Tuesday, April 16, 2024

History of the Likpe


The Likpe (Bakpɛle) are agriculturalist, Guan Sɛkpɛlé-speaking people who reside along the fertile hills and valleys (the Akwapim Range close to the Ghana-Togo border) in the Hohoe District of the Volta Region of Ghana. Likpe constitutes 12 towns scattered on the Likpe hills and bordered by part of the Buem-Togo range. The towns are Abrani, Mate, Bala, Todome, Avedzeme, Agbozome, Koforidua, Kukurantumi, Bakwa/Bakua, Dzogbega and Nkwanta. The paramount seat of governance of the Bakpεle or Likpe State is Mate (Likpe-Mate). Two main roads lead to the various Likpe towns from Hohoe; one leads to Nkwanta, Bakwa, Mate, Bala, Todome, and the other leads to Abrani, Koforidua, Agbozume, Avedzime, and Kukurantumi via Lolobi-Kumasi. There is another road that links Mate to Kukurantumi via Avedzime, Agbozume, Koforidua and Abrani. Although some of the communities are difficult to access by road, they are linked to each other by interconnected paths through the forest (Delalorm 2016:25). The Likpe community is surrounded by Lelemi (Buem) to the north, Ahlo to the east, Siwu (Akpafu), and Sɛlɛ (Santrokofi) to the west and Ewe (the lingua franca) to the south.

The Likpe refer to themselves as the Bakpɛle “Likpe people” (sing: ɔkpɛle ‘a Likpe person’), their land as Likpe and their language as Sɛkpɛlé. Bakpɛle means “large group”, it was a name given to the Guan Bakpɛle by the aboriginal Bakwa (Bagwa “cave-dwelling”) and Todome group when they saw the Likpe people coming to the area (Delalorm 2016:31). Sεkpεlé is a member of the Ghana-Togo Mountain languages (GTM), formerly called Togorestsprachen (Togo Remnant Languages) or Central Togo languages (Struck 1912; Dakubu and Ford 1988; Ring 1995; Nugent 2010). GTM languages are composed of fourteen languages including Animere, Kebu, Tuwuli, Igo, Ikposo (Akposso), Siwu (Lolobi and Akpafu), Nyagbo (Tutrugbu), Likpe (Sɛkpɛle), Lelemi, and Avatime (Siya) amongst others that are spoken on the mountains of Ghana-Togo borderland.  These languages form a subset of the Kwa subgroup of the Volta-Comoe branch of the Niger-Congo language family.

Sεkpεlé, as the auto-denomination of the language spoken in 12 villages of Likpe has two major dialect divisions: Sεkpεlé and Sekwa (Ameka 2009:242). However, Delalorm (2016:14) argues that Sɛkpɛlé, Sekwá, and Sɛlɛ (spoken by the Santrokofi people) form a language continuum and they are descendants of Sele ‘language’. Sɛkpɛlé is said to be a tone language with three-level tones, High, Mid and Low, as well as Falling and Rising; whilst the latter is phonetically generated, each syllable is a tone bearing unit and has an eight vowel system with both oral and nasalized counterparts (Ameka 2009:242). On the differences between Sekwá and Sɛkpɛlé dialects, Delalorm (2016:40) contends that Sekwá has voiced consonants in the final syllable of Sɛkpɛlé variant word, in addition to its diverse vocabulary.  Of the two dialects, Sekwá is spoken in the two aboriginal towns of Bakwa and Todome whilst Sɛkpɛlé is spoken by the rest of the Likpe towns.

The Sɛkpɛlé dialect is further divided into three sub-groups. These include “(1) Situnkpa spoken predominantly in Agbozome, Avedzime and Koforidua; (2) Semate spoken in Mate and Abrani; (3) Sela spoken in Bala and Kukurantumi. This sub-division is based on tribal autonomy rather than clear dialectal differences. However, there seems to be some variation in terms of accent and style. Situnkpa seems to have some variant intonation. The degree of intelligibility between Situnkpa, Semate and Sela is very high compared to that between Sekwa and the Sɛkpɛlé. There is an asymmetry in intelligibility such that Sɛkpɛlé is intelligible to Sekwá speakers, who are bi-dialectal, but not the other way round. Speakers of Sekwa can switch between both dialects but the same cannot be said of the speakers of Sɛkpɛlé” (Delalorm 2016: 40). Apart from Sɛkpɛlé language, the Likpe (Bakpɛle) also speaks Ewe and Twi. The appeal of Ewe resided in the historical fact that it was the language of trade.

