Avatime people

Avatime

Avatime / Afatime / Sideme / Sia

The Avatime are an Akan people who live in Volta region of Ghana. History has it that they are Ahanta people who migrated to the Volta region.

Avatime people also known as Afatime, Sideme, or Sia are Akan people that speak Siya  or Siyase Kwa language which belongs to the larger Voltaic (Niger)-Congo ethnolinguistic group in the Volta region of Ghana where they are surrounded by the larger Ewe people. The Avatime language is also knows as Siya or Siyase by its speakers, who refer to themselves as Kedanima (m.sing. Kedone, f.sing. Kededze). "Avatime" is the Ewe appellation.

The Avatime people live primarily in the seven towns and villages of Amedzofe, Vane, Gbadzeme, Dzokpe, Biakpe, Dzogbefeme, and Fume. Avatime population is put at approximately 24,000 people.
The second highest mountain in Ghana, GEMI, is found in the area located in Avatime, therefore the highest human settlement point in Ghana can be found in Avatime Traditional Area.

There seems to be caves, canyons, very refreshing waterfalls and attractive forest conducive for the cultivation of tea, potatoes and rice. (AMU is the local name for brown rice, hence the celebration of the Annual Amu Festival). On account of the serene atmosphere, the German missionaries settled at Avatime where their graves are located as a tourist attraction.

 

Geography

The Avatime area is quite tropical, but because of the hills it has a relatively cool climate.  This climate offers the people opportunity to engage in farming. Three of the Avatime villages (Old Dzokpe, New Dzokpe and Fume) are located at the foot of the mountain range and the other five (Gbadzeme, Biakpa, Dzogbefeme, Vane and Amedzofe) are at altitudes varying from 400 to 800 meters above sea level.

Avatime is bordered to the west by Nyangbo and Tafi, two languages closely related to it. North of Avatime is Logba, a more distantly related GTM language and to the south and east are Ewe speaking groups.

 

Language

Avatime, also known as Afatime, Sideme, or Sia, is a Kwa language of larger Niger-Congo phylum. Sia (Siya) language of the Avatime (Kedone) people of Volta region of Ghana "belongs to a group of languages called Ghana-Togo Mountain (GTM) languages. Whether this group is a genetic unity or not is still disputed, but the languages have some typological characteristics in common which set them apart from most other Kwa languages, the most notably their noun-class systems." The Avatime live primarily in the seven towns and villages of Amedzofe, Vane, Gbadzeme, Dzokpe, Biakpe, Dzogbefeme, and Fume. the language is spoken by over 31,000 people in Ghana.

Avatime is a tonal language with three tones, has vowel harmony, and has been claimed to have doubly articulated fricatives. Avatime has nine vowels, /i ɪ e ɛ a ɔ o ʊ u/, though the vowels /ɪ ʊ/ have been overlooked in most descriptions of the language. It is not clear if the difference between /i e o u/ and /ɪ ɛ ɔ ʊ/ is one of advanced and retracted tongue root (laryngeal contraction), as in so many languages of Ghana, or of vowel height: different phonetic parameters support different analyses.

Avatime has vowel harmony. A root many not mix vowels of the relaxed /i e o u/ and contracted /ɪ ɛ a ɔ ʊ/ sets, and prefixes change vowels to harmonize with the vowels of the root. For example, the human singular gender prefix is /ɔ ~ o/, and the human plural is /a ~ e/: /o-ze/ "thief", /ɔ-ka/ "father"; /be-ze/ "thieves", /ba-ka/ "fathers"; also /o-bu/ "bee" but /ɔ-bʊ/ "god."

Ewe is the language of the wider area and it is used in the Avatime area as the language of instruction in the first years of primary school and in church services. Therefore, most Avatimes speak Ewe as their second language. Many people also speak some English, which is the national language of Ghana and medium of instruction in the later years of primary school and in secondary school.

 

History/Origin

The Avatime are an Akan people who live in Volta region of Ghana. History has it that they are Ahanta people who migrated to the Volta region just as the Fante people (mostly fishermen from Elmina) migrated to Togo and finally Dahomey (Benin) to Mina tribe there.

The mystery pot found in a cave at Biakpa in Avatime.It dates back to many years proving that the indigenous Vaya (Guan) people has been in Ghana since the Stone Age.

However, Kwame Ampene, the folkloric historian and the Founder of the Guan Historical Society relying on an oral history he claimed was divulged to him by  one Mr Asem, an indigene of Avatime maintain that the Avatime people migrated from Igboland, sojourned among the Ahanta people for a time and proceeded to their final destination in the Volta region. He asserted that "The original homeland of the nuclear Avatime, is a difficult historical problem which has so far defied any satisfactory solution.

