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. The English translation below was produced from the German by Mark Dingemanse in 2009.
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.
A map depicting two of the journeys undertaken by David Asante in this period (though not, perhaps, the particular one described below, which is dated a few years later), can be found in Ravenstein 1886:
- Ravenstein, E. G. 1886. Recent Explorations in the Basin of the Volta (Gold Coast) by Missionaries of the Basel Missionary Society. Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography (2) 8(4). 246–256.
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.1
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.2 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.3 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.
- 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. [↩]
- Christaller, the original translator, adds a note here: “[This part is not fully clear!]” [↩]
- These are of course Akpafu-Todzi and Akpafu-Odomi. Neither Mempeasem nor Adokor existed in 1887. [↩]