Togo is a long, narrow country, with 45 km of beaches lined with coconut trees. The land stretches North for over 600km, and at its widest point measures 140km. Its surface area is 56,600km2.
The coast is actually a wide sandy strip of land separated from the interior by a series of lagoons that swell to form Lake Togo. Going North, the land rises rapidly towards the central mountains, whose height reaches about 1,000m. Further North again, the arable land of the central plateaus gives place to the livestock-rearing areas and then to the semi-arid Sahel savannah on the edge of the Sahara Desert.
Like most of the countries in Africa, Togo’s history began with the migrations of peoples in search of safer and more welcoming lands. Among the first settlers were the Kabye and the Lambas, people who came from the north between the 7th and the 12th centuries at the same time as the Tamberma, Akposso and Bassar tribes.
The Ewe, one of the largest groups in Togo, came from South-Western Nigeria, settling first in the Mono Valley, which became an important center for trade and agriculture in the 16th century. From there, the Ewe first moved to the Notsé region, then to the Kpalimé region, to the coast and eventually to what is now Ghana.
Other groups followed. The Guins arrived in the 17th century from current-day Ghana. The Tchokossi tribe arrived at about the same time from the Ivory Coast region, and the Mobas from the Sahel region of Burkina Faso.
European traders first came ashore in the 15th century to find slaves. The first of such traders were the Portuguese, then came the Danes, the Germans, the French and the British. In the 18th century thousands of people were abducted to work on the plantations of the New World.
Towards the end of the 18th century, however, freed slaves from Brazil began to move back to the coast where they settled with descendants of the Portuguese traders. The ‘Brazilians’ as they were called, practiced their own black slave trade with Europe and Brazil and imported tobacco and rum. Over time, the Europeans established trading posts on the coast but it was not until 1884 that they gained the beachhead that would lead to colonisation.
That year, a German diplomat named Gustav Nachtigal arrived in a small village called Togo on the banks of a lake (now Lake Togo) North of the beach.
He signed a treaty with the traditional Chief, Mlapa, which gave Germany trading rights in the area and which soon led to the creation of German Togo. The region took its name from the little village on the lake and the village was renamed Togoville.
Aného became the capital of German Togo in 1887 and by the end of the 19th century, the German influence had extended North to Sokodé. In 1887, the Germans decided to establish a new capital, which became Lomé on the coast.
Under German rules, Togo became Germany’s “model colony” in Africa, based on the establishment of plantations and the export of foodstuffs and palm oil. To facilitate this trade, the Germans built three railway lines: the copra line to Aného, the coffee and cocoa line to Kpalimé, and the cotton line to Blitta (in the middle of the country). All the termini were at Lomé wharf, which was built in 1904. The Germans built a large base at Kamina, a town 180 km north of Lomé. With its own airport and a powerful transmitting station, the base at Kamina was a key link between Berlin, Togo and the German navy.
The model colony came to an abrupt demise at the beginning of the First World War. In a joint manoeuvre, the British and French troops surrounded the German colony. Outnumbered, the Germans abandoned Lomé to concentrate on the defence of their base at Kamina. After two weeks of resistance, the German troops resigned themselves to abandoning their base. This is how, on 26th August 1914, the German colonisation came to an end.
The United Kingdom occupied the city of Lomé until 1919. At the end of the war, France was given a mandate from the League of Nations over the two thirds of the territory lying to the east, while the United Kingdom was entrusted with the rest. This de facto partitioning of the territory resulted in two protectorates.
After World War II, the mandate granted by the League of Nations was transferred to the UN, which had just been created and which insisted that the two protectorates be replaced by autonomous government.
In 1956, the portion of the territory entrusted to the British voted by ballot to become part of the Gold Coast, which took the name Ghana following independence in 1957. For its part, the territory under French administration voted in 1957 for the setting up of an autonomous Togo government within the French Union.
Then came the general election of 27th April 1958, which paved the way for independence in 1960.