The village square of Amedzofe, with the chief (before the tree sitting in a white robe) and his advisers. The course is both assembly and playground. Circa 1894

However, it appears on the basis of oral tradition, that the founding fathers of Avatime (in central part of the Volta Region); the Agotime (near Ho) and the Gafe (in Togo) were migrant-neighbours from Iboland in southern Nigeria where they broke off from the main stock.  How they later divided themselves into three distinct groups is a question which perhaps, we shall not been able to answer.

After hiving off from the common ancestral society, they appear to have migrated along a coast-wise axis from east west, and settled among the Ahanta after a long and tedious journey.

There is no traditional evidence to show that any large scale miscegenation or prolonged intimated contact occurred between the two groups-Avatime and the Ahanta.  What seems to have happened is that the Avatime were searching for uninhabited lands, but as a consequence of state-forming upheavals in the region, they retreated eastwards to the estuary of the Volta near Ada.

The Ada sojourn seems to have very brief.  They crossed the Volta and subsequently settled in the Ho area where the split occurred.  Each took a different and adopted a new name: thus AGOTIME (where the money) and AVATIME (battlefield) Initially, the Avatime decided to settle at Matse near Ho, but the inhabitants of the village opposed them vigorously, resulting in a war during which the Avatime executed a grandiose series of campaigns such as blocking their source of water supply with the husk of palm-nuts before they moved on to the mountain near the Gemi Hill which provided excellent defense against large scale invasion from outside, and founded three separate settlements:

This epoch making event in the early history of the Avatime almost certainly began in the pre-AD 1720 in the Volta Region."

From the long oral history as narrated by Mr Ampene, it is quite hard to believe that the Avatime people came from the Igboland because it is a misnomer in historical migration. In that Igboland is in the East and there is no way that Avatime people would have travel that far from the East to the West of Southwestern Ghana without passing through Volta region,in the East. If such story is believed then it means Avatime engaged in forth and back migration. Therefore, Igboland migration theory cannot be sustained.

However,its clear from Ampene`s rendition that Avatime people actually settled among the Ahanta, Akan people in the Western region. It is no wonder that the people of Avatime bear Akan names despite living in Eweland. According to Lynne Brydon in her work "Women Chiefs and Power in the Volta Region," published in 1996 "Avatime's claimed traditional history, however, is markedly different from that of the
Ewe. While the Ewe claim to have moved into the area in stages from the east, Avatime claim to have originated in the west, in Ahanta. They describe a slow movement east along the coast of Ghana and then northwards, east of the River Volta. Long term settlements in Ningo and Matse appear in nearly all accounts." (Source: jlp.bham.ac.uk)

It must also be established that the fact that Avatime people bear Akan names has nothing to do with Asante military expansion to the Eweland. As historian W.E. Ward recorded an interesting story about what happened at Amedzofe during Adu Bofour’s invasion of the region.  That is, in 1869, the Asanté army were fighting with the help of the Akwamu against the Anum, Boso and the neighbouring Ewe who retired to the top of the Gemi Hill near Amedzofe. The Asante attacked them,but the hill was steep and they rolled huge stones down on the climbing Asantes.  After trying many times to reach the top of the Gemi hill, Adu Bofour quickly called his men away and retired (Vida; W.E. Ward Short History of Ghana 1935 p. 144).

 

Economy

Despite living on hilly and rocky  geographical area and its attendant difficulty in farming, the Avatime people have used their ingenuity to make farming their major occupation for many years. The crops farmed in the area include cassava, yam, cocoyam, plantain, cocoa, maize and rice. The Avatime people are also well-known in Ghana for rice cultivation, and there are several festivities and traditions attached to this crop.

Though the Avatime people gave up rice cultivation for other crops which are easy to grow as a result of non-incentive or credit facilities from the Central government nor Banks which actually led to rice only farmed by the Vane villagers, however, the situation has changed and Avatime people are now seriously involved in their rice cultivation business.

Avatime people also have wonderful sites that has been identified by Ghana`s Ministry of Tourism in collaboration with Avatime-Gemi Otoga Eco-Tourism Society (AGOETOUSO) at Amedzofe, as Eco-tourism sites. They have different species of plants and animals as well as waterfalls. According to the Paramount Chief of Avatime  Traditional Area, Osei Adzatekpor XII, "efforts were being made to make the area a  major tourism destination in the Ho Municipality, because the traditional area abounds in natural vegetation, which is beautified by mountains like Gemi, animal species, caves and waterfalls in almost all the Avatime communities." (thechronicle.com.gh/avatime)

 

Socio-political structure and lineage system

Avatime is nominally patrilineal and rights in land and immovable property are inherited through the male line. An Avatime village population (BmanBme petee) consists of a number of 'clans', in Avatime akpBla (sing. lekpBle), a word which in other contexts means 'knot' or 'lump'. These are groups of people who claim putative descent from a common patrilineal ancestor, but cannot trace all the steps in that descent. Within each clan is a series of ikune (sing. oku), or lineages, the members of which do claim to be able to trace agnatic descent from a commonly acknowledged male ancestor.