The ethnonym Likpe is said to have been given to the Bakpɛle by their Gbi (Ewe) neighbours. Likpe means ‘stone sharpener’ or ‘stone chippers.’ Ampene (2011) narrated that when the ancestors of the Bakpɛle came from Atebubu to dwell on the Ghana-Togo Mountain, the Gbi-Ewe group saw their warriors sharpening stones to be used as weapons in warfare. As a result, the Gbi identified the Bakpɛle as Kpe li lawo, which means “stone sharpeners” or “stone chippers” (Mensah 2016:88). The Likpe are both Christians and traditionalists. Their Supreme deity, who is a goddess is called Lɛkplɛ Bɔkɛ. Their annual national festival is called Lekoryi “coming together”. This festival is celebrated to foster Unity among the people of Likpe Traditional Area.  Lekorye flows from the fact that the Bakpɛle migrated in clans and groups and finally found a place where they settled in peace and therefore, needed to symbolise common identity by confirming their loyalty to each other.

The occupation of the Likpe is in the agrarian sector. They are noted for the cultivation of foodstuff such red or brown rice, maize, cassava, groundnut, plantain, cocoyam and water yam; cash crops include cocoa, coffee and oil palm; and fruits such as orange, papaya, and mango also grow in the area. Others engage in craftsmanship such as pottery, wood carving and basket weaving, and most have multiple occupations. Most of the women are traders, engaged in the sale of foodstuffs and basic commodities at market centres that rotate between towns in the area or elsewhere.

In terms of tourism, the Likpe hills have ancient caves which in the past served as hiding-place for new migrants and shelter for the aboriginals. It is said that of the 10 caves in the area, the first one served as a hiding-place for the ancient people before they came out to found their settlement, Likpe Todome “Sharpening stones from under the mountain”. As a result, the first cave later served as a meeting place for the elders to meet and undertake strategic decisions in times of war. The second cave was used for spying on enemies-a type of watchtower. The third cave was a hideout and from where the ancestors were said to have emerged. The fourth cave served as the chief’s palace. Here, secret consultations were held with his elders on matters affecting the community. The fifth cave served as a type of detention cell for criminals. The sixth cave served as a public resting place. There is also a Wadjakli Waterfalls at Likpe Todome.

Origin and Migration

There is a view amongst the Bakpɛle that their ancestors were made up of a group of aboriginal inhabitants who amalgamated with later groups of settlers (Nugent 1991:73). In this regard, Bakpɛle oral tradition asserts that the inhabitants of the modern villages of Likpe-Bakwa and Likpe-Todome are autochthonous. The Bakwa were said to include the remnants of the Maakɔ (Bakɔ) clan who had lived earlier in the territories of Nkonya-Wurupong before the Guans came. Lilley (1931), Debrunner (1968:555) and Anyomi (1979) recounted that the original ancestors of these two autochthonous states came out of the ground via Kanetsienyi (Katsyankla)-Otogblo cave near their present location. The ancestors emerged from the ground with the assistance of the protective guardian spirit, Dfagbagble Odiato Odiano.

It is said recounted that the Bakwa people and their leaders came out first, followed by a large retinue of people (including the Todome). This procession of the people out of the ground was said to have been cut short when an onlooker who saw the spectacle exclaimed to express his surprise (Debrunner 1968:556). Egblewogbe (1992:45) citing Nyinanse (1984) and Heine (1968: 35) also recorded that there was another aboriginal group called the Bashio (Basio) who lived on the Likpe land before the arrival of the Bakpɛle.  This aboriginal independent Basio group have disappeared, surviving only as a clan of this name at (Ewe-speaking) Agbozume (Heine 1968:35; Dakubu 2006).

The Bakwa and Todome had their own unique language, Sekwa (which is now a dialect of Sɛkpɛlé of the Bakpɛle). Thus, Ameka (2016:117) argues that it is likely the Sekwa language of the autochthones (Bakwa and Todome) was shifted to or learnt by the other people (Abrani, Mate, Bala, Avedzeme, Agbozome, Koforidua, Kukurantumi, Dzogbega and Nkwanta) when they came, for what language the newcomers spoke is not entirely clear. Delalorm (2016:14), however, explains that Sɛkpɛlé, Sekwá, and Sɛlɛ (spoken by the Santrokofi people) form a language continuum and they are descendants of Sele ‘language’. It is said that the aboriginals of Bakwa and Todome welcomed the other Bakpɛle to their current habitat.

On the migrant Bakpɛle Guan group that came to meet the aboriginal Bakwa-Todome and Basio, Mensah-Edzesi (2004:1) speculates that they were part of the larger Guan migration from Nubia (Egypt) to escape the political upheaval of the era circa A.D 1000. The group moved from the east to the regions of Sudan through the Lake Chad area. From this enclave, the Bakpɛle settle around the southern borders of the ancient Ghana Empire until the empire was threatened by the invasion of the powerful Islamic and Berber groups. The invasion caused the Bakpɛle and other Guan groups to move southwards into the territories modern Ghana between moved into modern Ghana A.D 1054 and 1076 into the Volta valley (Mensah-Edzesi 2004; Mensah 2016:82).

