November 2017: I traveled to Togo as part of a larger West Africa trip including Benin and Burkina Faso and South Sudan. Togo is one of those little countries with a cute name I knew nothing about sandwiches in between countries I did know about. Before visiting it, I had no idea what I wanted to visit there. My main objective in going to Togo was to visit the unique tribal Tammari people of the north.

About Togo

Togo is a small French speaking country that actually changed hands from the Germans to the French after the defeat of the Germans in World War I. It is French speaking and divided in half between Christian Voodoo and Islam. There are also some traditional animist tribes such as the Tammari people of the north.

I entered Togo from Burkina Faso to the north, visited the Tammari people of the north and then stayed in Lomé for a night at the end of my trip. 

Route I took into Togo

Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba

A highlight of visiting Togo is to go to Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba or the Tammare people in the north of Togo. They are a unique tribe of animistic farming people that were isolated until recently maintaining their animistic religion and traditional architecture. They are well known for their miniature clay castle shaped homes called Somba houses. These days most of the tribe live in more modern shaped mudbrick houses but each home sits side by side with the ancestorial Somba house, and these houses are still used for storing grains, rituals and believed to be the abode of the ancestors. The Somba houses are some of my favorites looking traditional houses that I have seen anywhere in Africa. The high walls around them are designed to protect the inhabitants from being attacked from intruders from other tribes or leopards. The altars on the corners of the houses are used for ritual sacrifices and are believed to be where the ancestors live. The interior of the houses is designed for very short people or hunchbacks and it wasn’t easy for me to maneuver around.

I really hoped to arrive at a village of Tammare people early enough in the day to ask if we could stay with them in one of their houses, but we arrived too late in Togo and we would have had to enter Tammare land in the dark, which wouldn’t have been advisable. Being that these villages do not have electricity it would also be weird approaching their homes at night in the dark asking them for a place to stay. So, we decided to stay in the nearest town in a hotel instead and we went out to visit some local bar/restaurants.

The next morning, we took a series of trough tracts into Tammare lands that were not even on a map. We weren’t really sure where to go so we just decided to wing it and ask for some walking on the side of the road for help. We passed a Tammare castle house with a group of 50 or so people some of which were wearing the traditional head dress for married women of antelope horns. We could hear drumming and singing in the distance. My initial thought was we need to check it out, and we started to drive towards the event but as we grew nearer, we realized it was a funeral and unsure if we would be received well, we decided to move on.

Somba house

We were able to find some of the Somba houses to visit. Villagers were more than happy to show us their houses for a small fee. We walked around the village observing the way of life but the incessant demands from villagers asking us for money to see their homes cheapened the experience, but I don’t blame them for asking after all the disparity between our incomes is astronomical and they come to realize this. Regardless few visitors make it this far north to the Tammari so they continue to live very traditional lifestyles and the key to getting to know them is to spend time with them and stay overnight, if possible, at least for a day or longer. This in my experience is the best way to break the cultural barriers and to develop an authentic relationship with any tribal culture. Unfortunately, my plan to stay in their village didn’t happen because we were delayed in our journey, so I had to settle with a short-day visit.

Married woman with traditional antelope hat given to her by her husband

Somba house

Somba house

Somba house

Woman I spotted in the distance on her Somba house. I always prefer to photograph people when they arent watching to capturetheir natural pose

Inside of the Somba house

it wasn’t easy finding the Benin border, but we managed to eventually find a village that was marked on the map. A border station was non-existent.

After visiting Benin, I returned to Togo to fly out of the capitol, Lomé which has direct Ethiopian Airline flight to Newark, New Jersey. I stayed in an old 70’s era luxury hotel, Hôtel Sarakawa in Lomé that I choose to relax in instead of exploring Lomé. I had my fill of voodoo and after a long trip just needed relax at the hotels beachside bar, and Olympic sized pool.

12 + 6 =

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