of economic interests, squabbles over salt and fishing right in the VOLTA estuary and occasionally actual slave raiding. The economic rivalry aided and abetted by other factors led to a number of battles in which the ADA, AGAVE and GA were usually ranged against ANLO.
These wars started around 1750 and lasted well into the nineteenth century. There exist documented accounts of hostilities in 1750, 1769, 1776 and 1780. It was the signal defeat that ANLO inflicted on ADA on 26 October 1780 when it surprised ADA, defeated it and burnt the town that provided the background to a subsequent mobilization of forces against ANLO by the DANES in 1784.
This was because the ANLO victory threatened the DANISH company which had built a commercial lodge at ADA and which was now trying to dominate the entire coast east of Accra. The fact is that even though European nations and trading companies had been operating in West Africa from the fifteenth century onwards, the EWE coast had originally been free of European activities because of its ” burning surf”.
The little trade done by Europeans was transacted on board passing vessels. But from about 1720 the DUTCH and later the ENGLISH and DANES began to establish lodges at ANEXO, AFLAO, KETA and WOE. Beginning from the 1780′s the DANES took advantage of the ANGLO-DUTCH war of 1780, which had weakened the DUTCH position on the GOLD COAST, to initiate a plan to establish their commercial dominance in the area east of Accra.
This policy very quickly brought the DANISH company face to face with ANLO which, following its defeat of ADA, now controlled the VOLTA river. Furthermore, ANLO wanted to establish conditions in which it could dictate terms to the EUROPEAN traders and also pick and choose which of these it would deal with. This attitude and the possibility of ANLO trading with DENMARK’s rivals stood in the way of DANISH plans.
The plunder of the DANISH agent nicknamed “SAGBADRE” (swallow) at KETA in 1783 provided a convenient excuse for the DANES to declare war on ANLO. In March 1784 the DANISH Governor of CHRISTIANSBORG secured a force among the GA, ADA, KROBO, AKWAPIM and GE all of whom had by then become traditional enemies of ANLO. An army of 4,000 troops heavily defeated ANLO.
The people had to flee and seek refuge with WHETA and KLIKOR in turn. A number of ANLO towns were burnt. ANLO was made to sign a peace treaty which was initialed on 18th June 1784. Under its provisions the DANES secured the right to build a fort at KETA and a free passage through ANLO. They also obtained the permission to set up a trading post at ANLOGA, the ANLO capital which had to be rebuilt.
ANLO was made to give an undertaking not to trade with any European nation other than DENMARK, and not to take its canoes to sea. These stipulations amply demonstrated what the war had really been about. The terms of the treaty aimed at one thing – namely to make DANISH commerce predominant in the ANLO area. The construction of the fort began almost immediately afterwards.
The military defeat of ANLO proved to be a blessing in disguise politically because it served to bind some of the neighbouring EWE states to ANLO. The lessons of the war were not lost on them. The result was that other DUKOWO like DZODZE, KLIKOR, FENYI and WHETA began to identify themselves with ANLO and to regard it as their champion against foreign imperialism.
The beginnings of what emerged more clearly later as the ANLO Confederation or Greater ANLO can be dated to this period. The Danish victory of 1784 did not lead to any effective imposition of DANISH authority on ANLO. The invasion did not achieve a complete pacification of the country. In less than a decade the fragile DANISH position at KETA was made untenable.
The hostility that was aroused against the DANISH presence and the garrison of the fort at KETA in particular was to lead fortuitously to civil war in ANLO in1792. This was the SOME war. The people of KETA were forced to flee to settle on land given them by the people of KLIKOR. Here they founded the state of SOME with its capital at AGBOSUME.
From this time on the former people of KETA now the SOME ceased to be part of ANLO. BLEKUSU, about five miles east of KETA became the eastern boundary of ANLO. This secession of the former residents of KETA constituted one of the permanent political set-backs that ANLO suffered during the pre-colonial period.
If ANLO suffered some loss of its territorial integrity during this phase, what happened to its rival to the east, GE was even worse. The GE state evolved from the mixture of the local segment of the EWE and the immigrants from ACCRA, ELMINA and LADOKU from the seventeenth century onwards.
It spanned 15 towns, starting from east of BAGIDA to AGOUE along the coast and extending inland up to the latitude of VOGA. Its most important towns were GLIDZI the capital and ANEXO (Little Popo) the commercial center. The component towns had their own chiefs who were subordinate to the king of GLIDZI.
Fairly early, ANEXO acquired a position of prominence. Being the only coastal port of the GE it took on an aspect of importance. It was the one place where foreign and local trade was transacted. It was at the base of the economic development of the entire state. Because of its favourable commercial position ANECHO began to steal the limelight from GLIDZI, at least as far as external affairs were concerned.
