In the hills of the Atakora in northern Togo live the Tamberma (or Batammariba) people, who live in fortified adobe compounds that look like medieval sand castles complete with turrets, called Tatas. The area has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, which offers them some protection. Far off the beaten path, these people live fairly isolated, with fair distances between the individual compounds.
The architecture is quite amazing. Built as several stories, the first floor is used for storage, cooking, and livestock, while the mostly open top floor houses a courtyard for drying grains, sleeping quarters, and the granary. They believe that the West is the direction of life, so all doors face west.
Though tourists do make their way up here, it’s few and far between. As is the nature of adventure travel, our guide Paul Agboglo was a spontaneous man who liked to visit new places with his tourists. He thrives on meeting new people and introducing their worlds to us.
We happened upon one particularly beautiful compound, so we stopped the van and walked over. What we found there was an endearing site…a beautiful mother with 6 of her 8 children present. The oldest child I would guess to be around 10 years old, while the youngest was only a few months old. They welcomed us shyly, but graciously. It was obvious that they had received visitors before, but they were not driven by money or Western gifts…we heard no cries of “Cadeaux! Cadeaux!” as we had in other villages!
The oldest girl was a beauty, with striking eyes, and was the splitting image of her mother. She showed us around and went through the motions of grinding their grains, demonstrating how to enter the bedrooms where they slept, and generally how they live. It was obvious that she also helped with other household chores and tending to the other children.
I was drawn to her beauty and spirit, what a special soul she had! I wondered why she wasn’t in school, was there a school nearby? We certainly hadn’t seen any on the main road for miles. None-the-less Paul distributed some of the school supplies we had purchased that morning, knowing that supplies would be a welcome gift to any of the families.
After returning home, while browsing through my images, I was once again captivated by this sweet girl and her gorgeous eyes! I still wonder about her and that shy family. Do they have enough to eat? Are they getting the proper education? What about their health? I certainly hope that the positive effects of tourism can help this family, and they can sustain their unique living situation and way of life in a productive and healthy way.
-By Shannon Hastings
Shannon is the webmaster and graphic designer at the adventure travel company, Wilderness Travel in Berkeley, California (www.wildernesstravel.com). Drawn to West African culture for many years, in March 2013 she had to opportunity to travel on the Tribal Ghana, Togo and Benin Itinerary operated by TransAfrica (http://www.transafrica.biz) from Lome, Togo.