The Kotokoli of West Africa
A Cluster of 2 Kotokoli groups in 2 countries
More than 200,000 Kotokoli live in the West African country of Togo. Another 42,000 can also be found in the neighboring country of Benin. In Togo, they are concentrated in towns such as Sokode, which is located along one of Togo's ancient caravan routes. The settlement was given the name Sokode, which means "to close," because the town was frequently isolated by barriers built by tribal groups trying to control the caravan trade. The Kotokoli emigrated from what is now Burkina Faso into the Sokode region during the 1600's and 1700's. They arrived as a confederation of Gurma chiefdoms. Even today, the Kotokoli chief, or Uro, still resides in Sokode.
In time, the Kotokoli developed a reputation for sharp and perhaps underhanded dealings in trade. The local merchants became annoyed and began calling them koto kolim, which means "they give and take back again." Eventually, the group became known as the Kotokoli. They are more properly known, however, as the Tem or Temba, because they speak Tem, a Niger-Congo language.
What are their lives like?
The Kotokoli men's responsibilities involve tending to the livestock, clearing the land, and performing most of the agricultural labor. The women's responsibilities include gathering nuts, berries, wild grasses, and building materials from the forests; helping their husbands with the harvest; and performing all of the household chores. The highly developed art of trading is another important activity. The Kotokoli merchants regularly attend the local markets to trade their goods.
Most of the Kotokoli live in houses that have round mud walls, with dirt floors, and cone-shaped, thatched straw roofs. The homes are clustered together in family compounds around a central courtyard. Surrounding most clusters is an enclosure, usually a high mud wall, so that outsiders cannot see inside the compound. Each local community has a ritual headman (usually the oldest in the lineage), who has the responsibility of maintaining good relations and social order among his people. The headman answers to the district chief, who answers to the Uro (supreme chief).
Kotokoli marriages are usually arranged by the parents while the boy and girl are still infants. Before a marriage is complete, a bride-service must be performed by the prospective groom. This means that the young man must work on the farm of the girl's parents for a certain period of time. A substantial bride-price in livestock is also given to the family of the bride. Acceptance of these and other gifts donated by the groom makes the couple's union legitimate. Polygyny (having multiple wives) is permitted among the Kotokoli. However, according to Muslim law, a man must not have more than four wives. The first wife enjoys a superior status over the other wives. Each wife lives in a separate hut.
The Kotokoli have retained their old custom of praise singing. Throughout the country of Togo, during public occasions, the Kotokoli recite their family lineage and praise their chiefs for their heroic deeds. Praises to the chiefs are offered by a musician playing a flute, rather than through singing. The Kotokoli believe that praises sung orally are too crude, and that the voice does not do justice to the deserving chiefs.
What are their beliefs?
Today, almost all of the Kotokoli are Muslim, as is the current Uro. They faithfully follow the practices of Islam. These include affirming that Allah is the only god and Mohammed is his prophet, praying five times a day, giving alms generously, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and making at least one pilgrimage to Mecca if possible.
What are their needs?
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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