The Lolobi (Mawu/Omain) are aboriginal Guan, iron-smelting, and agriculturalist Siwui-speaking people residing on the mountainous Hohoe District of the Oti Region of Southeastern Ghana. Lolobi is considered as one of the Central Togo Minorities ethnic groups (Kropp & Ford 1988; Nugent 2010). The people of Lolobi live in five major communities: Lolobi-Hunyase, Lolobi-Ashiambi, and Lolobi-Kumase. These towns are much closer to each other; they are located in the less mountainous area northeast of Hohoe.

The Lolobi as siblings of Akpafu calls themselves Mawu, their language as Siwui, and their land as Kawu. Thus all speakers of Siwu (Siwui) language are known as Mawu. On the Hohoe Mountain, only the people of Lolobi towns of Lolobi-Hunyase, Lolobi-Ashiambi, and Lolobi-Kumase and Akpafu of Tɔdzi (Todzi), Ɔdɔmi (Odomi), Mempeasem, Sɔkpoo (Sokpor), and Adɔkɔ (Adokor) speak Siwu. This puts Siwu-speakers or the larger Mawu people in eight towns.  The boundaries of Lolobi and Akpafu traditional areas stretch along the mountains north of Santrokofi, and the ridges up to the forest reserve, east of Nkonya (Kpodo 2013:177). They share a common boundary withiri a Bownd Buem to the north, Likpe to the east and the south Ewe (for Lolobi), and Santrokofi (for Akpafu).

Siwu, a Ghana-Togo Mountain (GTM) language spoken on the mountains of Ghana-Togo borderland, form a subset of the Kwa subgroup of the Volta-Comoe branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Siwu (spoken by Akpafu and Lolobi) is closely related to Sɛkpɛle (the language of the people of Likpe) and Lelemi (Kpodo 2013:177). Ford & Iddah (2017) contend that Siwu (spoken by Lolobi and Akpafu) is a lexical tone language with three-level tones, Low, High, and Extra-high with three distinct end-tones to mark positive-imperatives, non-WH-interrogatives, and negatives, and an additional end-tone to mark emphatic questions.

The ethnonym Lolobi is said to be the name given to the Omain (Mamain)-Mawu by the migrant Ewedɔme that moved away from their larger Ewe group to settle in the Hohoe area.  Ethnonym, Lolobi means “people who melt and readily make iron implements” (Klutse 2021). It is a contraction of lolo ‘to melt’ and bi ‘ready’ or ‘complete.’ Klutse (2021) contends that as an ancient iron-making warrior breed amongst the Mawu, the Lolobi got their name from the migrant Ewedɔme in the area because they were quick to melt iron to make various farming implements and ironwares.  Agawu (1988:17) explains that the name Mawu that both Akpafu and Lolobi identified themselves with means “they have died” and it dates back to the period in the eighteenth century when the Akpafu and Lolobi escaped from Akantin and, employing large gourds, crossed the Volta.  It is said that their Akan masters (in Akantin) assumed that the Akpafu and Lolobi had died when they discovered this trick (Agawu 1988:17).

The Mawu (Akpafu and Lolobi) and their Santrokofi neigbours were the people who historically smelted iron on the mountains. Akpafu and Lolobi irons and iron tools attracted traders and people from Dahomey (Fon), Ashanti (Asante), Eweland, and some Guan communities (Rattray 1916; Otutu Bagyire 1965:21-22; Pole 1980:504). It is said that traders from Lome and Kete Krachi also came to them for iron and iron tools by not only exchanging food and textiles for hoes, axes, arrows, and spears but also using cowries as currency. The Akpafu and Lolobi also travelled to the places of their customers to sell their ironwares. Their iron industry collapsed toward the end of the nineteenth century due to the influx of cheap European steel products.

The Lolobi are skilled peasant farmers who grow hilly crops such as brown rice, cocoa, corn, cassava, yam, and plantain. They are one of the best rice-farming communities in the Oti Region who are good at cultivating various varieties of rice. Their agricultural efforts in the area contribute to the Oti Region’s position as one of the food basket enclaves in Ghana. David Asante, travelling in the area in 1887, describes Mawu people as open and hospitable, in contrast to the shyness of the Santrokofi (Asante 1889). The Lolobi were traditionalists in their religious belief, thus when a German Protestant mission led by Andreas Pfisterer from Bremen converted the Akpafu to Christianity around 1897 the Lolobi rejected the proselytisation. In 1903, however, the Lolobi by the Lolobi converted to Catholicism since the Catholic missionaries showed respect and interest in their local religion and allowed them to continue their traditional practices. Thus, St. Mary’s Seminary/Senior High School (SMASCO), a boys-only second cycle institution was established in Lolobi on 29 September 1961 by the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of Reverend Anthony Konings, a Dutch missionary who was the Bishop of Keta-Akatsi Diocese, in the Oti Region of Ghana.

