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Ghana: Ewe ethnic group; traditional location; languages spoken; traditions and rituals; the process for selecting leaders; whether leadership titles are hereditary; consequences for refusal of a leadership title and availability of state protection for those who refuse such a title

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 17 September 2002
Citation / Document Symbol GHA39964.E
Reference 1
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ghana: Ewe ethnic group; traditional location; languages spoken; traditions and rituals; the process for selecting leaders; whether leadership titles are hereditary; consequences for refusal of a leadership title and availability of state protection for those who refuse such a title , 17 September 2002, GHA39964.E , available at: [accessed 23 May 2023]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Ewe are one of Ghana's five main ethnic groups (United States Jan. 2002) and reside mainly in the southeast region of the country (Ethnologue July 2002) but also inhabit the southern half of Togo (Ewe Culture 2002). According to an article by professor D.E.K. Amenumey, the Ewe people originally came from Ketu, a Yoruba area in modern day Benin, but were eventually forced to migrate eastward as a result of Yoruba expansion (ibid.). However, another source claims that the original Ewe homeland is Oyo in western Nigeria (The New Encyclopaedia Britannica 1989, 625), and yet another source suggests that the Ewe originally migrated from Kotu or Amedzowe east of the Niger (Dance Drummer 2001). Two accounts suggest that the Ewe migrated into Ghana in the fifteenth century (ibid.; Ghanaweb n.d.).

According to Ethnologue, in 1991 the population of Ewe in Ghana was 1,615,700 or 13% of the population (July 2002). In Togo, the Ewe population of 861,900 accounts for 20% of the population (Ethnologue July 2002). In both Ghana and Togo, the Ewe speak four dialects that are Anglo, Awuna, Hudu and Kotafoa (ibid.) which belong to the Kwa group of Sudanic languages (Dance Drummer 2001).

According to The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Ewe's two main occupations are farming and sea fishing, while they also engage in spinning, weaving, pottery making, black-smithing as well as trading (1989, 625). Maize and yams are their staple food (ibid.). Ewe religion is centred on Mawa, the creator god, along with several lesser gods; however, many Ewe have become Christians in modern times (The New Encyclopaedia Britannica 1989, 625).

References to the following Ewe rituals were found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate: a Blekete ritual that involves teenage priestesses; a divine dance that is performed by a priestess of Yeve; a divine drummer of Yeve who performs the God of Thunder; and teen girls engaging in a puberty rite (Ladzekpo 1995b).

The Anlo-Ewe, also known as Anglo-Ewe, are Ewe who speak the Anlo dialect (Ghanaweb 2002). The following account of their rituals and traditions are described by C.K. Ladzekpo, director of the African Music Program at the University of Berkeley:

Communal enculturation of every Anlo-Ewe starts from infancy and comes to climax with ceremonies and rites ushering the youth into adulthood. The enculturation process begins at the dawn of the seventh day of birth with rites and ceremonies known as ame-hehe-de-go.

Ame-hehe-de-go literary means "outdooring" a person. The major activities of ame-hehe-de-go include, the formal naming of a baby, introducing the baby to community and community accepting a collective guardianship.

Rite of amedzodzo or reincarnation is the next major communal activity of the enculturation process. In Anlo-Ewe belief, every new-born child is a partial rebirth of an old ancestral soul in a new body. Through intense divinations, soon after birth, the ancestral soul making a new beginning is identified along with other vital information that would guide in achieving a long and happy life.

Entering puberty is another critical period of the ongoing communal assimilation into the cultural tradition of society. The young child has developed the capability of reproducing sexually and must know the social responsibilities of that biological maturity.

Puberty rites known as nugbeto is the communal forum in which the Anlo-Ewe female acquires the knowledge of the social responsibilities of this critical biological transition. Very respected female members of the community are the officiating elders. Their wisdom, life experience, self-esteem and self-confidence provide good role models for the young adults.

The traditions of occupational groups are other vital elements of the social culture. These groups are devoted to the development of the skill and resources to sustain the occupational activities of the Anlo-Ewe. Major occupational activities include hunting, farming, fishing, and manufacturing of a traditional cloth called kente (1995a).

Another tradition called Trokosi, meaning slaves of the gods, is also practised among the Ewe (Anti-Slavery n.d.). Trokosi is a religious practice that involves the enslavement of young girls for the alleged crimes of their relatives (ibid.). A virgin girl, who is known as a Trokosi, becomes the property of a fetish shrine priest for a period usually lasting between three and five years, and is used as domestic help and as a sexual partner (ibid.). For further information on the tradition of Trokosi, please see GHA28806.E of 19 February 1998.

Although not specifically referring to the Ewe, the Area Handbook for Ghana claims that chieftaincy within Ghanaian ethnic groups is usually hereditary in a lineage and the senior heir must be approved by his community (1971, 120). Furthermore, if a senior heir is considered unqualified to become the chief, he is replaced by a junior male relative (ibid.). Additional information on the selection of leaders follows:

A chief remains an effective leader as long as he serves the best interests of the community as its members view them. As spokesmen for the community, the elders usually propose the new candidate for chieftaincy; similarly, they voice the discontent of the community and in this way impose a check on the abuse of authority by the chief (ibid.).

No information on the consequences for refusing a leadership title or on the availability of state protection for those who refuse such a title could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Anti-Slavery. n.d. Obenewa Amponsah. "The Trokosi: Religious Slavery in Ghana." [Accessed 12 Sept. 2002]

Area Handbook for Ghana. 1971. 2nd ed. Coauthored by Irving Kaplan, et al. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress.

Dance Drummer. 2001. Kobla Ladzekpo. "Historical and Ethnographic Background." [Accessed 12 Sept. 2002]

Ethnologue. July 2002. "Ewe: A Language of Ghana." [Accessed 11 Sept. 2002]

Ewe Culture. 2002. D.E.K. Amenumey. "Highlights of Early Ewe History." [Accessed 10 Sept. 2002]

Ghanaweb. n.d. "Ewe." [Accessed 9 Sept. 2002]

Ladzekpo, C.K. 1995a. "Introduction to Anlo-Ewe Culture and History." [Accessed 12 Sept. 2002]

_____. 1995b. "Scenes from Rituals of the Ewe." [Accessed 12 Sept. 2002]

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica.1989. 15th ed. Vol. 4. Edited by Philip W. Goetz. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

United States Department of State. January 2002. "Background Note: Ghana." [Washington, D.C.]. [Accessed 11 Sept. 2002]

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases


Unsuccessful attempts to reach the Ewe Multicultural Association of Ontario

Internet sites including:

Africa Confidential

Africa Online

BBC Africa

Ewe-Canadian Cultural Organization of Ontario

Ewe Multicultural Association of Ontario

Ghana Review

The Ghanaian Chronicle

Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN)

News in Ghana

U.S. Department of State

World News Connection (WNC)

Search engines including:


Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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