The Tafi (also known as Tigbɔ/Tegbo) are the aboriginal Guan, agro-forestry, and mountain-dwelling Tigbɔ-speaking people living on the mountainous terrain in the Hohoe District in the Oti Region of South-eastern Ghana. Tafi is considered as one of the Central Togo Minorities ethnic groups and languages (Kropp & Ford 1988; Nugent 2010). Tafi lives close with the Nyagbo on the south, and with Avatime and Logba to the east.  The people of Tafi live in four major communities: Agɔme (Agome), Madɔ (Mado), Abuiƒé (Abui’s home)/Ofú, and Atome. The towns of Agome and Mado are along the Accra-Hohoe trunk road whilst Abuiƒe and Atome are in the interior.

The ethnonym, Tafi means “head thieves.” Before they became Tafi, they were Baagbɔ. The ethnonym Tafi was given to the people by the migrants Ewedɔme group that came to settle in the enclave later. Narrating from the oral tradition of the people, Bubuafor (2013: 3) explained that when the Ewedɔme came to the vicinity they were beheaded secretly by the Baagbɔ warrior-hunters, hence they asked: Mewoe ke le tǎ fi tsǒ le amewó nu lɛ̂? “Who were the people secretly beheading people and taking the heads away?” Consequently, whenever any Ewedɔme’s head is chopped-off, they uttered, The Tǎfilawo ‘head thieves’ have struck again.’ Later when the Ewedɔme found out that the aboriginal Tigbɔ people were the brains behind the terrible attacks, they gave them the name, Tafilawo “thieves of human heads”, which has been shortened to Tafi.

Currently, Tafi is the name outsiders gave to the people, their language, and the land, but they refer to themselves as Baagbɔ (sing: Agbɔ) and their language as Tigbɔ/Tegbo. Linguistically, Tigbɔ belongs to the Ghana-Togo Mountain (GTM) languages which include Animere, Kebu, Tuwuli, Igo, Ikposo, Nyagbo (Tutrugbu), and Avatime (Siya). Bobuafor 2013:6) contends that because Nyagbo is closely related to Tafi, some people thought of them as constituting one group and their languages show a certain degree of mutual intelligibility. Tigbɔ is spoken in Tafi Agɔme, Tafi Abuiƒe, Tafi Madɔ and Tafi Atome. Tigbɔ is endangered and undocumented, but its Tafi speakers are highly multilingual. Most Tafi people speak and understand Tigbɔ, Nyagbo (because of its mutual intelligibility with Tigbɔ), and Ewe.

As stated earlier, Tafi live on the mountainous terrains as peasant farmers. They became mountain-dwellers because as a small group of people living in scattered settlements, the mountains used to serve as protection against invaders. In Tafi homes, one comes across ancestral shrines near the front of their doors, which also serves as the sitting place of men during decision-making. It is said that because the ancestral shrine has a small bone from the ancestor embedded in it when the men meet together, they feel as if the ancestor’s spirit is present and part of the decision-making process. The Tafi look to their ancestors to protect them from evil spirits, which they believe inhabit everything around them. They are also noted for their unique storytelling sessions, where the storyteller remains seated with the group instead of standing.

In terms of national tourism, the Tafi town of Atome has become famous because of its monkey sanctuary with Mona monkeys in a tropical forest. It is related that the Tafi came to meet the monkeys in the forest and live peacefully with them. An oral tradition of the Kágbɔ́ɛ́m̄ clan relates that when their ancestors were migrating with the larger Tafi group, their clan head carried a deity which possessed someone and made the people look for a cool-swampy place in the bush for it. It is said that when they settled there, they suddenly saw monkeys coming out to occupy the trees in the swampy place. They did not know where the monkeys came from but when the monkeys came into contact with people them they did not run away. This surprised the settlers, thus their headman/chief made a law that since the animals do not run away whenever they see human beings, anytime the monkeys enter anybody’s dwelling place or they are on trees nobody should shoot them. Bobuafor (2013:4) contends further:

The chief also gave orders that during the dry season or the harmattan season before the fire will be set to bushes, fire belts should be made around that swampy area such that (after a long time,) it became a very thick forest around the town. The monkey sanctuary has become a tourist attraction site where tourists from all over the world come to visit. In the evenings, there is entertainment which includes drumming, dancing, or story-telling around a bonfire. Revenue from tourism has brought electricity to the village, as well as improvements to the school and a community clinic.

In the Tafi belief system, their war deity, Ogolokwe that protects and guides them during wars is the one that controls the monkeys at Tafi-Atome.

Origin and Migration

The oral tradition of the Tafi asserts that they migrated from Assini areas in the modern-day Western Region of Ghana as a result of the conflict in the area.  The group was said to be living together but had to split as a result of the conflict. The group led by Nana (Tɔgbe) Afari moved eastwards from the Assini area and crossed the Kwahu Scarps to live in an area known as Asrabi Gabi (Asabi Gyabi). It is said that after Nana Afari and the people left Assini, they regarded that place as a place of bitter memories and a forbidden place so anytime people disagree with what someone is saying or if they want to express disbelief at what the person is saying it is said that sɩ́rɩ́y’áásɩ́ “s/he is telling lies” (Bobuafor 2013:2).

Whilst at Asabi, internecine conflicts in the area forced Nana Afari to move his people further eastwards until they reached the banks of Kilɛ “Air/Wind”, which was the Tafi name for River Volta. The Tafi called River Volta, Kilɛ “Air/Wind” because Nana Afari would not let his subjects live near the river since they do not know how to swim. He did not also want his people to get drowned in the River, so he made rafts to ferry them across the Volta. After crossing the Volta River, Tafi continued their journey until they got to the Dayĩ River. Here, they faced the challenge of crossing the river, but they came across a large and long log across the river so they utilised it to cross to the other side. Oral tradition asserts that it was when the last person was on the verge of crossing that they realised that the long log was a very big kɩ́tsɔpɩ̄ ‘python’ (Bobuafor 2013:2). It swallowed the last person and this brought huge pandemonium amongst the people.  Another version on the Dayi River crossing also asserts that the people crossed it successfully without incidence, but it was later that they came to know that the python was a messenger of the god (goddess), Abǒ Dayɩ̃ which helped them to cross the Dayĩ river. This important crossing of the river is commemorated in the festival of Tafi called Dayɩ̃tsʊ́tsɔ́kɩ̄ “crossing of the Dayɩ̃ River” (Bobuafor 2013:2).

Whilst Nana Afari was leading the people on the new land, they came across some stones (ores) which they smelted and used in making farm implements and weapons. Some of their people stayed back and became the Bátsyɔná clan of Santrokofi that spoke Sɛtafi language following the destruction of their town. The Tafi continued their journey until they finally settled at Anatu “I can no longer climb the mountain”. It is said that the place got the name Anatu, from the statement: ɩ́tɩ́aná ’útú nɩ́’úwū or ɩ́tɩ́baná butú nɩ́ buwū “I can no more climb the mountain.” The statement was made by their leader, Nana Afari who had become old and weak and could not climb the mountains and had decided to live at the foot of the mountain (Bobuafor 2013:2). It was from the foot of the mountain or Anatu that the Tafi people spread out to establish Madɔ, Atome, and Abuiƒe. Those who remained with their leader became the people of Agɔme today. Some people of Agɔme (in Anatu) moved out to establish a new town at Bediaxwé, where the present Agɔme is. For leading his people over a long arduous journey and fighting bravery in many wars to overcome their opponents to reach their new settlement, Nana (Tɔgbe) Afari earned the by-name: Okukuruboɔ “lifter of rock” for he was like a beetle which could lift a stone and let fly with it easily. His other appellation was Adikɛse a ofiri suro bɛbɔɔ akyikyideɛ akyi ɛyɛ ɔkɔtɔ anka apae “A heavy object fell from above and hit the back of a tortoise, if it were a crab it would have got broken into pieces” (Bobuafor 2013:7)

Upon settling on the Ghana-Togo Mountains, the Tafi were grouped into nine distinctive divisions but several casualties sustained from wars made five divisions perish. The Tafi maintains that they lived on the mountains before the arrival of the Avatime from Ahantaland and the Ewedɔme from Notsie. The powerful Ewedɔme migrants’ presence in the area made the Tafi, formerly called Baagbɔ to feel threatened. Thus, they deployed a guerrilla tactic of sending their hunter-warriors at night to secretly kill the Ewes by chopping their heads off. The Ewedɔme who were confused as to who was attacking them queried, Mewoe ke le tǎ fi tsǒ le amewó nu lɛ̂? “Who were the people secretly beheading people and taking the heads away?” Consequently, whenever any Ewedɔme’s head is chopped-off, they uttered, The Tǎfilawo ‘head thieves’ have struck again.’Later when the Ewedɔme through the intelligence gathered by their scouts found out that the aboriginal Baagbɔ people were the brains behind the terrible attacks, they gave them the name, Tafilawo “thieves of human heads”, which has been shortened to Tafi. The beheading strategy of the Tafi made the Ewedɔme group, Vakpo, to made peace with them.

For the Avatime, Tafi oral tradition further avers that they were on their land before another group of Guans whose language is similar to their own climbed the hills and spread over the valleys. Because their language was similar to their own, the Tafi called them Bééhū “they are speaking [a similar language]” but the Ewedɔme called them Avatime (Bobuafor 2013:3). The Tafi speculates that the Bééhū (Avatime) could be the other group that left them earlier on in Assini before the migration of the whole ethnic group to their present location. There may be an element of historical truth in this because Lynne Brydon’s 1976 Ph.d Dissertation on Avatime records that they were from the Ahantaland. Tafi contends that after the arrival of the Bééhū (Avatime), the Batrugbu (Nyagbos) also came to join the Baazɛ̃ (the people of Emli) who were already at their present location which forms part of Tafi.

The Tafi argues that the people of Baagbɔ and Baazɛ̃ are aboriginals, hence when a chief is being installed in Emli, it is the Agɔme chief that administers the oath of office. They recount that even some cultural practices observed by both the Baagbɔ and Baazɛ̃, such as marriage and funeral rites, are the same. Bobuafor (2013:3) confirms, thus:

The Tafis observe Monday as a sacred day or Sabbath day because it is believed that it was on a Monday that the mysterious crossing of the Dayɩ̃ River took place. In Tafi, it is taboo for a person to die on Monday. If it happens so, “it is believed the person may have wronged the gods of the land. There should be some form of purification with a ram before the soil is dug on Monday for burial.”


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