A visit to Akpafu by David Asante, 1887

This is the first ever published account of a visit to Akpafu. It was written down by David Asante, a Twi pastor who travelled throughout today’s Volta Region in the company of some white missionaries. The journey took place in January 1887; the date of the visit to Akpafu was January 25th, 1887. The account was originally written in Twi, and translated in German in 1889 by the eminent linguist J.G. Christaller, who published it in a German geographical journal.1 It was translated from German into English by Mark Dingemanse in 2009.

I posted the German text on this blog earlier. What follows is my English translation. You can also download a pdf version which includes both the original German and the English translation. Enjoy!


When we travelled on in the morning, the chief of Tɛtɛman provided us with a guide to Akpafu. In actual fact we had wanted to go from Tɛtɛman via Baika to Lolobi; but we were told here that that road was blocked and was no more travelled; but the Akpafu one would be good and short. And the disease [which the travellers had been told previously reigned in Akpafu] had not been in Akpafu itself, but in Odomi, and it was long gone.

We looked very much forward to come to Akpafu, which is famous for its ironwork and blacksmiths. Everywhere along the way we saw the charcoal that they use to melt the iron. They chop green wood, dig a pit in the ground, stack the wood in it, and cover it with leaves and earth, leaving only a small hole through which they set fire to the wood. Only after eight days they quench the fire and take out the charcoal.

Soon after climbing the mountain and reaching the plain we saw the place where they melt the iron, which is a little away from the town. Their furnaces they build like a rice granary, but the walls are much stronger than that, about 5 feet high, and open at the top. At the bottom there is a opening, through which they insert the charcoal. The iron ore is then poured on the charcoal. When the charcoal is set fire to, the opening at the bottom is closed with clay until only a small hole remains, through which air can enter; also, 5 or 6 small holes are made in the furnace, so that the fire will draw and not go out.

If everything goes well in the blaze, one will see the melted slag flow slowly out of a hole that is made at the bottom; but the good iron remains in the furnace. Only 24 hours after lighting the oven it is taken out. The emptied furnace however retain its heat for a long time; whatever food one puts in will be well done. A deep, steep abyss is next to one of the smelting-furnaces; when one rolls a stone into it, it will be heard rolling for 5 to 7 minutes, and still it has not arrived at the bottom. Children like playing that game.

We arrived in Akpafu somewhere around 9 o’clock. The town is big, its main street wide. When we arrived, all of the townspeople flocked together to see us — even the smiths stopped their work — because never before had any whites come to this town. Had it depended just on these people, we would have stayed for several days. They first led us to a place where we could refresh ourselves; from there we went to salute the king, an old, powerfully built man.2

They took us into a forge and showed us everything they make there. Their anvil is not made of iron, but it is a big quartzite stone that is attached to the ground, the upper side of which is polished. When they are forging, they don’t remain in one place but they walk around the anvil. They make their own tools, like hammer, tongs, chisel and so on. Their hammer is not like a European one, but the handle is iron like the upper part, short and smooth round about; some are big, others small. Their bellow is like one of the olden days; one grasps it with both hands and works it like a drum; therefore this is not done by a single man, but by 3-5 persons in turn.

All of the tools they forge are made in the same way: a long, curved piece of iron is made into cutlass, hoe, and celt alike.3 Their hoes are different from ours, in that they are rounded; others are like ours [flat with two corners], and only the edge is rounded. After that they showed us where they dig iron ore; it is on the same mountain as the town. The shafts are similar to the gold mines in Akem; they dig down and then make side galleries connecting the vertical shafts to one another.

Some few people here understand Twi; one of them, who had been in Cape Coast, we got to translate our preaching. Their giant king was very amiable and wanted us to stay for several days; however, our schedule did not permit us to do so. We talked with him about God’s word, and he said that if we wanted to station someone in his town, he would comply with pleasure.

Of the people of Buem, these are the brightest. That the children go naked has become a custom, here too. Because of their ironwork, everything is well-organized; for people from all over the region come here to buy iron tools.

The houses here are not covered with grass, but they have flat mud roofs; these are not called adán [normal houses] but àbã [houses like forts and stone houses]. The Buems that live in such houses are the following towns: Borada, Akpafu, Tɛtɛman, Baika, Lolobi, Santrokofi. The towns in which iron is worked, are Akpafu, Santrokofi and Lolobi. There are two Akpafu towns: Akpafu-gã (the big one), which is on the mountain; and Akpafu-Dome, which lies on the plain.4 Lolobi consists of two towns; Santrokofi has three towns, all of them not more than five minutes removed from the other.

