The history of the Bakpɛle has been linked to the legend that they migrated from Atebubu in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana. Before settling in Atebubu, they migrated from the East African sub-region with some other Guang tribes, The exodus saw the Bakpɛle and the Guangs move from the east toward the west to the savannah regions of Sudan through the Lake Chad area.
Oral tradition affirms that the Bakpɛle settled in the southern borders of the ancient Ghana Empire until the empire was threatened by the invasion of Abdullah Ibn Yasin and the Almoravids (a militant Moslem or Berber dynasty). They moved into modern Ghana in several waves between 1054 and 1076.
The Bakpɛle were one of the largest of the Guang ethnic groups which included the Balɛ (Santrokofi), Nkonya, Buem, Akpafu (lolobi), Krachi, Adele, Nchumuru, larteh and Gonja who lived in the southern part of the Ghana Empire. The Bakpɛle still recall vividly the past memories of the ‘Walata’ market where they obtained their salt.
They also recall the memory of a fair-skinned tribe, the Berbers, who lived in the north of the empire. The Bakpɛle refer to them as ‘Obebenyə/Babebenyə’ (native(s) of Berber) while the Akans refer to them as ‘Pepeni/Pepefoɔ’. The word obebenyə also refers to a fierce or hostile person, usually from the north.
From the Ghana Empire, most of the Guang tribes including the Bakpɛle, Balɛ, and the Nkonya came through the Volta valley and settled at Salaga. They later left Salaga due to the threat of lions. They crossed 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.
They settled between the Kulago, Brong, and the Nefana and established a town they called Ata-be-bu (Ata’s cottage). This town, now known as Atebubu, is currently an Akan community. It is believed that the Bakpɛle and the Balɛ may have started rice cultivation in Atebubu.
The Bakpɛle and the Balɛ are closely related because they once lived in Salaga and Atebubu. They also share a common parent language called Sele ‘language’. This is based on the evidence that both languages have lexical cognates.
Both the Bakpɛle and the Balɛ share common political, social, religious and cultural institutions such as their system of marriage and inheritance. Other Guang or GTM group such as Atwode, Adele, Nchumuru and Krachi support the legend about Salaga and Atebubu as the main centres of their settlements. This legend seems to point to the likelihood that the Salaga-Atebubu area was the original centre of Guang dispersion to their current settlements.
The Bakpɛle left Atebubu during the reign of Atara Ofinam VIII, the last king of the Guang kingdom. They were attacked by the Akan tribes in two fronts. The first command was believed to be led by the Mamponghene attacking from the north and the other by Kwahuhene from the south-east. The Akan forces over-ran the ancient Guang kingdom.
Atara Ofinam VIII fled across the Volta and Oti River after a hot chase by the forces of the Kwahuhene. It is firmly believed 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 for safety.
The Bakwa settled first at Mount Djebobo on the Togo-Atacora ranges and later moved southward to discover the caves they now refer to as the ancestral cave at Todome.
The larger group of the Bakpɛle and the Balɛ crossed the Volta River and moved southward.
They had several stopovers around present day Krachi, Nchumuru, Atwode, Adele and Kebu traditional areas. They moved southward along Togoland through Akposo and Ahlor in the Republic of Togo. During their stopovers, sections of the group decided to stay a little longer, either to seek the protection of the deities of the area such as Krachi-Dente and Bruku of Shiare, or to cultivate rice. The group that remained lost contact with the main group and might have been absorbed by the Akan groups who came to settle in the area later.
During their southward move along the Togoland ranges, the Bakpɛle made intermittent contact with Ewe groups who were fleeing westward from King Agorkorli of the Notsie Empire, who the Ewes consider as wicked.
They finally settled in Kitikpa and Likpeto in the region of Hohoe where they made contact with the Gbi, a section of Ewe tribes who were also escaping from King Agorkorli’s kingdom. The Gbi were originally part of Peki who shared a boundary with Anum. They left Peki due to the fact that they were dissatisfied with their Head-chief.
During their migration northward, they came into contact with the Batrugbu (Nyagbo), Baagbɔ (Tafi) and Akpanawo (Logba) the Baagbɔ were nicknamed Tafi‘head thief’ by the Ewe due to the hostility they received from them. The Baagbɔ used guerrilla tactics to protect their lands from the Ewe by ambushing and beheading them at night. This and many other incidents caused the Gbi to move northward.
The hospitality that the Gbi received from the Bakpɛle resulted in the name of their settlement Hohoe (hospitality).
The Bakwa and the Bakpɛle had knowledge of their location and had correspondence between them. It is believed that when they first made contact after their departure from Atebubu, the Bakpɛle referred to the cave dwellers as BaGwameaning ‘they are Guangs’ and the cave dwellers in turn seeing the large group exclaimed, Bakplɛ ‘large group’.
The Bakplɛ were then lead by a female shaman called Klememfi and six hunters, three pairs representing the three main tribes. They were Alloh-Lemboe, Akonto-Lesiaku, and Ntri-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, an Ewe ethnic group which had 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.
There was harmony between the Bakplɛ, Balɛ and the Gbi until one day a tragic incident occurred where a hunter of the Gbi shot and killed a pregnant woman of the Bakplɛ. The Bakplɛ were displeased with this situation and prepared for war. The Gbi discovered the plot through their spy network who said ole ɛkpɛ li meaning ‘they are sharpening stones’. It is believed that out of this statement came the name Likpe ‘stone sharpening’.
