Togo - Benin: People-to-People
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours

 
     
     
 

Dispatch 5 - Koussoukoingou

 
 

Kante-KOUSSOUKOINGOU (50km, 31mi)  Dirt roads to the fascinating Tembera area, enter Benin.
Points of interest: architecture, religion and lifestyles of Tembera/Otimari

 
     
 

Bicycling into Tembera, Koutammakou World Heritage, Togo Bicycling into Tembera, Koutammakou World Heritage, TogoIn Kande we departed the relative luxury of the national highway and continued on a firm dirt and gravel road.  The morning temperature were cool and savannah-like countryside is flat so travel was slower than on the pavement but very pleasant.  Little whiffs of  smoke were coming from some of the homesteads, adults who must have left their home at first light were working on their farms and children were emerging from the gates of their houses, carrying their book bags for the trip to school.

Tembera, Koutammakou World Heritage, Togo Tembera, Koutammakou World Heritage, Togo Tembera, Koutammakou World Heritage, Togo

While the whole valley has a beauty to it, the ultimate reason for making the extra effort to follow this road is to see the unique residential architecture.

Between Kande, Togo, and Bamouk√©, Benin, is the Koutammakou World Heritage area.  Koutammakou is the name of the landscape.  One of several names for the ethnic group in the area is Batammariba (a.k.a. Somba, Tammari and Tembera people.)

Tembera, Koutammakou World Heritage, Togo Bicycle tour in Tembera, Koutammakou World Heritage, Togo Tembera, Koutammakou World Heritage, Togo

The area is known for it multi-storey, towering takienta houses, often tuck in among clumps of trees. (The house are also referred to a tata somba, which translates as "house somba".)  Animals are sheltered on the ground floor at night and in bad weather cooking is done in alcoves on the ground floor. People tend to live on the first story and roof -- sleeping outside in the hot season and in round chambers when it is cooler.  Granaries and agricultural product storage silos are constructed into the walls of the building or on the roof.  The building's high, shear, exterior walls act well as defensive structure.  This was enhanced because traditionally the house were often located up on the side of hills and in the crags of cliffs.  One of the explanations for the evolution to this style of architecture was as a defense against raids (sometimes for slaves) by the Dahomey King, from the south (see "Dispatch 8").  

Tembera, Koutammakou World Heritage, TogoTheir buildings' esthetic is enhanced because their appearance changes as the lighting from the sun shifts throughout the day.  With so many round and irregular surfaces, varying heights, adobe walls and multiple textures, shadows shift around, colors change and light falls in new ways.

 

Family altar, Tembera, Koutammakou World Heritage, TogoTembera, Koutammakou World Heritage, TogoNear the entrances to houses there are often pairs of altars, reflecting the traditional animist religion of the Tembera people.  These are similar to the Voodoo altars and ancestral figures seen closer to the coast, but the Tembera figures tend to be more cylindrical and less anthropomorphic.

School, Tembera, Koutammakou World Heritage, Togo

Tembera, Koutammakou World Heritage, TogoWhile the cultural context and architecture are striking, the local residents seem to be increasingly more focused on commercialism than culture.  The World Heritage designation and increase exposure that has come from it has had the benefit of reviving interest in the traditional architecture of the region.  There are now many more towering houses than there have been for at least three decades -- many of the new structures having been sighted very accessibly, adjacent to the road.  One of the criticism of the World Heritage certification program is it can have the affect of freezing a culture or cultural element.  In this situation it may have frozen one part of the culture while stimulating another part to become commercialized faster than it would otherwise have evolved.

The physical location also creates a limitation for non-acclimatized visitor: Mostly set in a valley, the sun broils the land to a point that by noon, and for several hours after that, it is too hot for non-natives to be active in the open for more that a few minutes.  The lesson for visitors is to finish the excursions in the morning and bring a lot of water.

Tembera, Koutammakou World Heritage, TogoTembera, Koutammakou World Heritage, TogoTo the east of Koutammakou is the Benin extension of the range of mountains that crosses Togo near Bafilo.  It takes a considerable effort to get to the top by bicycle -- chances are you will walk part of it -- but the Auberge, Koussoukoingou, Beninviews and change (though maybe only slight or imaginary) inFanjipani, Auberge, Koussoukoingou, Benin climate at the top are sufficient rewards.  Most conveniently, a local entrepreneur has built a delightful, small auberge at this strategic spot and placed a gazebo at the edge of the mountain perfect for relax with a magnificent sweeping view at your feet.  Have a drink, take a meal and sleep almost in paradise -- or so it seems after scaling the mountain..

 Patio, Auberge, Koussoukoingou, Benin Scenery, Auberge, Koussoukoingou, Benin

Addendum:
 

 Next dispatch.

 
 

 
     

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