Ethnic and cultural diversity
Togo has a population of 6.8 million, 75% of whom are under the age of 35. Throughout its 650 km of beautiful country, you will have the chance to meet the many ethnic groups who make up the population and to experience their unique traditions.
Togo has many peoples who are still deeply rooted in their traditions: The Ewe and Guin people in the South; the Ana and Tem in the Central region; the Bassar, Kabye and Tamberma peoples from the Kara region; and the Moba-Gurma in the far North. Each ethnic group has its own traditions that are closely linked to the group’s religious context.
Religions and Beliefs
Togo is a melting pot for all kinds of beliefs: Christianity, Islam, Animism and Voodoo.
Despite the ingress of Christianity and Islam, the population remains deeply attached to their Animistic beliefs and their ancestral customs. Almost all of the ethnic groups in Togo believe in the existence of a Higher Being as well as of intermediate deities, who act as intermediaries between humankind and the Divinity. These intermediate deities can have their own followers and even convents or monasteries dedicated to them.
Families often have altars in their homes, and make regular sacrifices for them to ensure the protection of the deities over the family.
Witch doctors and soothsayers still have a significant role in communities. Half-doctor, half-magician, these fetish priests have grigris to give out, which are individualised amulets that provide protection against evil spells or that increase the strength of the person on whom they are bestowed. Throughout the country, forms of traditional medicine based on herbalism and mysticism continue to be practiced alongside modern medicine.
The majority of the Togolese practice Animism and hold polytheistic religious beliefs, which link humans and the forces of nature together in a set of customs and rituals.
The main purpose of the religious practices is to maintain or restore the balance and harmony between all the forces of the universe. These affect all aspects of life. Practices differ widely across the regions and the ethnic groups, but the majority believe in a higher being and in other secondary deities, who act as intermediaries between humankind and the supernatural. There is often some form of ancestor worship and a social initiation into adult life in the community, as well as various practices that affect most events and activities: Birth, marriage, death and the afterlife, sowing, healing the sick.
In the South, many people practice Vodou or cults based on the worship of important spirits like Legba, Hebiesso, Dan and Egou. The initiated use a secret language and strictly observe the religious customs and taboos. During Vodou ceremonies, believers go into a deep trance and communicate with the spirits.
If you travel through Togo from the South to the North, you will also discover the variety of African dwellings. Along the coastline, you usually find simple huts with palm roofs. In the South of the country, most of the huts are square or rectangular in shape. Going North, the mud huts become round. Still in the North, you will often hear the term “soukalas”, which denotes a group of round huts connected together by a low wall.
The most characteristic dwellings, however, are still the Tamberma Tatas, which are kinds of small fortifications used to house the region’s inhabitants.
The Tamberma castles have been recognized as architectural heritage of universal value and inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List under the name of Koutammakou, the “Land of the Batammariba”.
Togo’s cultural diversity makes it a first choice destination for anyone wishing to discover the authentic character of West Africa.
There are about 50 African dialects but the official language is French, which is spoken by most Togolese. Many people also speak English and a good number speak German.
The two main national languages are Ewe and Kabye.
Five regions – One country
The Maritime Region extends along the coast with its sandy beaches and coconut trees.
Lomé is renowned for its fine sandy beaches, shady promenades, large daily markets and many tourist attractions: the National Museum, the fetish market, the German cathedral near the Grand Market, architectural monuments, etc…
Aného, 15km to the East of Agbodrafo, is the spiritual and cultural center of the Guin people. The town is built around a meandering lagoon, and is surrounded by fishing villages and coconut plantations. Aného still feels like a 19th-century colonial town.
On the Northern shore of the lake, you will find the historic village of Togoville, now the center of the cult of Nyigblin and of animist practices, Vodou. Here you can discover the fetishes that protect the neighbourhoods, the Royal Museum of Plakoo-Mlapa, the market place where people barter and many other interesting sights.
Further to the East, on the shores of the Mono river, visitors will experience the charm of the game-filled woodlands.
The Western region of the plateaus is known for its outstanding natural environment, characterised by exuberant forests that are like botanical museums of tropical species.