In the accounts of the Europeans the name Little Popo (ANEXO) came to be applied to the entire GE state. The king of GE was called the king of Little Popo while in reality his seat was at GLIDZI. The GE consolidated their position in the area of their settlement and engaged in wars and a series of alliances that would guarantee their security.
During the course of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries they periodically extended their political power westwards over BE and AFLAO and even further west occasionally. For example in 1792 they helped the former residents of KETA to defeat ANLO.
They also engaged in conflicts of one kind or the other with their neighbours to the east – AJA and FON. Though they won individual spectacular battles they did not extend their control over the peoples to the east. In fact the effective establishment of DAHOMEY along the AJA coast from the 1730′s put paid to GE ambitions there. In fact by the end of the eighteenth century GE political control became restricted once more to the original frontiers.
From this time the capital began to degenerate apparently due to internal squabbles within the royal house and collateral lineages. On the other hand ANXEO continued to rise to prominence thanks to the enterprise of its inhabitants who engaged actively in trade. Before the end of the eighteenth century ANEXO had become the most important GE town.
This subversion of the traditional political hierarchy and system became accentuated during the course of the nineteenth century. Just as ANEXO had eclipsed GLIDZI in importance because of the wealth it drew from its trade with the Europeans, in like manner the most prosperous lineage in ANEXO began to challenge the legal political head – the chief of ANEXO.
The position of chief of ANEXO became the object of rivalry, which in turn interfered with the customary obligations of the office. These disputes led to the opposition of the LAWSON lineage – the most wealthy and best “educated” lineage to the ruling ADJIGO family of ANEXO. In 1821 the LAWSON family inaugurated a rival chieftaincy in the town.
Henceforth, two lines of chiefs continued to reign concurrently over different sections of ANEXO, each claiming to be the rightful chief of the entire town. The rivalry flared into open war again in 1835. These developments in ANEXO did not only affect the position of the chief there, but the authority of the king of GLIDZI as well and the cohesiveness of the GE as the polity.
GE society divided into two groups – one around the king residing at GLIDZI, the other around the “Caboceers” i.e. the notables of ANEXO – the ADJIGO and LAWSON were richer and more powerful than the king at GLIDZI.
The conflict between the ANEXO factions completely discredited the authority of the king of GLIDZI.
From the mid-nineteenth century travellers’ accounts it is clear that the GE state had disintegrated into a collection of politically independent towns. AGOUE, PORTO SEGURO, GLIDZI, ANEXO were all described as autonomous. This position contrasted vividly with those of ANLO and PEKI, which by this time – the middle of the nineteenth century had either increased their political influence or extended their frontiers.
ANLO’s relations with AKWAMU contrasted sharply with that of PEKI and neighbouring states known collectively as KREPI. KREPI was the vague term by which Europeans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries designated the north-western part of the EWE territory. Broadly speaking it approximates to the dialect group that the people themselves call “WEME”.
KREPI was not a single political entity but comprised a number of states or towns, which were independent of one another. PEKI was the most renowned of these, but others were HO, KPANDO, ALAVANYO, TAVIEFE and HOHOE. During the first half of the eighteenth century, AKWAMU, which built up a strong empire in the south-eastern part of the GOLD COAST, extended its authority over KREPI also.
In July 1707 a large AKWAMU army crossed the VOLTA and fought a number of engagements with some KREPI towns such as HO, KPANDO and PEKI. It appears however that it was in the years after 1730 that AKWAMU came to establish its suzerainty over KREPI. In that year AKWAMU lost the western half of its empire following a severe defeat by AKYEM and others.
A section of the royal family retired to the eastern territories of the former empire and founded a new capital AKWAMUFIE in the VOLTA gorge. It was during the period after this settlement across the VOLTA that AKWAMU really subdued the KREPI. By the close of the eighteenth century it had imposed some form of suzerainty over most, if not all the KREPI towns.
There were economic reasons that motivated AKWAMU domination of KREPI. The KREPI towns were strategically placed on the important trade routes and along the river VOLTA that linked the coast with the important market centers up to KRATCHI and SALAGHA and beyond. Slaves could be obtained in the northern centers and in KREPI itself and taken to the coast.
By maintaining a hold on KREPI AKWAMU could control traffic on the VOLTA and also land traffic between the coast and the north. Besides, this would complement its policy of supporting ANLO in the latter’s attempt to dominate the VOLTA estuary. AKWAMU did not introduce any regular imperial administration over KREPI. No viceroys or governors were posted to KREPI towns, as for example had been the case in NINGO and ADA.