Because of the ironwork done here there are many forges in the town; when one sees their zeal in forging and ironsmelting, one has to wonder. The people are all pitch-black. One of the smiths showed us a wonderful feat: after he had rubbed his hands in the dust of the floor of his forge, he took a red-hot piece of iron out of the fire and brushed past it with his hands so that it sparked; but his hands were not hurt.

The diligence of these people, their hospitality, and their quiet behaviour pleased us so much that we really came to love them. If only we would have had more time, we would have met their wish to stay with them one more day. When we took our leave, the king said that we should return soon and bring guns, because their guns were all damaged. We told him that we were preachers of the gospel and had nothing to do with that kind of business. He gave us a guide, who brought us to Santrokofi in the evening of that same day.

Footnotes

  1. The full reference to the original account is as follows: Asante, David. 1889. Eine Reise in den Hinterländern von Togo, beschrieben von einem christlichten Neger und aus der Asante-Sprache übersetzt von J. G. Christaller. Geographische Gesellschaft für Thüringen zu Jena7/8: 106-133.
  2. This may well have been Bosate Tevɔ Agbali, who according to Ogbete’s History of the Akpafus (1998) was the chief of Akpafu around that period.
  3. Christaller, the original translator, adds a note here: “[This part is not fully clear!]”
  4. These are of course Akpafu-Todzi and Akpafu-Odomi. Neither Mempeasem nor Adokor existed in 1887.

26 thoughts on “A visit to Akpafu by David Asante, 1887

  1. I am very much proad and impressed by this revealition as a son of Kawu- Akpafu. I just want to know the means of transort that Mr. David Asante and his colleauges used in January 1887?
    I am glad to read that of the people of Buem, Akpafu’s are the brightest. I am however wondering how come we have not been able to put that enovative and hardworking spirit into developing our communities. I grew up as a young man reading and hearing that our fore fathers dag iorn ore and also made farm tools for the then Gold Coast. How come we couldn’t develop that industry and allowed it to collaps completely. At time Mr. Asante arrived at Kawu, we had only two communities- Todays Akpafu Todzi and Odomi. As we speak today, we have two additional communities, Mempeasem- which was created in 1934, five years after my father’s birth (Nana Yao Bedu II,1929-chief of Mempeasem,1979 to 2008)- and Adorkor-which date of creation I don’t know.
    Your story as you recounted, mentioned the friendliness and hospitality of the great people of Kawu. suddly enough, the same cannot be said of us today. We are devided on chieftency lines and ownership of land. Today, we know longer see ourselves as the people of Kawu but as either from Todzi, Mempeasem, Adorkor, or Odomi. What are the lessons for the youth?

  2. Exciting, thanks for bringing more history to us ,now l understand why our people and yours truly is friendly and somewhat quiet, GREAT, hope to have more infos,chaos ,bye.

  3. Great to read David Asante’s detailed account of iron-working in 1887. Fred and Robert, I have written something about this subject recently, which I would be glad to share with you.

  4. It is my wish that articles of such nature appears continously on sites.
    At most it enlightens other tribes come to acknowledge the fact that the Buems are masters of thr Volta Region.

  5. Thanks to Rev.David Asante for his visit to KAWU, now AKPAFU in 1887 for providing this very important history of our people in the past concerning their trade in iron mining. i now have a good knowledge about my ancestors and how hardworking, industrious and hospitable they were to all walks of life.I want to urge my brothers and sisters from all the four towns ( Todzi,Mempeasem, Odomi and Adokor ) to totally liberates your minds and come together and let us build and projects a image of AKPAFU to the world. ‘ lo pemi seba ‘

  6. It is always good to know your histroy. We are also called iron people.Investers interested in iron exploration are welcome to AKPAFU. Young people need jobs to do. Invest at Akpafu and you would not regret.KAWU ALL THE WAY.

  7. I am from Kpoeta, near Hohoe. It is such a delight to read this story. We need a lot more of these stories. I am sure the missionary offices in Ghana have lots of these kinds of stories about visits to the Volta region. We get lots of these kinds of stories about the Akan regions of the country but very little about the Volta region. I never understood why the region has been neglected for so long.

  8. woW, as a history student reading about the indigenous industries in pre colonial GHANA, i found out that the people of AKPAFU and SANTROKOFI were smelting iron, so i asked my mum and she told me but now the industry has collapsed.

  9. Am so happy for once in my life I got to know something about my people…first I confuse whether am guan or buem not knowing buem is a minor tribe under guan…is true that same of us are not born there but it shouldnt be a reason to lost our history and origin..tanks

  10. I first time i read something like this was in 2008. It was refreshing to know that we have such a history. The fact that history contains something about us alone is worth knowing. The issue for me is that i cringe each time when you are looking for physical evidence of some of these at “kaa” to wit “home” and you don’t see anything. Think a trip to the mountains beyond “fafa kube” won’t be a bad one, what do you think?