However through the diplomacy of Ote Katsyankla, who offered to give the Bakplɛ a new home close to his, a war was averted. The mediation between the Bakplɛ and the Bakwa saw the former move closer to the latter.
Since the ancestral cave could not accommodate the multitude, they decided to settle in the valleys. Katsyankla and Katabuah remain in their original position in the south close to the caves, Ntiri and Samba established a town on the west called Okumasi, Alloh and Lemboe settled in the north in a town they called Abradi, while Akonto and Lesiaku settled in the centre and named their town Akontokrom.
They came to a consensus and Katsyankla was made the Ɔsɔnsate or Omankrado ‘landlord’ and convenor of all traditional meetings since he was first on the land before the others arrived.
Ambe Klememfi, being the custodian of the Bakpɛle deity Lɛkplɛ Bɔkɛ, was made the spiritual leader of the new settlement.
After a while, Ote Katsyankla convened a meeting with all the leaders stating that he could no longer work with a female chief.
Ambe Klememfi abdicated and handed over the chieftaincy to Alloh and Lemboe. Alloh, the elder of the two, was installed as the first chief of Abradi. At the meeting, a proposal was put forth that the tribe that held the head chief should be located in the centre of the area.
The rational was that chiefs and kings should be well protected. In times of invasion and war, if one’s chief or king is captured, then the war is won on the part of the invaders. The implication of losing one’s chief includes servitude and paying homage to the captors. This proposal was disputed by Akonto and Lesiaku since they already occupied the centre. The leaders decided to consult the oracle to establish which tribe was to occupy the centre.
The leaders of the two tribes were each asked to present palm-fronds, which were to be buried in the ground for three days. After the third day, whoever’s palm-frond had withered would settle in the centre. This process was followed. However, before the third day, legend states that the Abradi had craftily unearthed their palm-frond and manually withered it on a fire and placed it back in the ground. When the leaders inspected the palm-fronds on the third day, they realised that someone had tampered with them.
Since noone was caught, it was established that it was the Abradi’s palm-frond that was well withered. Later when the conspiracy was discovered, the Abradi were nicknamed Mate from bate ‘they knew’ because they knew about it.
Akontokrom was also nicknamed Bala ‘they liked it’, stating that although they felt cheated, theywere content with the outcome of the oracle.
Akontokrom was asked to move to the north and settled at Sieti. They later moved to and established the town of Bala.
I would like to emphasise that the aim of documenting this narrative is not to stir enmity between these tribes. This account is common knowledge among all the Likpe communities. There are some accounts that are bitter and very sensitive between Mate and Bala which are best left out of this work.
Evidence for this account is the fact that the people of Mate still own lands in Bala and beyond. When all these events had come to pass, the leaders met again to seal the terms of the union or amalgamation.
The governing body was shared among the leaders of the four divisons as follows:
(i) Ote Katsyankla remained the Ɔsɔnsate or the Omankrado ‘landlord’;
(ii) Alloh, chief of Abradi became the Otekplɛ or Okankplɛ ‘Paramount chief’;
(iii) Akonto, chief of Akontokrom became the Ɔtsyɪamɪ ‘spokesperson’; and
(iv) Samba, chief of Okumase became the Okanto ‘stool father’.
The leaders also instituted a special annual festival Lekoryi (biannual these days) - a day when all the people of the group came together as one people with a common destiny. The chiefs and elders assemble at Mate, the central town for elaborate rituals and renew their loyalty to the Almighty God, the group goddess Lɛkplɛ Bɔkɛ and the ancestors.
These days during the Lekoryi festival, libation is poured at the courtyard of the Paramount chief. Prayers are made to invoke the Almighty God, the Earth goddess Asase Yaa and there is reciting of the litany of the founding fathers of the Likpe state in this order: Katsyankla, Katabuah, Alloh, Lemboe, Akonto, Lesiaku, Ntri and Samba.
According to Westermann & Bryan (1952), speakers of the Togo Remnant languages (now GTM) represented the indigenous population of the area before the arrival of the Ewe and the Akan speaking groups.
This account is confirmed by the oral traditions of most of the GTM groups, the Guangs, the Ewes and the Akans first leader among equals. He is not recognised as the supreme ruler over the others, since he did not get the leadership through conquest.
It was during the German colonial rule and later in 1920, when the Native Administration Ordinance was introduced that the political leadership of chief of Mate as Paramount chief became crystallized and officially recognized. Ɔsɔnsate ‘landlord’ as the name suggests is the symbolic owner of the land. His roles include chairing meetings, installing and uninstalling a chief.
Okanto ‘stool father’ plays advisory roles to the chief. He also plays a caretaker role in the absence of the chief. These days, we have the Usiənam ‘caretaker’ who represents the chief in his absence.
The Ɔtsyɪamɪ is the mouthpiece of the council. He reiterates messages to and fro between speakers and audience at meetings. The Ɔtsyɪamɪ is mostly considered as the ‘linguist’ in most African cultures due to his function.
Apart from the paramount chief, the other chiefs have sub-chiefs who play the above roles.
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