In Ghana, the Guan group settled first at Gbondja (Gonjaland) before crossing the Volta River at a ford near Yeji in the dry season under the leadership of Ata, a lion hunter and a great shaman who was believed to possess mystical powers (Delalorm 2016:28). The Bakpɛle and their Guan siblings were said to have settled between the Kulango, Bono (Brong), and the Nanfana (Mfantra/Mpantra) and established a town they called Ata-be-bu (Ata’s cottage) or Atebubu, where it is believed that the Bakpɛle and the Balɛ may have started rice cultivation. Whilst in Atebubu, the military activities of Ateele Ofinam (Ataara Finam), the last king of the powerful Guang Kingdom against the Akan groups (Mampong, Kwahu, Agogo and Kwamang) created serious unrest in the area. When Ofinam was defeated, most of the Guan groups in the area fled to other areas, particularly into the Volta Mountains.

Hence, Mensah-Edzesi (2004) and (Delalorm 2016) speculates with a revisionist account that the Bakwa (a small Bakpɛle group) led by Ote Katsyankla and Katabuah, like the Atwode leader Awuku-Gevi were among the early fugitives who fled through the eastern corridor to escape the onslaught of the Akan forces. They claim that the Bakwa settle first at Mount Djebobo on the Togo-Atakora ranges before moving southward to discover the caves they now refer to as the ancestral cave at Todome. This version runs contrary to the oral traditions of Bakwa and Todome minuted by Captain Lilley on 19 March 1931 and interviews conducted by Hans W. Debrunner in 1968 at Bakwa.

The original Bakpɛle after fleeing Atebubu were said to have crossed the Volta River and moved to live at several times at Krachi, Nchumuru, Atwode, Adele and Kebu traditional areas.  From there, they moved southward along Togoland through Akposo and Ahlor Mountains. Whilst on their southward move on the Togoland ranges, the Bakpɛle made contact with Ewe groups who were fleeing westward from King Agorkorli of the Notsie Kingdom, which the Ewes consider as “wicked”.  The Bakpɛle journeys finally came to an end at the Kitikpa and Likpeto ‘Likpe hill’ around Hohoe where they made contact with the Gbi, a section of Ewe tribes who were also escaping from King Agorkorli’s kingdom (Delarlom 2016:30). The Gbi were originally part of Peki who shared a boundary with Anum. They left Peki because they were dissatisfied with their Head-chief.

Anyomi (1979:2) also suggests from another oral tradition that the Bakpɛle stayed in the Ketu (now in Yorubaland), moved through Notsie where they came into contact with the Ewe before moving to their present area. This view is supported by Nugent (1991:78) who asserts that Bakpɛle names such as Oloto and Alio suggest a Lagos connection at some time and the stool name of Soglo which is borne by an Okakple of the Kalegato clan is quite clearly of Dahomean origin. It is said that when the Bakpɛle reached the place of the ancestral cave that housed the aboriginal Bakwa and the Todome, they found out that they spoke the mutually intelligible language. Thus, the Headman of Bakwa, Ote Katsankla welcomed the Bakpɛle to live amongst them by giving them land. The Bakpɛle referred to the aboriginal cave dwellers as BaGwa ‘they are Guangs,’ whilst the aboriginal cave dwellers also called them Bakplɛ ‘large group’, for they came in large numbers (Delalorm 2016:31). This important meeting and friendship that occurred between the aboriginals of Bakwa and the Bakpɛle were called the LEKYAYI ‘Day of the Union’. It forms the basis of their annual festival, Lekyayi which is celebrated with pomp and pageantry.

The newly arrived Bakplɛ were led by a female priestess called Ambe Klememfi and six hunter-warriors, three pairs representing the three main tribes. They were Alloh-Lemboe, Akonto-Lesiaku, and Ntiri-Samba representing Abradi (Mate and Abrani), Akontokrom (Bala and Kukurantumi) and Tunkpa (Avedzeme, Agbozume and Koforidua) respectively. The Bakplɛ controlled a large area of savannah woodland as far as the northern banks of River Koloe (Nubui) which was the boundary with the Ve (Ewe group) who occupied the southern banks of the river. They also shared a common boundary with the Nkonya at River Fantibi. The Nkonya, after leaving Atebubu, settled in Bisimbli after a long journey through Larteh, Akwamu, Amedzofe, Gbledi and Kpando.