  11. @Sylvanus: absolutely! In kùbe there are many places called ikpakpi where there should be archaeological remains. An expedition there would be worth it. Some physical evidence can be found in kaa i kato though — there still is an iron mine (with tours organised by Todzi people) and in many compounds you can see the old, large, round atoreta (anvils).

  12. Very happy n proud to read this. There is more to read n learn… Lets all help to build a better Kawu, Akpafu, Buem… Home sweet Home!

  13. I am very proud to be akpafian. let us all unite and take prudent decisions to develope our hometown. thanks . AWUKU FOSTER.

  14. By the records of the E.P.Church, Ghana, Christianity reached Akpafu in the year 1898.However, this visit by David Asante was in 1887.That is to say eleven years difference.Moreso, the Akpafus’ by then know themselves as ‘MAWU’ . But the vivid description of David has convinced me that everything he said and wrote is true according to the oral and folklore of the Akpafus.
    I would have been very grateful if he had mentioned the name of the leader,the church and the specific chief and one or two elders at the time of the visit. I am very impressed and grateful to David.

  15. Its just refreshing to read something like this about kawu. People often ask me what is the name of your language and anytime I mention Siwu, you’ll hear which language is that? Now that an insight has been given as to who we are, what our ancestors did and what we are capable of doing, let’s all work towards the projection of Akpafu. By the way, where was this piece hiding? Thanks to the person who published this account. Mitabo bra siile. Bo te boa wo cobra. Bo iya no.

  16. Fo nto karabra lo! Thanks for your message. I found this piece in an obscure German publication and translated it some years ago. I’ve been distributing paper copies of it in Akpafu in Ghana but I’m glad that people like you know come across it and find it useful.

  17. It’s such a pleasure to be able to read about my ancestors and kindness of my people. I pray we can go back and develop Akpafu and let its history be known to the rest of the world.

  18. I fell into much tears reading the history of Mr. Asante. I happened not be in ma village but i was so passionate to know ma village. This has enlightened me to know more about my fore-fathers land and i hope to see more. But the question here is how many of them can search through this net….? We never made good use of our resources but all thesame nothing is too late and we’ll do our best to transform the village very soon. Thanks to grand father (FrofroAnku)…i love my people and watch out for me one day.

  19. Thank you David for getting us this website. We need it to come together and lift up Kawu Land and its people Mawu. I found this website in your Document TEBOAWO – Yes we can and I cannot wait for the launching of Kawu Development Program.

  20. I am so hapy to read such an aticle on my community, even though am from Akpafu iv never had any oportunty to read into details the history of my own community. But the qusten hear is wht do we do to bring bark all this things into Akpafu for we the young once to stop travlng to Accra and all other places in sech of jobs bec I bealiv thers still more iron at Akpafu for us, pleace we need help so that Akpafu can come bark to its feat and I bealiv with the inclution of evry concern cetizin of Akpafu I bealiv we can make it

  21. I have reseached extensively on the oral arts of the people of Akpafu as a proud son of Kawu. Themes and genres that range from dirges,lullabies,tales, myths, clans mottos , recitations associated with communal gathering and sharing of drinks,funeral rites recitations,oaths and divination text among others. I must however say that the platform and resources to published the findings have remained a problem. I must say that your study of Siwu ideophones, which I have been priveledged to read over and over again is indeed an eye opener and a precedent in the etymological study of Siwu oral arts. Unfortunately, one never gets funding for such projects in this part of the globe, because research, the foundation for human development is never a priority in Africa . Your thesis is a trailblazer, and we as poeple who owe the problem, can only add to your efforts.
    The struggle for the continous survival of Kawu race and her oral arts contunue. I,m optimistic we’ll get there. “Kufor karabra, si awe kukaakor”

  22. I am really proud to be a son of this great kawu communities. Thanks to mark for this research. If it were not to be him some of us would never hear this history. We are looking forward to reactive more.

  23. IT IS TODAY I RELEASE WHO WE ARE THE TRUE VIRTEOUS PEOPLE. LET ALL UNITY THEN TO EXPLORE WHAT WE HAVE TO DEVELOPED OUR BELOVED HOMETOWN AKPAFU WITHOUT EXCEPTION.KAWU I CONGRATULATE YOU MAY YOU LIVE LONG.MANY THANKS TO DAVID ASANTE FOR LETING ME TO KNOW THE ORINGIN AND THE HISTORY OF OUR PEOPLE.

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