My story is not simple. I never thought I will be talking about it in public, because in my family we don’t talk about it. My father didn’t want me to learn about it. Like in many families, mine too has some stories no one want to talk about, unless a trouble maker like me took the journey to know about my genealogy and my ancestors history.
I come from Tohoun, a remote village in the south-east part of Togo, 120 km from the capital Lome. I was born in 1973, the first boy for my mom following two sisters. My mom was so happy to have a boy. She called me “Mawuna” which means “Gift of God”.
Even, I was a gift of God for my mom, I was only the 9th kid of my father, and 5th boy. We are now 36 sisters and brothers from seven different moms. I don’t know all my brothers and sisters. I regret that, I love them and miss them, living now so far from my birth place where I’ve played with wild monkeys, walked barefoot in the nature bathing in the mud rivers, and fiercely competing to become an adult.
I don’t forget that the topic of this article is how my family became christian. As you continue reading this, I’ll tell you how one day when I was already 21 years old, and was studying at the University, I rushed myself back to my village, tortured by some metaphysical questions about where my family comes from, why are we living in this village, and why my mom left me alone when I was only 6.
These questions revealed more to me than I wanted to know. I was disturbed by all I learned. I was saddened in some ways, illuminated by some gems of wisdom, and inspired by the courage of my people in front of the dire history of the meeting of Africa with Europe.
My family descends from the Oyo empire (1500 -1880, now the south-west part of Nigeria) fleeing from the mercenaries which were capturing people and selling them to Europeans as slaves. The captured people were transported to America and sold as slaves to farmers and any one who can buy. Slave trade lasted about 3 centuries and an estimated 12 millions Africans have been shipped to America, and several other millions lives lost because of the wars the trade started between different empires and kingdoms.
The Yoruba population from which my family descends from was particularly sought after by the slave traders because there were some myth that they were very strong people. When in the late 18th century my ancestors decided to flee, they traveled on foot during months covering about 300km hiding from the slave traders. They finally arrived at a place which looked safe, but the village was facing a huge smallpox epidemic. Kids were dying in mass, and many people were sick. The local traditional healers were unsuccessful to deal with the disease; the village looked doomed.
When the villagers saw the new immigrants arriving with heavy luggages, looking strong and in good condition, they were impressed and said “Adjame” which means “people with strong ribs”. Adjame became the nickname of the new immigrants.
The king called upon the new immigrants for any possible help.
These immigrants are my 5th generation ancestors. They promised to the king to try, and with some mixture of herbs, and some mystic and magic formula, started treating people. And it worked. Kids were relieved, the disease stopped spreading, and after few months things became normal like before.
The king called for a big celebration, unusually, in the season of beans harvest. There was so much joy, and the people were praising so much the new immigrants and so grateful, that all their attention was on them, forgetting their king. Further more, during the celebration the new immigrants performed some astounding magic tours that impressed further the local people. In a dramatic turn, after the king consulted his council in a flash meeting, he decided to resign and make the oldest of the new immigrants the new king.
In his first speech, the new king declared: “We are the Adjame (people with strong ribs), our lineage will never end (Adjakanumabou). Any future misfortune or disease will step over the village (Tado)”.
This new king name was “Togbui Agni”.
From that epic day, a celebration of this moment is held every year in memory of the happy ending, and in memory of king Togbui Agni. Tado or “step over” became the name of the village, and the population started calling themselves “Adjawo” (which means “the Adja people”).
At that time in history, my ancestors did not have any direct contact with the Europeans. But a dramatic succession story will soon speed things up.
My 3rd generation grandfather was in line to become the new king of Tado, but he was a man of hot blood, energetic and with strong opinion. For a king this is not a good profile. During a secret meeting, the council of the wise, despite the tradition, decided he will not be the next king after the death the king.
Angered by this decision, he left Tado with few friends to found a new village 12 kilometers far away, and called it “Adanlewui” which mean the “Sword of Anger”.
As a strong man, and eager to revenge, he learned with discipline the art of black magic and mystic powers, and build a strong corps of soldiers. He was confident he could soon return to conquer the power in Tado. But, things will not work out this way. Something he never planned for came to sabotage his plans.
In the year 1884, Germans, late to have colonies in Africa, started to conquer a small land left between Ghana and Benin which they called Togoland. When they arrived at Adanlewui with their modern weapons, they quickly knocked down the local resistance, and the village was conquered. The first institution the Germans created was a small church, and started talking about a new god, a god that is unique, creates everything, is powerful and can save the soul of all men who trust in him.
This was something new. For us God is not a character. God is everything, God is everywhere, not an outside character to be worshiped. We were pagans. We trust in the forces that regulate the world: the wind, the forest, the thunder, the rivers, the invisible power. And, we worship these forces.
Shortly after of the German arrival, my 2nd generation grandfather, Koutonin, called my now died direct grandfather, Adjim, and advised him to leave Adanlewui with 3 men who were serving the family. They left nightly for a bigger village 2 kilometers away called Tohoun, where I was born, and where my father still is living.
Later in Tohoun, my grandfather called his 3 sons, and told them what follows:
“the world of our ancestors, and my world is finished. When a foreigner comes at your house, and look you into the eyes, and give you order, you are not anymore a man, but a servant at your own place. Our faith and gods were not able to help us fight the foreigners. Now we are a conquered nation. It’s humiliating, painful and hurting, but these are only emotions we can’t use to turn things around. From today, I ask you to go to learn from our new masters. Go to learn what is their god. Go to learn where they come from, and what gives them the forces they have. The future is with these foreigners not me or our ancestors. I want you to have a future. On the next day, go to their worshiping place, and do what they will ask you to do. I’ll not go with you, because I have to stay loyal to our ancestors and the forces which nurtured and protected us till now. I belong to the past, and everything I know now belongs to the past. I’ll be the bridge between the old world and yours. I will use the powers I have to protect you, and you’ll use the knowledge of the foreigners to become someone.”
My grandfather, put his hands over the heads of his 3 sons and whispered some mystics words and released them. My father became christian, and I was born christian.