However, the cordial relationship existing amongst the settlers on the mountain turned into a series of conflicts when the ambitious territorial expansionist Gbi Ewes from Peki came to settle at the northern bank of the Koloe Stream in the south of Likpeto, between the Bakpεle and the Ves and Nkonyas to the West. In their conflict over water resources, Mensah (2016) and Delalorm (2016) explain that in one of the Gbi attacks against the Bakpɛle, a pregnant woman from Bakpɛle who had gone to fetch water from a stream killed by Gbi sniper with bow and arrow and this led to war between the two ethnic groups. In this war, the Bakpεle’s instrument of war was chipped stones used as flint-locks. When the Gbi scouts discovered that the Bakpɛle were chipping stones they told their elders’ ole ɛkpɛ li meaning ‘they are sharpening stones’ or LIKPE-AWO, which means “Stone Chippers” (Delalorm 2016:32; Mensah 2016:88). Over a time, the Bakpɛle and the Bakwa/Todome became known as Likpe ‘stone sharpening’ or ‘stone chipping’ to their neighbours. Whilst the Bapɛle conflicted with the Gbi, there were at peace with Peki and Kpandu and even joined their forces on an expedition to punish the Taviefes in 1888, but they never accepted the claims to overlordship that were made by Peki, or any other Ewe division for that matter (Nugent 1991:78-79; Dakubu and Ford: 1988:124).

After the hostilities between the Bakpɛle and the Gbi has ended following the peaceful negotiation of peace by Ote Katsankla by giving new land closer to his enclave, Ntiri and Samba established Okumasi on the west, Alloh and Lemboe moved north to found Abradi, while Akonto and Lesiaku settled in the centre to establish Akontokrom. An agreement was reached between the leaders of Bakwa and Todome (Katsankla and Katabuah) and the Bakpɛle to merge to ensure their safety. The new Likpe were later joined by smaller bands of migrants (Nugent 1991:73). In the agreement, the two autochthones (Bakwa and Todome) allegedly agreed that the newcomers (Bakpɛle) should provide the Ɔkakple “Headchief” but insisted that they should select a man in place of their female leader, Ambe Klememfi. Thus, Ambe Klememfi was relieved of her position, however, because she was also the custodian of the Bakpɛle deity Lɛkplɛ Bɔkɛ, she was made the spiritual leader of the new settlement (Delalorm 2016:32). The head of the village of Likpe-Mate was selected as the Ɔkakple of all the Bakpɛle. The Ɔkakple is selected from two major clans: Kalelenti and Kalegato. The aboriginal leader of Bakwa/Todome, Katsyankla was made the Ɔsɔnsate/Ɔmankrado ‘Landlord’ or ‘Landowner’ of Likpe, convenor of all traditional meetings with responsibility for the enstoolment of a new Ɔkakple.

Thus, per the political structure of Likpe State as of 1945, Ɔkakple “Head chief or Paramount Chief was Matehene (Chief of Mate) with the towns of Todome, Avedzeme and Bala providing sub-chiefs, whilst village chiefs were from Bakwa, Agbozome, Koforidua and Kukurantumi (Nugent 1991:79). Delalorm (2016:34), however, contends that in the formation of the four divisions of Likpe: (i) Ote Katsyankla of Bakwa remained the Ɔsɔnsate or the Omankrado ‘landlord’; (ii) Alloh, chief of Abradi (Likpe-Mate) became the Ɔtekplɛ or Ɔkankplɛ ‘Paramount chief’; (iii) Akonto, chief of Akontokrom (Likpe-Bala) became the Ɔtsyɪamɪ ‘spokesperson’; and (iv) Samba, chief of Okumase became the Ɔkanto ‘stool father’. The name Mate which means ‘they knew’ or ‘teacher’ and Bala which means ‘they liked it’ are the nicknames of the Likpe towns of Abradi and Akontokrom (Lilley 1931; Delalorm 2016:33).

Among the Guan group in the area, the Bakpɛle have close politico-historical ties with the Buem. In the nineteenth century, the Bakpele in their trading links to the south had an affiliation with the Buem as states that probably paid tributes to Kwahu Dokuman (Nugent 1991:79). The Bakpɛle later joined the Buem when they rose in revolt against Kwahu Dokuman and when the Asante invaded the Ghana-Togo Mountain in 1869, the Bakpele fled to Akposso. After the withdrawal of the Asante forces, the Bakpele returned and assisted the Buems in inflicting retribution on the Kwahus (Debrunner 1965:18). It is said that when a powerful Buem State emerged after the wars with the Asante, there was a formation of a confederacy headed by Nana Aburam of Buem-Borada that embraced the Lefana, Akan, Akpafu, Lolobi, Bowiri and Likpe.


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