A visit to Akpafu by Nicolas Clerk, 1889

Travel journals provide some of the first written sources on Akpafu. I have previously posted an excerpt from a 1887 journal by David Asante. This here is an excerpt from a similar journey two years later. The whole journey took three months, but this excerpt relates only a trip to two Akpafu towns on 17-18 December 1889. Nicolas Clerk, an indigenous missionary born in Aburi, was alone during the first part of the journey and accompanied by his colleague Hall from Dec. 30 onwards.

The account was originally written and published in German. This excerpt was translated by Mark Dingemanse in 2011.


Out of Bowiri I went 2 hours southwards to visited the town Odome with about 300 inhabitants. The town is beautifully situated on a hill and has a street in the middle. The whole town was startled when we got there, so during my sermon I had to call out several times, “Do not be afraid, I bring no evil tidings.” I asked them after my sermon whether they would accept the doctrine, to which they replied that their head chief was in another town which we were planning to visit. If he told them to accept it [the doctrine] they would do it.

Since it was already quite late, we slept there [in Odome] and we arrived the next day (18 December) after a one and half hour hike in the town of Apafo (Akpafu). This town has a charmingly beautiful location on a high mountain. The view is very beautiful. The town has well over 500 residents and is built in terraces on the slopes of two mountains, with a road in the middle where the mountains collide. So one who stands on the street can see all corners of the town.

After we had rested a little, we went to the house of the chief to greet him and to report the reason for our visit. To our surprise, he offered us Schnaps, which we of course rejected. We invited him to come out on the street with his people. (It is unfortunate that so much Schnaps and gunpowder is being imported from Bagida, so that one can get these goods cheaper in the interior than in Accra. Far inland, where we were, people often asked for Schnaps and they did not want to believe that we do not drink liquor. In fact many probably never knew of the drink before, much less tasted it, but they have an unquenchable thirst for it.)

Our hand bell summoned the people and in a moment we had a large number of listeners before us, whom I told of their God and Saviour. Then I asked them if they would accept it if we would come live with them. There was a consultantion, and immediately they declared themselves willing to accept us. I put before them the other points as I had done in Bowiri, and they promised to build a house for the teacher, to provide students for the school, and to give Christians all rights. When asked how many students they would give for a start, they said, “As many as there are; we all want to worship the true God”. I was received very friendly here, and they also wanted us to go to another nearby town to bring the good news, but because I was a little feverish, I found it advisable to return to Bowiri.

The main business of the Apafo people is that they melt iron. The blocks of iron ore are dug in the mountain and melted in large furnaces made for this purpose. The Apafo’s have the bad habit to boil tobacco and to take the water drawn from it in the mouth after getting up in the morning; whether they swallow it I do not know. They keep it in their mouth for a while, during which they express themselves only with signs and with unclear sounds if they want to speak. Before they go to sleep they take this poison in their mouths again. Cleanliness of the teeth is not practised here as elsewhere.

  1. Clerk, Rev. N. J. 1892. “Neue reise in den Hinterlandern von Togo nach Nkonya, Buem, Obooso, Slaga, Krakye von 2 Dec. 1889 bis 5 Feb. 1890” Mitteilungen aus den Geographische Gesellschaft zu Jena 9: 77-98.

2 thoughts on “A visit to Akpafu by Nicolas Clerk, 1889

  1. Great work done. I have read through Rev.Clerk’s visit and accounts to Akpafu.
    He has enumerated what he saw in the people and I think it is not bad what he has written
    However, I want to make one point clear here that, the boiled tobacco water that he saw the people holding in their mouths serves as medicine. It is part of their oral hygiene. Tonkro the local name for tobacco help prevents tooth decay and tooth each but not poison as the writer put.

  2. Thank you for your comment George! This is precisely why I put these texts online — in the hope that people like you will come along to comment on these old accounts and provide us with independent pieces of information!

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