From Togo to Our Present Locations in Ghana
By Antoinette Herrmann-Condobrey
PRESETTLEMENT: GBI & PEKI TOWNSHIPS
The Gbis from Ghana's Volta Region consist of two groups of towns located in the Gbi Traditional Area and Peki Traditional Area.
Even though only one of the two areas officially bears the name Gbi, the two groups have in recent decades been referred to by some as Gbi Anyigbe: Downhill Gbi, and Gbi Dzigbe: Uphill Gbi. They have also been referred to as Gbi North & Gbi South respectively.
History has it that the Gbis originally were a single
group and one of many belonging to the Ewe ethnic group that lived under the fierce rule of Agokoli
their leader, in Notsie, Togo. The Gbis were among subjects of Agokoli who eventually escaped from the infamous Notsie Kingdom.
According to popular history, Agokoli was ruthless and treated his subjects like slaves.
ALLEGATIONS AGAINST KING AGOKOLI I
Oral narratives originating from Ewe groups that escaped from Agokoli's rule put Gbis and other Ewes in a fortified walled city where they endured untold suffering.
What became known as the Great Wall is said to have been built by forced labor. Mortar for the construction of the Great Wall was produced from a mix of mud, thorns, rocks and glasses broken with bare feet.
Not even women were spared under Agokoli's reign, according to the narratives. Women were assigned impossible tasks like the production of ropes from mud.
In the end, the majority of Agokoli's subjects, the Gbis included, managed to escape, leading to the collapse of the Notsie
THE ESCAPE & MASS EXODUS
The rebels were said to have escaped from the kingdom one deep night, after secretly throwing water on a particular spot on the Great Wall consistently for a period long enough to weaken that part. On the night of their escape, they successfully broke parts of the weakened spot and bolted undetected.
One of the most interesting parts of the story regarding the escape is the strategy adopted by the escapees, which is largely credited for their success: They walked backwards toward their escape route, misleading their trackers toward the opposite direction. Once out of Agokoli's reach, different groups moved towards different directions in search of new settlements. The Gbis are said to have remained together on their way to finding a permanent settlement. However, some of their members got lost, forcing them at some point to reorganize to go find them.
THE SPLIT OF GBI INTO PEKI & HOHOE
Gbi Traditional Area and Peki Traditional area are located several towns apart in two different districts in Ghana’s Volta Region – the Hohoe Municipality and South Dayi District.
A few different accounts pertaining to the split have survived through generations of oral narratives.
The most widely spread narrative has it that after the group arrived at the place that became known as Hohoe, they realized a chunk of
their members couldn't be accounted for. They were left behind.
Consequently, the elders selected able men and women from each of
the seven clans that formed Gbi to go find their lost kinsmen. The
search team did not return. They stopped at Peki. After overcoming
several challenges including battles with groups that settled on the land before them, they became the dominant group and integrated peacefully with the people.
AGOKOLI VI'S VERSION OF THE NARRATIVES
Interviews by Antoinette Herrmann-Condobrey with Togbega Gabusu VI, Togbe Kwadzo Dei XI and other Gbis, as well as various documentations by historians on the Notse Kingdom, all point to the same story line – that Agokoli was ruthless.
Togbe Agokoli VI, on the other hand, had something very different to add; claims that expectedly surprise many. According to him, Agorkoli I was not the ruthless tyrant that the world came to know him as. Instead, he was an overly protective leader who went all lengths to keep his kingdom safe. Aggression was the order of the day during those ancient times – Agokoli VI emphasized, explaining that his ancestor's main goal was to protect his subjects from enemies who constantly invaded, attacked and defeated weaker groups. To succeed in keeping his people safe, Agokoli ensured that his kingdom was on top of its game by putting in place many of the measures that have been described as ruthless. For Agokoli VI, the Great Wall, described as a symbol of oppression, was rather proof of how protective a leader Agokoli I was, and the extent to which the king went in trying to keep his people safe.
The most shocking part of Agokoli VI's version of the story, perhaps, is his assertion that those who escaped from the kingdom are believed to be lazy and uncooperative subjects who couldn't keep up with the rules of a no-nonsense leader.
Other, slightly different versions of this story, exist in scattered forms - most of which point to the ruthlessness of Agokoli I - the versions believed mostly to have led to the rebellion and collapse of the Notsie Kingdom.
Distortions may account for some of the differences in the narratives. However, a holistic look at the different versions also suggests that what appears to be inconsistencies may well be a representation of different parts of the story as dealt with by the Gbis on their way to finding a settlement.
THE GBI REUNIFICATION & GBI COMMUNITY FESTIVAL
GBI DUKOR ZA
Nearly two centuries after their split, the Gbis reconnected. Among the many things the group has done to reinforce their bond is labeling the two areas as Gbi-Dzigbe: Uphill Gbi (for Gbi Traditional Area) and Gbi-Anyigbe: Downhill Gbi (for Peki Traditional Area); or: Gbi North and Gbi South respectively.
The most prominent of the steps taken toward reunification of the two groups of towns is the founding of the Gbi Community Festival: Gbi Dukor Za (Gbidukorza), which celebrates the reunification of Gbis. The festival is celebrated annually in rotation between Peki Traditional Area and Gbi Traditional Area.
THE TITLES TOGBE, TOGBEGA, FIAGA
In recent times, a slightly different version of the prefix "Togbe" has emerged: "Togbega." This newer version puts a distinction between the overall traditional head of an Ewe community and the divisional heads. As the principal authority, "Togbega" translates as "Paramount Togbe." Still, some argue that another word, "Fiaga," an original Ewe word that means the highest ranking chief, should have been enough to qualify the position of the paramount chief. After all, the citing of the paramount chief's name is usually followed by his description as the "fiaga."
Queens in Gbi are traditionally addressed as "Mama" - the same prefix for grandmothers and female senior citizens. The title for paramount queens in Gbi is "Mamaga."
THE TITLE "KING"
Some have stuck with the title "king" for Agokoli, even though Notse is no longer a kingdom – thus referring to the traditional head as King Agokoli. But this decision also appears to be the result of what one may describe as a type of new awakening among some Ghanaians who believe that the English title "paramount chief" is an invention by the foreigner, aimed at diminishing the authority and importance of African traditional heads at all levels. Consequently, "Togbe Agokoli" is used interchangeably with "King Agokoli" like in a number of other, similar cases.
The Notse Kingdom collapsed but the place has survived as a town and is very much alive today in the Republic of Togo. The name "Agokoli" remains the title of the town's paramount chiefs. The current paramount chief of Notse is Agokoli VI, officially referred to as Togbe Agokoli VI.
The background research to this story, conducted by Antoinette Herrmann-Condobrey, includes interviews with Togbe Agokoli VI, Togbega Gbusu VI of Gbi Dzigbe (Hohoe), and Togbe Kwadzo Dei XI of Gbi Anyigbe (Peki). Data collection also includes informal conversations with older Gbi citizens whose accounts came from narratives passed down by earlier generations.