Lamba people (Togo)

Lamba (Togo)

Lamba / Lama / Namba

The Lamba are one of the major subgroups of the Kabre peoples of the Centrale and Plateaux regions of comtemporary Togo.

Lamba, also called Lama or Namba, a Bantu-speaking people living in the Kéran River valley and Togo Mountains of northeastern Togo and adjacent areas of Benin. The Lamba, like the neighbouring and related Kabre, claim descent from autochthonous Lama; megaliths and ancient pottery attest to their long presence in the area.

They should not be confused with Lambas of D.R. Congo and Zambia.

Although by their name the Lamba are “people of the forest,” they have cleared their lands of all but an occasional baobab, mango, shea tree, or oil palm. Fields are not allowed to lie fallow but are maintained by the use of ash and manure and by the alternation of corn (maize), sorghum, millet, and taro with legumes for nitrogen replenishment.

Lamba attend their own small markets or larger ones in towns in or adjacent to their lands (such as Niamtougou, or Lama-Kara). Weaving, basketry, pottery, and blacksmithing are well developed, and some crafts are exported. Many Lamba have participated in the rapid urbanization of Lama-Kara, Togo, in recent decades; others migrate southward toward Lomé or westward into Benin seeking land or work.

The Lamba live in homesteads separated from others by fields; descent is patrilineal. Before colonial rule there were no authorities other than ritual headmen in each family group, although loose neighbourhood groups (tegu) might join for defense or attack. Age-sets reinforce the egalitarian nature of Lamba society. Lamba (and the neighbouring Kabre) are known in Togo for wrestling matches held among boys of the first age-set. A hierarchy of chiefs that was introduced by German colonizers and further developed by French colonial administrators integrates Lamba communities into the Togolese national government.



Their language is Lama, which is related to that of the Kabye and Temba.



The Lambas are an ethnic and linguistic group of people living in the Kéran and Doufelgou Districts (Préfecture) of the Kara Region in Northern Togo and in the Atakora and Donga Departments of Benin, West Africa. The capital of the Kéran District is Kanté and the capital of the Doufelgou District is Niamtougou.

In Togo, the Lambas live the Center and West of the Kéran District; in the Togo Mountains on the Défalé Chain; in the Western reaches of Doufelgou District; in Eastern reaches of Doufelgou District North of the Binah River: and, in Niamtougou, in the Villages of Yaka and Agbandé. In Bénin, the Lambas live in and around Boucoumbé (Boukamtié) in the Atakora Department and near Djougou and Bassila in the Donga Department. They also live in diaspora zones in the Central and Plateaux Regions of Togo, in border areas of Ghana, and in the capital cities of Lomé and Cotonou.

They are subdivided into four regional groups:

The settlements of Lamba and Losso are often intermixed, which may be the reason why both were sometimes confused or not differentiated from each other in the colonial era. The Lamba are considered as being autochthonous, originating from the former Lama people.



The Lambas are primarily engaged in subsistence farming and small animal husbandry, especially chickens, guinea fowl, goats, pigs, and sheep. They grow millet and sorghum that they make into a thick porridge (la pâte) that is the staple of their diet and that they brew into thick low-alcohol beer. They also grow yams and cassava, groundnuts (peanuts), beans, and fonio.

The Lambas have migrated in search of fertile available land in Togo to the area along the North-South National Road No. 1 between Sokodé and Notsé, where they have founded numerous communities. In addition, they have migrated to Togo's capital city, Lomé, and the economic capital of Bénin, Cotonou, in search of wage employment. Lamba men served in the colonial armies of Germany, Britain, and France as well as in the Togolese and Beninese armies in the years following the independences of the two countries.

The Lambas refer to themselves and to their Language as Lama. Lamba is the name attributed to them in French and that continues to be used in the administration. In addition, all of the inhabitants of the Doufelgou District of Togo were designated as Lossos by the colonial administration, including people who identify themselves as Lama and Nawdba. Therefore, Lambas from the Doufelgou District are still frequently called Losso. The two populations have exercised considerable mutual influence but their languages are different and do not resemble each other.



The Lambas speak a collection of closely related dialects that are grouped together as the Lama language. There are approximately 200,000 native speakers of Lama in Togo and Bénin. Lama most closely resembles the Kabiyé language spoken by the Kabiyé people in the Kozah and Binah Districts of Togo as well as in diaspora points. Lama and Kabiyé are classified under the Grusi, Eastern cluster of the Gur (or Voltaique) group of the Niger-Congo languages. Also included in this cluster are Tem (Cotokoli), Bagou-Koussountou, Lukpa (Logba or Dompago), Delo (Ntribou), and Chala. Speakers of this cluster of languages constitute 28% of the population of Togo and are the second most widely spoken cluster of languages in Togo after the Gbé cluster that includes Éwé, Mina, and Waci.



In 1963/2008, the sociopolitical organization and cosmology were very similar to those of the Kabye, including the scattered settlement, the clan as main unit, the creator god (called in this case asegi), the world of intermediary (harmful or benevolent) spirits (alewa or emezea inand alua or rana in and ancestors, the latter being venerated in ancestor houses (sina in, souna nampee in).
Typical reincarnation beliefs existed, i.e. each body is inhabited by two ‘’principles’’, a spirit kalisha that can come back in (even) several newborns and the soul lciyam that dies with the body. Formerly harmful persons may incarnate in wild game]. The cosmology descriptions according to Froelich and Amrouche however differ to some extent, in particular concerning the world of the spirits.



Anthropomorphic wooden figures were already collected very early in the Lamba region by the colonial administrators Kersting in 1899 and Rigler in 1900. The appearance of these figures is very different, and a common style cannot be derived. Two figures similar to the one collected in 1900 were published in and while the former, in contrast to the latter, was not specifically attributed to the Lamba. Froelich strangely did not pay a lot of attention to these figures and in 1963 only mentioned the existence of clay figures sold to travelers and protective charms without any further details. Hahn in 1996 mentioned two types of figures, i) Baobab tree branches representing deceased persons during funeral ceremonies (thus similar to the Tamberma), and ii) roughly carved figures dumpu representing and replacing deceased twins. He further referred to the figures collected by Kersting and Rigler.
Amrouche acquired more than 150 figures between 2004 and 2008 in the Lamba and Losso regions, see. However, he knew the collection location for only a few of them, which he could then clearly attribute to the Lamba, or Losso. According to Hahn’s map, the two figures on the far right were not from the Lamba region however (which does not exclude the possibility that they originated from the Lamba people due to the abovementioned ethnic mix).
Amrouche also emphasized that normally it is not possible to differentiate between Lamba and Losso figures. Nevertheless, he tried to establish a morphologic classification, which however (and not surprisingly) does not seem very conclusive.
Again a uniform style cannot be recognized and the appearances are furthermore different from those figures collected near Difale and Tyessidé. As accordingly mentioned by Amrouche, the stylistic variation is large, ranging from geometric/stylized to more figurative/naturalistic. The figures are rather small, 1050cm, made of hardwood or clay, and many of them exhibit scarifications.
According to Amrouche, Lamba figures are basically used for three purposes:

This summary is based on around ten interviews in villages in the west of Kande and is (understandably) not always conclusive.

Lamba people Art

Figures collected in the Lamba region or attributed to the Lamba, since 1899

Lamba people Art

Figures acquired by Amrouche and attributed to the Lamba based on the collection location