WEST AFRICA CULTURAL ADVENTURE DAY 10
Day 10 - October 12, 2012 - Lomé, Togo
By Claire Allum, Archaeologist
Co-ordinates: 06° 08’ 16” N 001° 12’ 45” E
Weather: Warm and sunny
Air Temperature: High 32 C / 90 F
Our tour from Lomé, Togo began with a drum and dance performance on the pier in front of the Silver Explorer. Dancers called Egungun, dressed in costumes similar to those seen on the previous day’s tour in Benin, whirled and leapt on asphalt in front of piled cargo containers. A large mask swathed in raffia leaves periodically rose up and established order among the dancers. My guide for the day, Janvier, was later to tell me that the mask was known as “sabato” or “night watch” and acted as a policeman for the dance. It was a wonderful start to the day.
By 8:00 am I was in a bus driving through a labyrinth of streets in Lomé. Janvier told us that a lot of the merchandise I saw being sold in small ram-shackle booths lining the streets was smuggled in from Nigeria. Despite the dust, vehicles, grime and congestion, elegant women dressed in vibrantly coloured, form-fitting gowns walked the streets doing their business.
Our first stop on our tour was a “bush school” in a small Ewe village. Small thatched buildings housed benches and a blackboard. Children wrote on small portable blackboards. After the school children sang for us, the guests donated a large amount of school supplies. The Expedition Team also gave the children cupcakes made by our Hotel Division’s Executive Chef, and her staff.
In the village, each house had its own “shrine” outside the front door. Evidence of sacrifices and libations, chicken bones, feathers, and empty bottles were scattered on and around the sacred objects. A highlight of the village for me was two male weavers weaving kente cloth on strip looms. This is an old, traditional craft in danger of being lost because of the low cost of industrially made cloth. The only hope for the craft’s survival is as a treasured art form. Guests bought all the pieces of cloth the men had for sale.
From the Ewe village our bus gained altitude as we climbed to Togo’s Plateaux Region. At Kouma Village we left out buses and took a walk through the Kloto Forest, which, if they stop the cultivation of cash crops, might be a forest in a few decades. Our walk took us through coffee and cacao plantations. Along the way we saw lots of other useful domesticated crops such as pineapple, yams, teak, manioc, limes, taro and maize. At the end of our walk we were treated to fresh coconut water, sipping the sweet liquid directly from the coconuts with a straw.
I had a delicious lunch of fish and lamb at Kouma Village while dancers, drummers and a trumpeter entertained us in the central plaza. The fusion of traditional music and modern brass is called Bobobo music. Beautiful fabrics and painting were for sale in a small souvenir market. Items marked sale “prospere” were made only from natural dyes obtained from the forest.
After lunch we drove back towards Lomé and visited a third village near Sanguera to see voodoo dancing. It was an exciting performance. Loud drums summoned the spirits. Women danced continuously in the plaza area in front of the chief and his advisors and priests. Several interesting figures joined the dancing. The Spirit of the Forest, dressed in white with a globular face, was accompanied by a woman representing bountiful harvest and wearing plantains in her hair. A young initiate, decorated with white mud, brought fire to the celebration in a pot balanced on his head. An old man in a wide-brimmed hat, shaking a long stick represented the ancestors of the chief priest.
I was invited to dance by one of the women and a cloth was draped around my waist to purify and protect me. An un-pure person runs the risk of offending spirits, which can be dangerous if angered. It is assumed that most people are un-pure so everyone wears protection when dancing. Periodically men set off small mounds of gunpowder on the ground near the dance area or beside shrines close to the plaza. The explosions and smoke kept away bad spirits. Dancing and shrines attract both good and bad spirits. Near the end of our stay in the village, the young boy carrying the pot containing fire went into a trance and was carried out of the plaza.
By the time I left the village, the late afternoon sun turned the mud huts and their thatched roofs a lovely gold-brown colour. It had been a long and exciting day and it was hard for me to keep my eyes open on the bus-ride back to the ship.
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