Kotokoli / Temba / Tem / Tim / Tembia
The Kotokoli in reality are none other than the Tem or Temba, who, at some point in their history, were identified as "Kotokoli" in consequence of the nickname that was given to them: koto kolim.
There is reported to be about 417,000 of the Tém, with 339,000 in Togo, 60,000 in Ghana and 18,000 in Benin. They speak the Tem language.
The Kotokoli are an ethnic group living in West African countries, more precisely in Togo, Ghana and Benin.
Traditionally they are a population of great traders, today they are also good farmers: they practice the Muslim religion but with influences from the ancestral religions.
The Kotokoli live in the West African countries of Togo, Ghana and Benin. In Togo, they are concentrated in towns such as Sokode, which is located along one of Togo's ancient caravan routes. The settlement was given the name Sokode, which means "too close," because the town was frequently isolated by barriers built by tribal groups trying to control the caravan trade. The Kotokoli emigrated from what is now Burkina Faso into the Sokode region during the 1600s and 1700s. They arrived as a confederation of Gurma chiefdoms. Even today, the Kotokoli chief, or Uro, still resides in Sokode.
In time, the Kotokoli developed a reputation for sharp and perhaps underhanded dealings in trade. The local merchants became annoyed and began calling them koto kolim, which means "they give and take back again." Eventually, the group became known as the Kotokoli. They are more properly known, however, as the Tem or Temba, because they speak Tem, a Niger-Congo language.
Kotokolis are growing in numbers and in their social, economic and political impact. There is a Kotokoli Paramountcy (the seat of the high chief) in Ghana. Recently, the paramount chief appointed his national chief, Alhaji Salifu Haruna, with the high title of Wuro-Iso, whose court sits in Madina, Accra.
The settlement area extends to the eastern border with Benin and the Tchamba people, in the northeast to the Kabye and northwest to the Bassari‐Ntcham. In the west, Dagomba tribes are located, in the south live also some Kabye and Losso, although part of it is inhabited. The Temba are a complex and heterogeneous ethnic group composed of an autochthonous rural population (originally Lama‐Lamba) and equestrian people as well as dealers and shepherds (which also brought Islam), who have gradually immigrated mainly from the north (Gurma), the west (Dagomba, Bassari) and east (Bariba) since the 17th century. The predominant Mola clan, established by
the Gurma, founded several village communities that joined together to form the influential Tchaudjo kingdom (also denominated Kotokoli) at the beginning of the 19th century. The influence of this kingdom started to decrease however with colonization . Common to this resulting ethnic mixture is the language, Tem, which belongs to the Oti‐Volta sub‐group of the Gur languages. Alternative denominations for Temba are ‘’Tem’’, ‘’Tim’’, ‘’Tembia’’, ‘’Kotokoli’’.
The Téms originated as a coalition of Gurma chiefdoms who settled around Sokode during the 17th or 18th century. They may have originated from what is now Burkina-Faso. The Téms converted to Islam during the 19th century via the influence of Chakosi merchants. Majority of Téms profess Islam today.
The Kotokoli are primarily farmers, growing sorghum and yams as their staple crops. Millet, maize, beans, okra, groundnuts, and pumpkins are also raised. A variety of animals are kept, including cattle, donkeys, goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens. The cattle are used for religious sacrifices, marriage payments, and hides; their manure is also used for fertilizer. Although the Kotokoli drink milk, they do not milk their own animals. Rather, the milking is performed by the neighboring Fulani herdsmen, who are hired to help tend to the herds.
The Kotokoli men's responsibilities involve tending to the livestock, clearing the land, and performing most of the agricultural labor. The women's responsibilities include gathering nuts, berries, wild grasses, and building materials from the forests, helping their husbands with the harvest, and performing all of the household chores. The highly developed art of trading is another important activity. The Kotokoli merchants regularly attend the local markets to trade their goods.
