The Block

African cultures have an enduring textile history and this block features two traditional Togolese fabrics. On a background of richly textured weaving, shot with gold, an embroidered African elephant stands before the cascading Akrowa Falls. Elephants were declared ‘protected’ by French colonial authorities; however, the current elephant population in Togo has decreased dramatically nonetheless. Today these great creatures are found mostly in the country’s game preserves.

The famed Akrowa Falls, one of the most visited tourist sites in the country, plunge 35 metres down into a large pool surrounded by green jungle and citrus trees. Blockmaker Antoinette Hounye has framed the scene with pieces cut from lace yardage made in Holland for the Togolese market. Such yard goods often come studded with rhinestones or other embellishments and are a popular choice for creating special evening wear.

Togo Taberma house 02
Tamberma houses and granaries
An animal fetish market in Togo
Zangbeto-Musée Vodou
An Ewe mask
Kondona Kabre
Kabye men
A manioc field

Cultural Profile

Togo, formerly a part of French West Africa, is a small country located north of the equator. Its name, given to the land thousands of years ago by its first inhabitants, means ‘edge of the water.’  Togo is a land of rolling hills, fertile plateaus and savannahs, referred to as a ‘Little Africa’ because it is a microcosm of the continent with 43 West African ethnic groups represented in the population. The largest native Africans tribes are the Ewé, Mina and Kabye. French is the official language, although local languages are spoken as well: Ewé and Mina in the south, and Kabye and Dagomba in the north.

The majority of people are farmers who live in small villages built in a variety of patterns, depending on the culture of each tribe. The conical mud houses of the Tamberma, resembling fairy tale castles, are closely associated with Togo. It is an important producer of cocoa, coffee and cotton and a world-leading producer of phosphates, the nation’s most significant mineral product..

Like other African peoples, the Togolese have a strong oral tradition. Music and dance are important parts of the culture, evident in annual festivals such as September’s four-day Guin Festival and in the African Ballet of Togo, which is working to popularize traditional dances. Initiations are also important as they allow young people to pass into adulthood by following traditional rites. For example, the Kabye men must climb three mountains and live apart from their family for a time. Even though there are significant groups of Christians and Muslims in the country, the majority of the population follows traditional animist beliefs. Vodun, the West African religion of spirits, is also an important religion in Togo.

The country is known for its brightly coloured, wrap around pagnes. These dresses can be made of the wax print cotton that is so popular in West Africa, with each pattern having a name and an elaborate meaning that women choose according to the message they wish to convey that day. More traditional fabrics, made by weavers working with hand-looms and local cotton, are also used to make the pagnes. Kente cloth is also woven in the country by the Ewe. Each colour used in the fabric has a specific meaning. The lengthy time and special skills it takes to produce this cloth give it prestige, and the cloth is draped around the wearer like a toga during ceremonial occasions.  Beadwork, woodcarving, horned masks with cowrie shell fringes, batik work, straw weaving and sculpture are also done in Togo.

Many people from Togo have come to Canada for political and economic reasons. Their presence however, remains small and a 2011 census reports that there are currently over 3,100 Togolese in this country.

Sponsor: Anne Joyce Bayly | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons