Ewe and Fon - Orientation

Identification. "Ewe" is the umbrella name for a number of groups that speak dialects of the same language and have separate local names, such as Anlo, Abutia, Be, Kpelle, and Ho. (These are not subnations but populations of towns or small regions.) Closely related groups with slightly different mutually comprehensible languages and cultures may be grouped with Ewe, notably Adja, Oatchi, and Peda. Fon and Ewe people are often considered to belong to the same, larger grouping, although their related languages are mutually incomprehensible. All these peoples are said to have originated in the general area of Tado, a town in present-day Togo, at about the same latitude as Abomey, Benin. Mina and Guin are the descendants of Fanti and Ga people who left the Gold Coast in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, settling in the Aneho and Glidji areas, where they intermarried with Ewe, Oatchi, Peda, and Adja. The Guin-Mina and Ewe languages are mutually comprehensible, although there are significant structural and lexical differences.

Location. Most Ewe (including Oatchi, Peda, and Adja) live between the Volta River in Ghana and the Mono River (to the east) in Togo, from the coast (southern boundary) northward just past Ho in Ghana and Danyi on the western Togolese border, and Tado on the eastern border. Fon live primarily in Benin, from the coast to Savalou, and from the Togolese border almost to Porto-Novo in the south. Other Fon- and Ewe-related groups live in Benin. Borders between Ghana and Togo, as well as between Togo and Benin, are permeable to innumerable Ewe and Fon lineages with family on both sides of the border.

Pazzi (1976, 6) describes locations of the different groups with historical references, including the migrations out of Tado, principally to Notse, in present-day Togo, and to Aliada, in present-day Benin. Ewe who left Notse spread from the lower basin of the Amugan to the valley of the Mono. Two groups left Aliada: Fon occupied the plateau of Abomey and the entire plain that spreads from the Kufo and Werne rivers to the coast, and Gun settled between Lake Nokwe and the Yawa River. Adja remained in the hills surrounding Tado and in the plain between the Mono and Kufo rivers. Mina are the Fante-Ane from Elmina who founded Aneho, and Guin are the Ga immigrants from Accra who occupied the plain between Lake Gbaga and the Mono River. They encountered there the Xwla or Peda people (whom the Portuguese of the fifteenth century named "Popo"), whose language also overlaps with the Ewe language.

The coastal areas of Benin, Togo, and southeastern Ghana are flat, with numerous palm groves. Just north of the beach areas is a string of lagoons, navigable in some areas. An undulating plain lies behind the lagoons, with a soil of red laterite and sand. The southern parts of the Akwapim ridge in Ghana, about 120 kilometers from the coast, are forested and reach an elevation of about 750 meters. The dry season usually lasts from November through March, including the period of dry and dusty harmattan winds in December, which lasts longer farther north. The rainy season often peaks in April-May and September-October. Temperatures along the coast vary from the twenties to the thirties (centigrade), but may be both hotter and cooler farther inland.

Demography. According to estimates made in 1994, there are more than 1.5 million Ewe (including Adja, Mina, Oatchi, Peda, and Fon) living in Togo. Two million Fon and almost a half-million Ewe live in Benin. While the government of Ghana does not keep a census of ethnic groups (so as to reduce ethnic conflict), Ewe in Ghana are estimated at 2 million, including a certain number of Ga-Adangme who were more or less assimilated to Ewe groups linguistically and politically, although they have maintained much of their pre-Ewe culture.

Linguistic Affiliation. Pazzi's (1976) comparative dictionary of Ewe, Adja, Guin, and Fon languages demonstrates that they are very closely related, all originating centuries ago with the people of the royal city of Tado. They belong to the Kwa Language Group. Numerous dialects exist inside the family of Ewe proper, such as Anlo, Kpelle, Danyi, and Be. Adja dialects include Tado, Hweno, and Dogbo. Fon, the language of the Kingdom of Dahomey, includes the Abomey, Xweda, and Wemenu dialects as well as numerous others. Kossi (1990, 5, 6) insists that the overarching name for this extended family of languages and peoples should be Adja rather than Ewe/Fon, given their common origin in Tado, where the Adja language, mother of the other tongues, is still spoken.

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