Tammari people


Tammari / Batammariba / Tamberma / Somba / Otamari / Ottamari / Bataba

Batammariba (also known as Tamberma, Somba, Bataba, Batammaraba, Ditamari, Niend and Tamari) are agro-pastoralist Oti-Volta, Gur-speaking and indigenous architecturally advanced people living in the mountainous regions of the Atakora Department of Benin and neighboring areas of Togo, where they go by the name of Tamberma.

In Togo, they are residing in the northeastern Kara regions of Northern Togo with the Kabye (kabre) people,who are the second largest tribe in Togo.

Tammari people

They are famous for their two-story fortified houses, known as Tata Somba ("Somba house"), in which the ground floor is used for housing livestock at night, internal alcoves are used for cooking, and the upper floor contains a rooftop courtyard and is used for drying grain, sleeping quarters, and granaries. These evolved by adding an enclosing roof to the clusters of huts joined by a connecting wall that are typical of Gur-speaking areas of West Africa. The Tammari are mostly animist by religion. Their language is in the Gur family.

The Batammariba are estimated to be about 176.000, with an estimated number (majority) of about 140.000 living in Benin and about 36.000 of them living in Togo. A person from Tamberma tribe  is called Otammari, call themselves as Betammaribe and their language as Ditammari.

The Batammariba or Somba people are historically known for their ancient penis elongation and enlargement techniques. The Somba people practice this technique during male initiation into adulthood. A traditional herbs is pounded and robbed on the penis.

After that, a branch of tree or an ivory is cut and a hole of a particular size is made for the initiate. The initiate put his penis in it for some months until it reach a particular size and length of his choice then he removes it.

Somba means 'naked;' the Somba still live in their traditional ways and in certain Tayaba-Somba tribes, the fetish priests still dress in a simple loincloth and the women wear only sarongs.

Tammari people

Somba (Batammariba) man with his elongated and enlarged penis. Circa 1953



The name Batammariba means "the people who are the real builders of earth." The colonialist also gave them the name Tamberma which means “Good Builders.”  Most Batammariba resides in Koutammakou popularly referred to as "the land of the Batammariba," a traditional settlement known for the architecture of mud Takienta tower-houses. These buildings have two stories, and either flat or conical thatched roofs.

Somba means 'naked;' the Somba still live in their traditional ways and in certain Tayaba-Somba tribes, the fetish priests still dress in a simple loincloth and the women wear only sarongs.



The Batammariba people can be found in mountainous and sloppy-stony valleys of Kara region, Kande Prefecture, east of Kanté, and Benin border.Their main centers are Nadoba, Wantema, Warengo, Koutougou.

In Benin The Somba is from Atakora, a mountainous area in the North East of Togo of about 2 700 km2, between 9° 38’ N and 10° 38’ N and 1° 30’ E and 2° E.(Adanléhoussi et al., 2003). They can be located in Atakora Province, Boukombe and Natitingou sub-prefectures; along Djougou-Parakou road.

Tammari People


The Somba people of Benin are recognized for the presence of scarification on the face and other parts of the body. The scarification has the purpose of initiating a person into adult life, showing courage, as well as identifying the tribe to which belongs. Usually the scarification is made on the face, the belly and the back

Tammari People



The Batammariba speak Ditammari, an Oti-Volta language which belongs to Gurma languages of larger Niger-Congo family. The Batammariba language relates to other Gurma languages such as Gangan, Gurma, Moba, Bassar, Nawda, etc.



As it happens to most small indigenous African tribes that have occupied their land for ages, the origins of the Batammariba are somewhat uncertain.

Archaeological investigations and oral history indicates that the Batammariba migrated to their present home from the north and northwest around Burkina Faso where they were living with the Mossi people sometime between the 16th and 18th centuries.

This historical account could be true as the language and building style reflects that of other people in the area such as the Gangan, Gurma, Moba, Bassar, Nawda, etc.



The Tamberma are agro-pastoralists by tradition. Creation and accumulation of capital heritage is based on chickens, their primary livestock. Poultry are sold or exchanged for sheep or goats which may then be commercialized to buy cattle (N’Poh and N’Guissan,1998). The size of a family’s herd is a sign of its wealth.

Livestock are for security and play a role in the community’s spiritual life (N’Poh et N’Guissan, 1998). Eighty percent of animals are raised for socio-cultural purposes (52 percent for funerals and 28 percent as dowries), leaving only 20 percent for sale (N’Poh and N’Guissan, 1998). Hides are used to make dresses for folklore ceremonies (Cornevin, 1973).

The Batammariba have a special breed of cattle known as Somba breed. The Somba, typical of the tropical subhumid area, is a shorthorn derived from Bos taurus brachyceros, within which it belongs to the Savanna type (not the dwarf Lagoon type) (Meyer, 1998). It is thought to be the mother of the locally adapted cattle breeds in the Gulf of Guinea (Adoméfa et al., 2002).