The local chiefs continued to perform their usual functions. But AKWAMU exacted tribute in kind – mostly slaves, and in cash from the people. This was enforced by periodic military expeditions and raids. The KREPI towns also provided military assistance in times of war and were required to provide safe passage to AKWAMU traders.
Though AKWAMU itself came under ASANTE suzerainty from the 1740′s it retained its hold on KREPI. The latter still remained its vassal except that it now paid tribute to the ASANTEHENE through the AKWAMUHENE. AKWAMU hold on KREPI was quite high-handed and accordingly thoroughly resented.
It was able to maintain this hold largely because of the lack of cooperation between the various KREPI towns. PEKI the strongest town enjoyed a favoured position in the AKWAMU imperium and was actually employed by AKWAMU to maintain its hold on the KREPI states.
Only concerted action could end AKWAMU domination, but this was not easily achieved. Two futile attempts by AWUDOME in 1829 and NYIVE in 1831 to throw off the AKWAMU yoke are significant only in this respect that they illustrate the apathy and disunity among the KREPI states.
Rather than come together to fight for their independence, some states like PEKI together with other non-EWE towns like BOSO and ANUM actually fought alongside AKWAMU to subdue the defiant towns. The third attempt in 1833 was to succeed because it was spear-headed by PEKI and also because it involved concerted action by all the KREPI states and towns.
As part of the preparatory groundwork chief KWADZO DEI of PEKI organized an alliance of the KREPI states. Together they defeated AKWAMU and regained their independence. PEKI emerged from the war as the leader of a new bigger territorial unit. During the war nearly all the EWE states north of ADAKLU and west of PALIME united under its leadership.
There are conflicting views about the exact nature and import of the 1833 alliance. One is that it was merely a war time entente while the other is that it was meant and actually constituted a permanent union. PEKI has always maintained that it was a permanent affair and that after the conclusion of the war the other chiefs made KWADZO DEI of PEKI their head and subordinated their stools to PEKI.
This claim has been hotly denied by some of these states and peoples. It appears from the evidence available that apart from the towns in the neighbourhood of PEKI like ANUM, BOSO, AWUDOME, ABUTIA, HLEFI, AVEME, SOKODE and ANFOE, PEKI had no real claim to and exercised no suzerainty over the other KREPI states or towns. The former states recognized PEKI’s leadership for a long time after the 1833 war.
In the case of BOSO, ANUM and AWUDOME a permanent union with PEKI was created. This is borne out by the fact that since then BOSO and AWUDOME acquired the right to enstool the FIA of PEKI. The chiefs of the states outside greater PEKI did not require recognition from the FIA of PEKI or paid him any tribute. All the same the various KREPI states and towns appeared to regard PEKI as their protector and paid some measure of deference to its leadership.
By the middle of the nineteenth century the political outlines of the territory of the EWE people had long been fixed more or less. There was no centralized government embracing the entire country. The few attempts at territorial aggregation had achieved only limited success. The people were still split into a number of DUKOWO or states of varying sizes and military potence. On the other hand some of these had come together to form bigger political units.
The two most important of these states were ANLO and PEKI. Except for the state of SOME which was separate from ANLO, the political authority and or influence of the ANLO King now extended far beyond the traditional 36 towns to includes all the area roughly east of the VOLTA to AFLAO and extending inland up to the southern boundary of ADAKLU but excluding the majority of the TONGU states along the VOLTA.
The 13 TONGU states were independent of one another but subject to the competing influences of ANLO, ADA and AKWAMU. Further inland, PEKI had formed a big composite state with AWUDOME and the KYERENONG states of BOSO and ANUM and their environs. Furthermore, in his capacity the leader of the alliance that overthrow AKWAMU, the king of PEKI had acquired some prestige in the eyes of the members of the erstwhile alliance.
Though not a political unit, these states shared some degree of understanding. In between ANLO and the KREPI states lay the state of ADAKLU, which was autonomous. It belonged to neither group but the superior power of ANLO and AKWAMU usually swayed it to their side. Further east there were no big political units. The former paramountcy of GE had disintegrated into a collection of virtually independent towns.
The only state of any considerable size was AVE. It comprised eight divisions each of which had its own chief, but all of these were subordinate to the king at KEVE. This situation of separate and individual existence on the part of the EWE states was to be ended by the imposition of colonial rule towards the end of the nineteenth century.
When that phase in turn came to an end by about the middle of the twentieth century the EWE territory remained split between the independent republics of GHANA and TOGO.