Origin and Migration

Depending on the oral tradition, both Agawu (1988) and Ogbete trace the ancient lineage of the Mawu (Lolobi and Akpafu) (1998) to the iron culture in the Kush-Meroe Empire in Ethiopia or “the highlands of Numbia to the northern reaches of Ethiopian highlands”.  It is said that when the empire collapsed the group moved out of the highlands to Atala River in the southwest where they crossed into the valley and out into the southern plains reaching the river. They moved on further to settle at Sudan for a while before journeying to reside at the Niger River enclaves in present-day Nigeria (Addom 1970).

Ogbete (1998) narrates that the Mawu walked along the River Niger, which they called Kuara, meaning “with plenty of things”, and crossed it to the other side where they met tall and wild people who drove them into the forest territories of Ghana. Agawu (1988) posits that the Mawu emergence in Ghana at that time makes them one of the first settlers in Ghana for they arrived at the same time as the Guans (Kyerepong; Larteh; Efutu; Anum; Gonja; Salaga; Buems; Likpe; Nkonya; Santrokofi; and Bowiri). The Mawu claim that they first settled at Bono town of Gyaman before moving to Nweneme and Duadaso in the Drobo State to search for ore-bearing stones to dig, smelt, and beat it into hoes, mattocks, and farming implements. This affirms Agawu (1988:76) assertion that “after the collapse of the Kush-Meroe Empire, the iron culture spread mainly west and to some extent south, reaching present-day Guinea before turning back through present-day Liberia to present-day Ghana.”

Whilst in Bono, the group got divided into two. The first group moved into the forest areas of the Ashanti and later moved on to cross the Volta River at Agyade (a town that has been buried under the Volta River) into the mid-Volta (Buem State).  The second group comprising Mawu (Akpafu/Lolobi), Santrokofi, Likpe, and others moved to Adansi and then to the Atiwa Hills near Apapam in present-day Akyem Abuakwa where they found the rocks there very suitable for iron-smelting.  After staying at Apapem the group migrated to Nsawam and later climbed the Akwapim Hill to settle (Ogbete 1998). Here, the Mawu (Akpafu) met other Guan groups such as Nkonya, Pais,  Larteh, and others. They lived on the Akwapim Hills for a long time before the migrant Akwamu State with their powerful military might came to settle at Nyanoase and later subdued all the Guan communities on the Akwapim Hill emerge on the Hill.

The maltreatment meted out to the Mawu (Lolobi and Akpafu) youths by the Akwamu overlords in form of daily beatings, human sacrifices for their deities during Odwira festivals, or being sold as slaves caused them to flee from the Akwapim Hills to settle along the northern side of Firao (Volta River). The finding of the Firao was through the instrumentality of a hunter called Orere Tagbara who on given a hot pursuit to a wild boar that has been terrorising their domestic animals found the river. Ogbete (1998) contends that it was whilst they were settling near the banks of the Volta River that their kinsmen, the Nchumuru attempted to cross the Volta River by forming a human chain of eight people and suffered setbacks. Thus, their leader shouted, Ot bo klua mle sankyi ba “if it is rather deep come back.” This statement was shortened to “Senkyi”, which became the name of the place, now anglicised as Senchi.

Finally, they joined the other Guan group to cross the Volta River to settle on the Eweto hills between Peki and Awudome-Tsito. Agawu (1988:77), however, asserts that after a series of migrations including settlement at Ashanti, the Mawu first settled in Akantin near Akwatia before crossing the Volta at Labolabo to settle at Tsito. They spread their villages from Asikuma to Bame-Koeve and build a big town behind Tsito-Awudome. Their presence created serious animosity between them and their new migrant Ewedɔme people of Awudome who contested land and crop (rice) ownership with them. The conflict was known as kamɔ ikpaiɔ “Rice Fray” led to a serious war that caused the Mawu to leave the area for Danyi Hills (Ogbete 1998).

Whilst roaming Vakpo, Anfoe, Tsrukpe, and Avate hills searching for ore-bearing stones they met the Akpini in the towns of Kudzra (Gbefi) in the northern Danyi basin. The Akpinis’ disdainful description of the Mawu as uncircumcised people washing in their river also made the Akpafu evacuate from the area to settle on Togo Plateau or Awubeame “the place of the Mawu” or Akpafu Hills.  Agawu (1988:77) adds that before their settlement at Togo Plateau, the Mawu first moved from Tsito and took eastwards migration to Agu (now in present-day Togo) and thence back to Fodome and Avatime (in present-day Ghana). This movement from Agu, according to Klutse (2021), made some earlier settlers on the Togo Plateau perceive them as Ewe. From Agu they then moved to Kete-Krachi/Attebubu, an important trading center where it is thought that they learned rice cultivation (Agawu 1988:77; Klutse 2021). And it was from Kete-Krachi/Attebubu that they moved to Togo Plateau, known locally as Kube. Agorsah (1978:8) also argues the Mawu went on to Tafi, Anfoega, Kpandu, and Nkonya before arriving at their present site.

