Koutammakou, Togo: Unparalleled Batammariba Life and Unique Architecture
Koutammakou, the land of the Batammariba people, has many unique architectural and ethnographic attractions found nowhere else. The harmonious integration the Batammariba have with nature is rarely seen today. Theirs is an area of incredible mountain landscapes, dazzling African sunshine, and ancient beliefs. Togo may be small from a geographical point of view, but it is immense from a human one. And the Koutammakou landscape became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 because of its irreplaceable culture.
Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba in Togo
Although most of this remarkable cultural zone is located in north-east Togo, some of it extends into Benin. Koutammakou is the name of an extensive hilly region approximately 50,000 hectares in size. This area is the home of the Batammariba people, (also known as the Tammari) who number about 30,000.
In Koutammakou the people live in harmony with nature and their spiritual beliefs and they practice a sustainable lifestyle that has been widely admired. They were originally a war-like nomadic people who are thought to have settled in this region sometime in the 16th century, possibly fleeing Arab slave traders. According to their oral history, they entered into an alliance with the existing population of hunter-gatherers.
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Traditional Tammari people village of Tamberma at Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba, Kara region, Togo. (homocosmicos / Adobe)
While ancestor worship is central to the Batammariba beliefs, they also practice animism – the principle that objects, places, and creatures all possess a spiritual essence. They reject all forms of central control and have a system of organization based on clans.
Elders and clan chiefs command absolute respect and obedience in Tammari culture and rituals and ceremonies help structure their lives. Their hunting ceremonies and initiation rituals have assisted them in resisting the encroachment of western ideas. At present, the government of Togo is committed to helping the local people to retain their unique culture and identity.
The Tower Houses of Koutammakou, Places of Worship
The most famous feature of the cultural landscape is the Tower Houses which are now one of the national symbols of Togo. The tower style dwellings are found all over Koutammakou and they have been likened to medieval castles.
These fortified buildings have two floors and are predominantly made from mud brick and sacred wood. It can take up to six months to construct a takyenta, as these traditional dwellings are known, as they are all made by hand. They were designed to protect the inhabitants from raiders as well as leopards, which are still common in the region.
Due to the construction techniques, the homes remain cool in the hot summer months, which is ideal for keeping grain and animals on the lower level of the house while the family lives on the upper floor. Typically, there are phallic-shaped altars built near the dwellings which are often dedicated to ancestors.
Traditional house with thatched roofs, granaries, and altars. (atosan /Adobe)
Until about the year 2000, most of the people of Koutammakou lived in tower houses, although many Batammariba now live in modern houses in the larger urban centers. However, they continue to build their tower-houses because they are an integral part of their cultural identity. The towers are used for ceremonies, especially ancestor worship, and are still made with the traditional skills and materials. There are fears that because of an over-exploitation of resources, construction materials are becoming increasingly scarce.
View from a Tammari roof, Koutammakou. (Brink, C / CC BY 2.0)
The Landscape Of Koutammakou, Changed by Rituals
The beliefs of the Batammariba have left a physical impression on the landscape and many ritual paths, which play an important role in ceremonies, crisscross the region. Sacred woods also play a significant role in the lives of the local inhabitants.
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A ritual center with a totem representing the serpent god can be found in every village. The centers are located near burial grounds and are essential to the various Batammariba initiations and funerals. In every village, ceremonial spaces are regularly used when rituals and rites are performed and many of these are based on the desire to promote self-control, which is seen as essential for ethical behavior. The regions’ blacksmiths are highly regarded, and they typically live in special complexes in Kabye.
A blacksmith of Kabye, Koutammakou. (Brink, C / CC BY 2.0)
How To Experience the Land of the Batammariba
The cultural landscape is in the region of Kare, which is approximately 150 miles (240 kilometers) from Lome, the capital of Togo. There is a selection of accommodations available near the Land of the Batammariba, including hotels. There are three-day tours available to the region from Lome and visitors can witness ancient ceremonies and traditional crafters at work.
Top Image: Traditional Tammari people village of Tamberma at Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba, Kara region, Togo. Source: homocosmicos
By Ed Whelan
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Djanguenane, N. (2005). Koutammakou: first site in Togo inscribed on the World Heritage List. Africa 2009 newsletter, (5), 10-11. Available at: http://www.bcin.ca/bcin/detail.app?id=241274
Osuagwu, V. N. (2017). Managing sacred places as heritage in West Africa. In Managing Heritage in Africa. London: Routledge, pp 101-110. Available at: https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781315472973/chapters/10.4324%2F9781315472973-8