Most of the Kotokoli live in houses that have round mud walls, with dirt floors, and cone-shaped, thatched straw roofs. The homes are clustered together in family compounds around a central courtyard. Surrounding most clusters is an enclosure, usually a high mud wall, so that outsiders cannot see inside the compound. Each local community has a ritual headman (usually the oldest in the lineage), who has the responsibility of maintaining good relations and social order among his people. The headman answers to the district chief, who answers to the Uro (supreme chief).
Kotokoli marriages are usually arranged by the parents while the boy and girl are still infants. Before a marriage is complete, a bride-service must be performed by the prospective groom. This means that the young man must work on the farm of the girl's parents for a certain period of time. A substantial bride-price in livestock is also given to the family of the bride. Acceptance of these and other gifts donated by the groom makes the couple's union legitimate. Polygyny (having multiple wives) is permitted among the Kotokoli. However, according to Muslim law, a man must not have more than four wives. The first wife enjoys a superior status over the other wives. Each wife lives in a separate hut.
The Kotokoli have retained their old custom of praise singing. Throughout the country of Togo, during public occasions, the Kotokoli recite their family lineage and praise their chiefs for their heroic deeds. Praises to the chiefs are offered by a musician playing a flute, rather than through singing. The Kotokoli believe that praises sung orally are too crude, and that the voice does not do justice to the deserving chiefs.
The Kotokoli were first exposed to the Islamic religion though contacts with the Hausa and Fulani herdsmen in the 1700s. By the mid-1800s, Kotokoli territory had been swept by Muslim influence, causing religious wars in the area. Although the Uro (chief) tried to rid his country of the Muslim mercenaries, he was unsuccessful. The Kotokoli eventually converted to Islam in the 1800s after the Chokossi people further spread their Muslim beliefs throughout Kotokoli territory.
Today, almost all of the Kotokoli are Muslim, as is the current Uro. They faithfully follow the practices of Islam. These include affirming that Allah is the only god and Mohammed is his prophet, praying five times a day, giving alms generously, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and making at least one pilgrimage to Mecca if possible.
The cosmology of the Temba was not very developed in 1963 (in non‐islamicized regions), which may be attributed to the strong ethnic mixture. Earlier myths and rituals of the autochthonous people were not maintained, e.g. collective initiation ceremonies did not exist. They adhered to similar animistic beliefs to those of the neighboring people, including a creator god, different types of benevolent and malevolent spirits, ancestor worship and reincarnation beliefs. Benevolent invisible spirits were the arzini, which could habit objects, known as lezazi, e.g. conical mounds or wooden figures that were sacrificed. Frobenius mentioned clay and wooden figures as early as 1911, which appeared in pairs and were denominated lisa, lissassi or lesassi. Female figures were designated tjettere, and male figures djere. These figures did not represent ancestors, they protected against illness and other misfortunes.
Although several ethnological field studies concerning the traditional religion and socio‐political organization of the Temba were established, few of them mention the existence of sculptures and figures and their function. In the tribal art‐related literature, however, several sculptures attributed to the Temba were documented at a very early stage. Markov displayed a photo of a large (125 cm) sculpture in 1919. Further figures are shown or referenced in 1954 and 1969.
Amongst others, a photo of a second very large statue (153 cm) was published in. No information about the function of these large sculptures is available, i.e. if they also served as lezazi or had different purposes, maybe on the clan or village and not individual level.
Figures from Temba region in 1907‐09, Frobenius Image Archive, designated ‘’Tim’’
Characteristic in the iconography of these figures is the basic cylindrical shape (typical for northern Togo figures) and particularly the angled forearms where the hands (in many cases) approach and are at the same height as the genitals. Compared to the northern Moba and Kusasi, these figures portray much more detail of the face and body. Often a high crest is exhibited which may be in line with the nose bridge. Smaller figures, however, may approach the simpler shape and appearance of the neighboring Lamba and Losso figures, which exhibit simplified arms and flat heads in most cases. However, in contrast to the Lamba/Losso, the (published) figures attributed to the Temba do not display any scarifications.
Figures collected in Temba‐Kotokoli region or attributed to Temba‐Kotokoli
- Photo Credits: Romina Facchi
- Thomas Keller / Northern Togo Statuary