On their brief stay on Awubeame (Togo Plateau), the Mawu organised into roughly sixteen/fifteen clans. Addom (1970) contends that on Awubeame/Kube, the Akpafu was made up of the Odomi, Lolobi, and Mawu Kato (i.e., “the first people,” meaning the people of Todzi) groups. They instituted a chieftaincy headship based on rotation and established age groupings for military and civic training.  From amongst the clan heads, a headman was chosen to adjudicate on issues amongst the people in Awubeame. The headman earned the title Igra Kpakpa.

The oral tradition from Akpafu-Mawu group asserts that it was in Awubeame/Kube that conflict arose between Lolobi, then called Omain (Mamain), and Magadagbe clan over rice selling and destruction (Ogbete 1998). In that period, Lolobi’s Okatakyie holds the position of Igra Kpakpa amongst the Mawu, thus he adjudicated the issue. When he found Magadagbe clan guilty, his ruling was quashed by other sub-clan heads. In annoyance, Igra Okatakyie and his people left Awubeame and travelled east into Danyin basin where they encountered Danyin and Kpele groups who drove them into the area between Utuka-Lolobi and Danyin River basin. As a result of the separation, the Omain (Lolobi) rejected and lost all aspects of their identity as Mawu or the people of Kawu (Ogbete 1998). They only maintained their Siwu dialect and some titular deities.

Ogbete (1998) account of how the Lolobi moved away from the larger Mawu group (Akpafu) is rejected by the Lolobi. On how the Lolobi departed from their Akpafu siblings, Klutse (2021) explains that in all their migrational journeys, the Akpafu were the philosophers, farmers, and artisans whilst the Lolobi were hunter-warriors. As a result of their martial prowess and responsibility as the defenders and protectors of the larger Mawu group, it was customary for the Akpafu group to live on the mountain tops whilst the Lolobi lives on the lowlands. This was the settlement pattern that the Mawu had on the Togo Plateau or Kube (Mountain) and Awubeame. Thus when the Akan Asante army led by General Adubofo launched an attack on the Krepi and the mountainous minority ethnic groups, Lolobi as the warrior group amongst the Mawu engaged in a fierce battle of resistance against the Asante (Klutse 2021).  Whilst the Lolobi were counting on their Akpafu siblings to give them support, they declined and rather surrendered to the powerful Asante army. This act by the Akpafu-Mawu was seen as a serious betrayal of the family bond, hence the Lolobi-Mawu moved out of the Awubeame to found their first settlement at Lolobi-Kumase. They later founded two other settlements, Lolobi-Ashiambi and Lolobi-Hunyase. This movement by the Lolobi to found new towns confirms Nugent (2002) assertion that all these Ghana-Togo Mountain groups share some history as refugees.

Klutse (2021) contends that what made the Mawu-Lolobi angrier with their Mawu-Akpafu siblings was their cozy relationship with their Asante masters. “They did not only taught the Asante the iron-making technology, but they also gave vital secrets of our customs and traditions with regards to the sacred days on our calendar. As a result, on our sacred days that we are not to fight the Asante were alerted and they attacked us’ (Klutse 2021). Despite the fierceness of the Asante campaign against the Lolobi, the Asante were impressed by the resistance of the Lolobi, and therefore nicknamed the Lolobi town Kumasi. The Asante war of 1868-1869 reached as far east as the Togo Mountain area and disrupted the lives of many people (Johnson, 1965; Brydon, 2008).

When the Lolobi moved out of the larger Mawu (Akpafu), they maintained their clans such as Brafɔ, Aborade, Kalesea, Masakyiri, Kpadzia, Atedua, and Magadagbe. The Lolobi-Ashiambi had Kpadzia clan; Lolobi-Hunyase had Atedua, whilst the Lolobi-Kumase had Kalesea clan which has two gates: Opokuka and. When a German Protestant mission from Bremen converted the Akpafu to Christianity around the 1890s. The missionaries were keen to eliminate local beliefs and were rejected by the Lolobi, who later (1903) converted to Catholicism since the Catholic missionaries showed respect and interest in their local religion and allowed them to continue their traditional practices.

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