In Kawu on the very final day of my 2012 fieldtrip, I heard something unusual. Some people talked about a community of Mawu people, speakers of Siwu, living in Sefwi. Now Kawu, as you know, is in the east of Ghana, close to the border with Togo. Sefwi on the other hand is all the way in Western Region, some 500 kilometres away from Kawu as the crow flies. How did they get there?
I made a mental note to find out more, but as time was limited I couldn’t ask around in Mempeasem. What to do? If this had happened a couple of years before, I would have had to make costly calls or wait until the next fieldtrip, as back then there was virtually no useful information about Kawu on the net, let alone data on dispersed communities of Mawu speakers. Now, however, I found an online listing of a primary school in Sefwi called “Kawu-Akpafu D.C. Primary School” — quite a giveaway! Better yet, I could turn to Facebook, where there is an wonderful group of Mawu organised in the group I Love Akpafu. Several members of this group provided more information, which I share here because it may prove useful in the future.
Wilberforce Adade wrote:
There is definitely such a community in Sefwi in the Western Region. The first settlers are Mawus who bought lands for farming cocoa and named the place after their origin. It is common practice to have names as such to link to the ancestory. For example we have Mame Krobo Village, Tema and other names in Twifo Herman near Sefwi to show that predominantly these are migrants from an a rea in that community.
Thomas Agawu wrote:
I think this settlement started in the late ’50s and early ’60s when a group of Mawu investors bought a large piece of land for cocoa farms. Key among them were the late Mr. Winnard Noamesi who worked with the Forestry Dept in Kumasi, Mr. Sarpong, a gold smith of Kumasi, Mr. W. K. Tettey then a tutor of the E P Training College, Amedzofe and quite a lot of others. These investors brought their relatives from Kawu to work on these farms. As the land is far from the nearest settlements they built their own settlement which necessitated some social services. It is a village wholly of Mawus. I have slept there once.
In sum, this is a Mawu community established in the late 1950s by cocoa farmers. According to Samson Obro, also on I Love Akpafu, the community is fairly homogenous and the people still speak Siwu (though probably they also speak Sehwi, a variety of Akan). It would be interesting to pay a visit to Sefwi and see how different the speech is after a separation of what is currently about sixty years.
Of linguistic and historical interest is that this is of course merely a recent, now-documented instance of one of the ways in which communities may come to be apparently displaced and in which languages may split. Wilberforce’s comment indicates that in the same area, there are settlers from quite a few other places (e.g. Krobo) who came for economical reasons. The area is bound to be an interesting melting pot of recent arrivals and older strata of people.
Years ago, I was looking at a language map of the Senufo languages and my interest was piqued by an outlier, Nafaanra, spoken about 400 km east of the most closely related languages. In the course of writing a series of encyclopedia articles on those languages, I found that the oral history of the Nafana people says that “some of their people are still [in a village in Côte d'Ivoire], and if they go back they won’t be allowed to leave again” (Jordan 1978:84n1). In the Mawu community of Sefwi we may find a similar kind of case, though here the relations are still within living memory and numerous people pay relatively regular visits to their family there.
Fast-forward a century or two and the language may have grown apart enough to qualify as a distinct variety of Siwu, another shoot on the branch of the na-GTM family. More realistically, though, by that time it may have given way to other languages. However, with the Mawu you never know. Rudolf Plehn, writing in 1896, believed that Siwu, along with the other Ghana-Togo Mountain languages, would be gone in a few generations. Today it is still going strong in Kawu —and beyond, as seen here— with well over 12,000 speakers (some say 25,000, but I think that estimate may be too high). Indeed I’ve written on this blog about the strong and positive language attitudes of many Siwu speakers. We may be in for some surprises in the future.
- Jordan, Dean (1978). “Nafaara tense-aspect in the folk tale”, in Joseph Grimes (ed.), Papers on discourse. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics. ISBN 0-88312-061-5: 84–90.