The Somba is classified among hardy, trypanotolerant West African cattle. (Morkramer and Dékpo, 1984). The Somba varies from 0.90 up to 1 metre at shoulder height; adult weight is 172 ± 13 kg. It usually has a black-and-white coat, although some are entirely black, red, or red-and white (Adanléhoussi et al., 2003).


Division of labour

In terms of pastoral economy, Tamberma men look after cattle whilst women tend goats and poultry.
The size of the Somba cow matches the castle where it is kept. A change in size would require a readjustment in terms of housing (N’Poh and N’Guissan, 1998). For dowries and ritual sacrifice, only the Somba breed of cattle is used. A Tamberma, on reaching a certain age, sacrifices a bull to his ancestors (N’Poh and N’Guissan, 1998).

In farming, men weed the land and do most of the planting with little support from women. Women also perform almost all the household chores with their children.

Tammari People



The traditional religion of the Batammariba centers around one Supreme Deity, Kuiye, the sun god and creator of both gods and humans. Kuiye is believed to resemble a human in appearance, but is also considered to be both male and female, so that the deity is often referred to as "The Sun, Our Father and Our Mother". Like all living beings, according to Batammariba thought, Kuiye possesses a corporeal form known as Kuiye, and a soul, known as Liye. Kuiye, the corporeal form of the deity, is thought to live in the "sun village" in the west, above the sky, while Liye travels the sky each day in the form of a disc of light.

Butan, the goddess of the Earth and the Underworld, is Kuiye's complement as either Kuiye's wife or twin. Butan is the ruler of everything within the Earth or on its surface, including vegetal growth and agriculture, game proliferation, cemeteries, etc. Her corporeal form, invisible to humans, is said to resemble a mudfish, an animal that is thought to vomit up an infinite amount of water. Because of this, her main shrine is a village spring. Her complementary soul is called Bupe, and is visible as the surface of the Earth.

The third major Batammariba deity is Oyinkakwata, "the Rich Man Above", who is the god of the sky, of thunder, lightning and storms. His soul is visible to humans in the form of lightning, but his invisible body is said to be filled with air.

But the Batammariba world is filled with many more deities who are quite different than the three cosmological gods described above. These deities are initiation deities who select their worshipers according to various factors such as gender, martial prowess, ability for clairvoyance, etc. They include the Fawafa, the Python deity of men's initiations, Fakuntifa, the lizard deity of women's initiations, Fayenfe, the god of war and death, Litakon, the god of twins and fertility, Kupon, the deity of divination, etc.

Tammari people

These deities are better considered families of deities, or deity types, rather than unique deities: there are male and female Fawafa deities, for example, who are believed to produce offspring of their deity type. The Batammariba may acquire these deities by inheriting them from someone, hunting and capturing them in the wild, or by buying and selling them to and from their neighbors. The matriarch, and presumably most powerful, of each deity type is believed to reside in Linaba, the mythological first village where Kuiye first created humans and deities.

Their traditional worship is seen in their architecture which is characterized by castle-like, adobe dwellings that are one of the more astonishing examples of African architecture.

Ancestral shrines (liboloni) with a phallic shape spiritually protect the triangular entrance of each home. Though Tamberma began to build their  fortress-like houses in the 18th century to protect themselves from the slave raids of the marauding Dahomey warriors, but they also have the belief that their shrines and belief in ancestors protected them from their enemies raids.


Tibenti Rituals

Tamberma people engage in elaborate funeral performances called "Tibenti" (The dance of drums) to honor their deceased male and female elders. In Tamberma culture when a person dies they say "Onitiloua" (The Person Sleeps.) The Tibenti rituals is climaxed by "turning over" (bita) ceremony on the house entrance roof.

Lifoni Rituals

When a man dies,you do Lifoni [men's initiation] to him again? that which he did before he died. And when he brings out a child, the child will know that. If you do not do this, when he dies,the child will refuse[to be initiated]... the child will die.

As are inforcement of this idea, several Tamberma elders have  suggested that the funeral play as a whole is structured around the men's and women's initiation cycle.This is defined by the rituals and ordering of the various funeral sequences.

As one priest explained,"Dressing the house with funeral cloths is like dressing the novices at Lifoni"(men's initiation).In the final public rites of initiation, rich cloths are draped over the shoulders of the male and female novices  (like those draped over the  upper stories of the funeral house), cowries are hung around their  necks and waists (like those placed around the  portal), and horned headdresses are placed  on their heads (paralleling the earthen horns on the center of  the entrance roof).

Through symbolicaction, the house is thus reinitiated to represent and nurture its  new youth (future offspring).


