The Kabye ethnic group in Togo

6th December 2017 

The Kabye is an ethnic minority that includes the 12% of Togo's population. Organized in small villages of raw clay buildings, they live mainly on agriculture and on the manufacture of tools and pottery for the community itself. On this day, not far from Kara, we will go to discover their way of life.

Faille d'Aledjo
The journey to discover the Kabye ethnic group begins not far from Kara (the second largest city in Togo) through the "Faille d'Aledjo", an opening in a rock created by dynamite during the colonial time, to allow the passage of a road.
Kabye ethnic group Kabye people
Kabye village Togo
The Kabye people live in small villages of raw clay houses, nestled in the mountains of northern Togo. Their main activity is the agriculture, around which all their simple economy is based on. However, the savannah is not an easy environment and there are long dry seasons imposing a good level of organization.
Millet left to dry
Some millet left to dry in the sun outside a small courtyard of a house. Used by Kabye to produce beer, the millet is an ideal cereal for these regions, given its strong resistance to prolonged drought and to poor soil.
Baobab fruit Baobab seeds
Baobab tree

The baobab fruits are harvested because the seeds, once dried, are used for their nutritional and medicinal properties.

Baobabs are large trees that live in the savannah and is not uncommon to find huge specimens among the houses of the villages.
Roof of straw and wood
The Kabye houses consist of walls of raw clay, with thatched roof supported by wooden sticks. Sometimes the clay is mixed with bovine dung to increase its compactness, while recently they tend to use also some concrete for a few parts of the house.
Dog water bowl
The dog's water bowl, made with a large stone.
Hanging a fetish outside the house, keeping other fragments in a small urn, is a widespread tradition. A fetish is an object holding magical and spiritual power, and it's believed it will protect the home from negativity and evil spirits. It is made with pieces of animals and plants, sometimes even with blood, it is used also for traditional medicine.
Woman grinding seeds Kabye woman
A woman grinds some seeds, then washes the stone used for work.
Yam plantation
A plantation of yam, a very important tuber in the diet of Kabye people.
Village in Togo Traditional houses in Togo
The trip around Kara in Togo continues by visiting another Kabye village known for its various craft activities, such as the manufacturing of tools and pottery, but also for the production of an excellent millet beer.
Woman using a mortar
A woman uses a mortar with a giant pestle to grind seeds.
How to make millet beer
Making millet beer
The Kabye of Togo produce beer from millet. The millet seeds are laid on the floor of a warehouse, then moistened to allow them to sprout. Then they are boiled in water, before allowing the obtained liquid to ferment under the sun (the resulting alcohol content is around 5 degrees).
The liquid is separated from the remains of the millet seeds, which are then dried and processed to produce food for farm animals.
Drinking millet beer Millet beer
The millet beer can be tasted buying it from street vendors. The taste of millet beer is totally different from that of any other beer, but it is very good.
Working iron
Another activity that takes place in this Kabye village is to manufacture tools, especially tools for agricultural use. If purchased in normal stores, these tools would be too expensive, so for this people it's best to manufacture them on spot, using recycled iron. So, the process for making a tool begins by obtaining appropriately sized iron strips, cutting them from somewhere (the hard work is carried out with an hammer and chisel).
Bellows made of goatskin
Hot iron
The piece of iron so obtained, is heated over embers kept alive by a worker who, from behind the oven, operates a large bellows made of goatskin.
Traditional blacksmith
Once the iron has reached the necessary softness, it is violently hammered with a large stone. The process is repeated until the object hasn't got the desired shape and thickness.
Blacksmith in Africa
Iron tools
An example of tools made by recycled iron through the process just explained.

A video showing the process of heating and beating the iron.
Woman making pottery Traditional pottery
A woman is instead engaged in the production of clay pottery, using only hands and no rotating device.
Women working seeds
These women instead are engaged in cleaning vegetables and seeds.

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