This is the perfect place for both hikers and for fans of ecotourism. Kpalimé is also one of the largest centres in the country for arts and crafts.
From Kpalimé, visitors can discover all the wonders of the region’s wildlife and tropical flora, as well as its many natural waterfalls which include that of Akrowa (Badou), one of the biggest in Togo.
This area is also important for craft production, Kpalimé being the main arts and artisanal center for the country. You can explore the Kpalimé Arts and Artisanal Center (CEAA), where most of the country’s artists and artisans are trained, and wander round the many shops and workshops.
In the East, we have Notsé, the home of the Ewe people.
Finally in the North is Atakpame, the capital of the region and, for a long time, the Germans’ city of refuge. Just a few kilometres from the city is the Nangbéto dam, a huge reservoir where you can see hippopotami.
The Central Region covers an area of about 13,500km2, over 20% of which is protected reserves and forests, including the Fazao National Park Reserve, which covers almost 2,000km2.
The city of Sokodé — predominantly Muslim — is the country’s second largest city in terms of the number of inhabitants. The central region is home to TEM traditional culture — traditional chieftainships, fire dances and knife dances.
The region has a number of cultural attractions and traditions have remained alive. Folklore, enlivened by the different ethnic groups constantly rubbing shoulders and the concomitant intermingling of customs, has particular presence and authenticity here.
The feasts of Ramadan, Tabaski, Gadoa and Adossa — also known as the Festival of Knives — have all of Muslim origin. The observance of these festivals was spread by the Kotokoli and they are now celebrated with great ceremony.
Further testimony of the deeply rooted customs of TEM country is borne by the traditional chieftaincies. A wide variety of craft activities are found in this area too. The region’s many markets, including those at Tchamba, Blitta, Pagala and Adjengré, offer a broad range of local handicrafts: Agricultural tools, water bottles and gourds, shopping bags, etc…
Sokodé, the regional capital, is famous for its weaving activities. Further to the East, the city of Tchamba specialises in the production of pyrographic gourds and calabashes.
The Central Region also has a beautiful nature reserve, the Fazao-Malfakassa National Park, where species of animals like bulbuls, bongos, colobus monkeys and baboons still exist. Safaris departing from Sokodé are organised by the Frantz Weber Foundation.
The Kara Region is of indisputable touristic interest, with stunning areas such as the Koutammakou landscape, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, authentic communities, diverse landscapes (Kabye Mountains, Cliffs of Défalé) and a remarkably rich folklore among the people who have kept their traditions intact and alive.
The region’s numerous traditional festivals and dances (Evala battles, Akpema, Habye…) are all living testimonies of the commitment of the people of this region to ancestral traditions and lifestyles.
The Koutammakou landscape and its houses/fortifications called “takienta” are among the most beautiful sights Togo has to offer. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, inscribed under the name of Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba.
The Bassar and Bandjeli areas, meanwhile, attest to the historical ironworking activities that took place in the region. Several former blast furnaces have been preserved — Nangbéni, Bassar. You can also visit the beautiful traditional tribal territories in Bandjéli. The Kara region is also rich in flora and fauna. The Keran Park nature reserve is one of the largest in Togo.
Be sure not to miss the Sarakawa reserve, President Eyadema’s former private reserve, where safaris are organised to discover African wildlife: Zebra, waterbuck, bulbuls, buffalo, etc.
The far North of Togo consists of exceptionally dull savannah vegetation curiously interspersed with rich green mountains and hyraxes rocks. The area contains rich agricultural assets including palm trees, livestock cattle, and animal traction for the harvesting of crops. The region is full of historical sites dating from ancient times, recalling that Africa was also one of the cradles of humanity. These sites have been proposed as UNESCO world heritage sites.
Facts & Figures
POPULATION: 6.8 million
AREA: 56 600 km2
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: French
NATURAL RESOURCES: Phosphate, Cacao, Iron
PER CAPITA GDP: US$584 (IMF, 2013)