Village government is organized around a traditional chief system. The male chiefship hierarchy is extensive. The group as a whole is under the paramountcy of Adja Tekpor VI and each of the villages and clans has its village or clan chief. Associated with each chief, at whatever level, are other offices such as linguists (Ewe: tsiamewo, Akan: akyeame) and chiefs of the young men (Ewe: sohefiawo). Other titles borrowed from the Akan and Ga languages are also used, for example odikro (sub-chief: Akan) and mankrado (town 'owner': Ga). Large proportions of Avatime clan and village office holding terminologies seem, therefore, to be borrowed. But it does seem likely that some form of indigenous chiefship existed in Avatime (as is claimed throughout Avatime), as both village chiefs and the paramount himself have titles which are uniquely Avatime. The paramount's title, 'Osie', is a kinship term implying a distant male relative in an earlier generation, linked either patri- or matri-laterally. The term for village chief is okusie, which is a combination of oku osie. Over time these two systems have merged and adapted to each other, and been subjected to the external influences of colonial rule and the (Presbyterian) Church, to produce the chiefship system apparent today in Avatime. Avatime chiefly titles, while aping the Akan system in similar ways to Ewe chiefly titles, have at their core particular Avatime terms and significances which seem to have no parallel in Ewe areas.

Today, therefore, in Avatime there is a 'woman chief' in each village as well as each clan. I hesitate to use the term 'Queen Mother' as, although this is the term sometimes used by local people when they speak in English, the Avatime term translates literally as 'woman chief' (odze okusie). While women village and clan chiefs may have had well defined roles and made frequent appearances as such in the past, today women village and clan chiefs have few, if any, roles and responsibilities and I have never seen them act as such. Women's most regularly prominent roles today in Avatime are as the body of Keda'midzeba, adult Avatime women. In order to understand the roles and responsibilities of Avatime women, both as chiefs and as women, we first have to know something about the statuses of and opportunities for women in Avatime culture.

An Avatime woman, once she has passed the menarche cannot be buried as an Avatime woman unless she has a series of ceremonies performed for her confirming her status as such. If a woman who has not yet had the ceremonies performed for her dies unexpectedly then a version of the ceremonies is performed (by women) on her corpse before she can be buried as an Avatime woman. In the past, until say, the 1940s, these ceremonies or nubility rites, known in the Avatime language as kpe ablabe, included marriage ceremonies and preparation for life as an adult (married) woman and lasted for about two months.

Having had these ceremonies performed for her an Avatime women achieves the status 'keda'midze', 'adult Avatime woman.' 'Keda'midzeba' (plural) form a community in each Avatime village and also throughout Avatime as a whole. Becoming keda'midze even today, gives an Avatime woman a particular status in the community: she may own a hearth and cook on a regular basis for a man, she may speak in public meetings (and be listened to), and may also play a significant part in organising family and community affairs. In short she is recognised as an adult woman. Women as senior members of their patrilineages, irrespective of any links with female chiefs, and acting as senior father's sisters, have specific roles to play in lineage affairs, both economic and social (including life crisis rituals). The body of Avatime women, as Keda'midzeba are the constituency of the Avatime women village chiefs (as well as of the male chiefs) rather than women owing  allegiance to a female chief on a clan or kinship basis.

 

Religious belief

Traditional religion, with spirit possession, is widely practiced alongside Christianity, and believers often mix the religious practices together. Avatime people believe in a supreme God known as "Aya." However, as a result of acculturation with the Ewe neighbors they now call Him "Mawu Aya." He is the god of the gods. He is in the Sky, in the water, forest and even exist in death. Apart from Mawu Aya, the Avatime also have other deities they worship as well as their ancestral gods.

Avatime people had early missionary interactions with the German missionaries from the Basel mission who occupied their mountainous region because of it temperate nature. People of this region were introduced to Christianity about 100 years ago, and most churches are either Presbyterian or Roman Catholic. Less than 10 percent of the population attends church regularly, although an additional number are nominal Christians.

Before the Mission Station Amedzofe. Standing on the way: the wife of the missionary Ernst Bürgi. Right: two school boys who are employed under the supervision of the teacher Paulo Tomitse with the cultivation of coffee plants which were planted at the station site around. Circa 1894.

                               
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