The Takyenta (Takienta)

This particular architecture (Tata Somba) was born during the seventeenth century, to defend from soldiers of other tribes looking to catch people to be sold as slaves to the New World.

Tata Somba

The Takyenta, traditional dwelling, is typically constituted from mud and surrounded by towers that support garrets, evoking a medieval citadel. The dwellings each have a masculine south orientation and a feminine north orientation. Models of takyentas differ from village to village. The storied construction with its solid walls acts as a protective fortress to keep out invaders and repel fatal spear attacks on its inhabitants. It also served as protection against leopards who, according to the village elders roamed freely in the overgrown bush. Building the fortress took several months and required much skilled labor. The upper floor was a living space and a safety haven. Up until 2000 parents and their children slept in elevated box structures placed on the sides and center areas of the terrasse. These boxes were also designed to protect the inhabitants and their guests from the midday heat. Nowadays the fortresses are reserved for ancestral devotional ceremonies. The souls of the ancestors reside in the earthen cone-shaped altars. Strangers cannot enter the temple area without permission from the head of the home. On the exterior south side of the fortress are the altars containing animal spirits of animals that were formerly hunted and killed. The altar can also contain underground spirits by which those ancestors who possessed the gift of "sight" had made a pact. Therefore, the connection between the dwellings and the sacred altars of the village is extremely strong.

Tammari People

Each building is constructed by a single architect-builder (otammaii) who 'signs' his work on the foundation with a special symbol.

A group of community master architects meets for the foundation laying and approves each design Batammariba residences each of which shelters a single, generally nuclear family, consist of two-storey earthen units which share similar formal attributes.A west-facing door leads through a small entryway containing several grain mortars to a large, sombre ground-floor area called the 'cattle room where domestic animals and fowl are housed at night. Positioned in this chamber as v\ell are the altars of key male ancestors and a platform bed for the senior man of the house.

A raised kitchen is situated adjacent to the cattle room and serves as the primary means of access to the terrace Also on the terrace level are positioned a sleeping room used by the senior woman of the house and her young children. An auxiliary sleeping room and various crop drying and storage areas are found on this level as well.

Tammari People

At the centre of the terrace is a ritual hole covered by a flat circular stone, the latter being used as a dining table for the family evening meal eventually the stone is taken to the cemetery to be used as a tombstone two clay granaries project from the front corners of each structure. The southwestern granary contains crops identified with men, the southeastern granary houses the women's crops terrace level drainage pipes carry potentially damaging rainwater away from the structure.

Key features of the house complement human anatomical parts as evidenced in language use, visual attributes, and actions directed toward the house in contexts of everyday and ritual use.

Among the more salient of these anatomical parallels are the doorway-mouth, window-eyes, granary-stomach, moi tar-teeth side drainage pipe-penis, sleeping room-vagina, and back drainage pipe-anus. The earthen core of each building in turn recalls human flesh, the incised surface plaster complements local skin cichatrization patterns.

When a senior resident of the house dies, the structure is draped with cloths to suggest a youth at the time of his initiation In addition to suggesting human physical features, each house also incorporates mound form altars to shelter the soul.

Batammaliba religious concerns can be seen in certain features of architecture and village planning as well Each house faces the west (or more accurately southwest) in order to look onto the domicile of the solar deity, Kuiye, in the southwestern sky. Key architectural elements, including the earthen 'horns' above the door, the hole in the centre of the terrace, and a conical mound in front of the door, serve as a locus for Kuiye worship The female earth goddess.


Cosmology and Art

The cosmology of the Tamberma is manifested in their mud houses. Ancestor, spirit and personal altars consist of conical mounds of hollow structure, which are placed in front of the houses and seen as miniature versions of the latter.
They thus fulfill the functions normally associated with sculpture in Africa the reason why sculpture is rare and plays a minor role in the Tamberma culture.
Frobenius, accordingly, already mentioned the lack of amulets in 1913.
Nevertheless, several types of wooden figures were used in 19812006. During funerals, roughly carved figures represented the deceased; only arms, genitals and head were marked. They were left in the cemetery where the body has been buried.

Other wooden female figures, representing brides, were carried by men during their initiation (lifoni) in 1981. Their physiognomy was more defined than that of the funeral figures. They were rather polelike in form (similar to Moba figures) and exhibited both arm and leg and face details; they also wore cords around the hips like young women. Other human figures also related to men’s initiation were kept in the granary support. Furthermore, modeled clay figures were sometimes placed in front of the houses; they represented the ‘’people of the earth’’ (bakabaniba) who guarded the earth and the underworld.
The appearance of the Tamberma figures, as described above, thus coincides with the reduced and abstract conception of the statuary of their neighbors and of the Northern Togo in general.

Tammari People