Tchamba (Togo)

Tchamba / Chamba

The name Tchamba sometimes spelled Chamba, stands for both a city located in Tchamba Prefecture in the Centrale Region of Togo, and the tribe living in that area.

Tchamba is originally a tribe living in and around the town of Chamba, Ghana in the Northern Region,on the road from Salaga to Bimbilla. Part of the tribe is still living there; others have migrated to Accra and there is also an ex-pat community of Tchambas in Frankfurt (Main) in Germany.

Tchamba people


Tchamba from Togo and Chamba in Nigeria and around

The Tchamba of Northern Togo should not be confused with the Chamba living in the east‐central Nigeria region and the neighboring parts of north Cameroon, to the south of the Benue River. On the Cameroon side, however, as in Togo, a village called Tchamba exists. Frobenius also denominated this Nigerian people ‘’Tchamba’’. Both peoples are however not related, the Chamba always lived in their area and only local migrations occurred, mainly due to the Fulani Jihad at the beginning of the 19th century. They speak two distantly related languages, the Chamba Daka and Chamba Leko, the former belonging to the Dakoid group and the latter to the LekoNimbari group of the NigerCongo languages.

The chamba, already mentioned in 1898, are a complex and heterogeneous ethnic group composed of an autochthonous core (originally Lama) and BiTchambe, Temba, Bariba, Ana, Anago, Ewe, etc. who have gradually immigrated. Accordingly, Froelich listed eight clans in 1960, living in the Tchamba canton and of different origins: Lare (origin Tcham, politically dominant), Dopou (Bariba), Koli and Sangbe (both Lama), Nadjo, Dikeni and Nanto (all Temba), and Nintche (Bassari). The Tchamba call themselves ‘’Kaselem’’, their language is Akaselem, which is close to the Tobote of the Bassari and belongs to the OtiVolta subgroup of the Gur languages

The Tchambas are known as aborigines (indigenous people) of Northern Ghana, once covering an area as large as the present Dagbon. Due to major tribal wars between the Dagomba people and the Kokomba people in the aftermath of the First World War, many of them fled to present-day Tchamba in Northern Togo, while others fled to Accra, but a third group survived in the North of Ghana. The various groups maintain close relations, for example in the Chamba Heritage Society and it is not uncommon for families to live in two of their homelands. The Tchamba language is widely spoken in Togo, Ghana, Benin, and Nigeria. They have linguistical affiliations with Konkonba, Bassari. They are predominantly Moslems.


Studies about Tchamba

Ethnological field studies concerning the Tchamba are rare. The most comprehensive document was established by Froelich, which contains a chapter about the Tchamba canton, but mainly focuses on the different settlements and their history. Although animistic beliefs similar to those of the neighbors in the north and northwest still exist, islamization is well advanced. In 2011, a strong Vodun ‘’complex’’ also existed, called Tchamba Vodun, which was based on former slavery. In particular, the Mami Tchamba spirit was venerated. The presence of the Tchamba Vodun is not mentioned in, i.e. before 1960.


Tchamba clans

In Togo, the major clans are Imamwa, Congoro, Lari, Dopo, Sangbe, Lambu, Daru, Atarouwa, Nantoh, Ninchey, Kumateh, and others. The Congoros are the origins there, whereby the Laris among others came. The kingship was originally for the Congoros while the Islamic leadership position (Imam) is always held by Imamwa as their name implies. Some of the major towns in Tchamba are Alibi, Kasaleym and Affem Boussou.



Their main neighbors are the Temba/Kotokoli in the southwest, the Bassari (or BiTschambe) in the northwest, the Kabye in the north and the Bariba in the east (in Benin, amongst others); the south is only sparsely populated.


Art and Cosmology

No references or images/photos of anthropomorphic representations attributed to the Tchamba could be found in the ethnological literature. In tribal artrelated publications, sculptures attributed to the Tchamba were first published in the early 90s of the last century. They are often of large scale (>60cm), their iconography is similar to that of the Temba. The volumes of the body parts are more differentiated, a cylindrical overall shape can no longer be recognized, the legs are often more flexed and many more details are shown. Typical elements however are retained, e.g. the angulated arms or the frequent more or less high crest. Scarifications can be seen in some cases, but they are not frequent. The resemblance of the Tchamba statuary to that of the neighboring Temba may be also explained by the significant presence of Temba originating groups and the fact that the former Bassari (BiTchambe) don’t use wooden anthropomorphic representations.

Photos of a particular set of figures attributed to the Tchamba, which however does not fit into the iconography, have been gradually published since 2007. The shape of these figures is much more rounded, the posture with the positioning of the forward stretched arms and the heavily encrusted patina are significantly different. The eyes are identically represented by cowry shells it seems that these figures originate from the same hand or workshop. The different appearance of these figures may either be explained by their use in the abovementioned Vodun cult whose figures and patina more closely resemble this set or they may not originate from the Tchamba.

Tchamba people art

Atypical sculptures attributed to the Tchamba of Togo

The iconography of the Chamba statuary has similarities to that of the Tchamba, however, significant and typical differences may exist. In most cases, the shoulder joints are pushed forward, sometimes even located in front of the body. The arms are also angulated, either detached from the body or carved in relief. In the latter case, the body has often the shape of a slender, cylindrical column. Head crests are often exhibited, as on Tchamba figures, however, frequent conical headsuperstructures do not exist in the Tchamba iconography. There are numerous figures, however, where these differences are less pronounced and a clear attribution based purely on style may be difficult.

Chamba people art

Sculptures attributed to the Chamba of Nigeria/Cameroon