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. Continue reading

A hand drawn map of Kawu

Colleen’s post about the Hand Drawn Map Contest reminded me of a neat map of Kawu I was given some time ago. Kawu is the area where I do fieldwork, located in the Hohoe district of Ghana’s beautiful Volta Region. This map was drawn in 2003 by John Atsu, literacy coordinator and member of the Siwu Language Committee

Geography: Extent of Kawu

Geography: Extent of Kawu. By John Atsu, 2003 [click to enlarge]

The main villages (squares) and the tarred roads (thick lines) would be found on any sufficiently detailed map; more interesting are the farm settlements (FM), where farmers stay overnight if they work far from home; and the foot paths (x-x-x-x) that connect the villages where there are no roads.

I’m not sure why the map is oriented as it is (with West on the lower side), not having done fieldwork in enough different villages to be sure about how the Mawu talk about directionality and orientation.1 The mountainous area on the lower side of the map is simply called Kùbe ‘the mountains’; partly in it, partly beyond it lies Awubeame, literally ‘in the mountains of the Mawu’, the area where the Mawu people lived before they split up into Akpafu and Lolobi.

The Kawu area is divided into two zones: Akpafu (north-west, comprised of Todzi, Odomi, Mempeasem, Adokor, and Sokpoo) and Lolobi (south-east, with Kumasi, Ashiambi, and Huyeasem). The names of the villages are usually prefixed by the traditional area: Akpafu-Todzi, Lolobi-Kumasi, and so on. A mountain ridge, or actually the river Dayi just east of it, provides a natural boundary between the two areas. The main dialectal division in Siwu corresponds to this geographic boundary.

Right in the center of the map lies Akpafu-Mempeasem, the village that is my home base while in the field. There is a foot path from there to Adokor (top left corner) which crosses the mountains (via Todzi) and a densely forested valley, until it reaches Sokpoo, where it changes into a 2nd class untarred road. It’s a very nice hike. And this map tells me I should also try to hike to Lolobi-Ashiambi one day — there is a footpath after all.

Below a picture of Akpafu-Todzi, the oldest town of Kawu and the seat of the paramount chief.

Akpafu-Todzi seen from mount Ɔgagɛ̃

Akpafu-Todzi seen from mount Ɔgagɛ̃ , facing north, September 2008.
In the valley lies Akpafu-Odomi.
  1. What I know is that Todzi and Mempeasem are in an up-down relationship, with Todzi being called kaa i kato ‘home up high’ and Mempeasem kàlà ‘down’. []

Kawu in January 1887

The earliest description of Kawu (Akpafu) I have found so far is quite special in that it was written by an African in an African language. A German translation of it appeared in 1889 and can be found below. The original is a report of a travel made in early 1887 by David Asante. David Asante1 (1834-1892) was the son of a christianized chief in Akropong, and one of the first Africans to be trained in Basel. Together with a few unnamed white missionaries, Asante travelled throughout what is today the central Volta Region of Ghana, visiting Nkonya, Boem, Akpafu, and Santrokofi (amongst other places). He wrote down his experiences in Twi and sent the report to Basel, where it was subsequently translated into German by J.G. Christaller, one of the founding fathers of West African linguistics.2 The translation was published in 1889 in the transactions of the Geographische Gesellschaft für Thüringen zu Jena.


Akpafu-Todzi in the late nineteenth century (the picture is from a later date than David Asante’s expedition)
Source: Staatsarchiv Bremen #7.1025-0077

According to the account itself, this was the first time that Europeans set foot in Kawu. I hope to be able to provide a full English translation later, but here are a few nice excerpts to start with:

We arrived in Akpafu somewhere around nine; 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 there had never been a European there before. Had it depended just on them, 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.3 (…) Their giant king was very amiable and wanted us to stay for several days; however, our schedule did not permit us to do so.
Of the people of Boem, these are the brightest. (…) Because of their ironwork, everything is well-organized; for people from all places come here to buy iron tools. (…) The diligence of these people, their hospitality, and their tranquil behaviour pleased us so much that we really came to love them.
David Asante, 1889.

Continue reading

  1. David Asante in 1989

    David Asante and some fellow missionaries in 1889
    (BMPIX D-30.20.001)


  2. Christaller prefixed the following note to his translation: Er hat seinen Bericht in der Asante- oder Tschi- Sprache abgefaßt, an die Missionsleitung in Basel eingesandt (wo er natürlich übersetzt werden mußte), und derselbe wurde dann in einer Zeitschrift für die Eingeborenen (Christian Messenger for the Gold Coast, 1888, in 6 Nummern) abgedruckt. Wir lernen also aus dem Bericht die Auffassungs-, Anschauungs- und Darstellungsweise eines Negers kennen, welche der Ubersetzer möglichst treu in Deutsch wiederzugeben suchte. Wenn daher die Beschreibung bald zu umständlich, bald zu dürftig, oder der sprachliche Ausdruck fremdartig und ungewohnt erfunden werden sollte, so erinnere man sich, daß das Ganze von einem Neger verfasst und im Grunde auch für Neger, die Landsleute des Verfassers, bestimmt ist. Aber da der Deutsche sich gerne mit den schriftlichen Erzeugnissen und der Denkweise fremder Völker bekannt macht, so wird er auch solche Anfange negerischen Schriftlebens genießbar und erfreulich finden. (p. 107) []
  3. This must have been Tevo, a name which is still remembered among the Mawu today. People say he was the first to welcome whites to the village. []