The word for yam among the Ewe people of West African is “ete.” In Ewe literature, the word “ete” denotes swelling. According to oral tradition, a hunter once discovered an unusual crop while on a hunting journey in the forest and concealed it in the soil.
Legend has it that when the hunter returned after some time, he found that the crop had sprouted and grown as though it were swollen. That is how the Ewes, who had their ancestral home at Nortsie in modern-day Togo, came to refer to yam as “ete” and to the creation of the yam festival.
To the Ewes, the Yam Festival, which was frequently held in September, the month when the crop was harvested, was a holy and spiritual duty towards God, the land, and the ancestors who had to consume the yams before anyone else in the land.
The Yam Festival is still held in Nortsie in the Republic of Togo, where it was brought down by Ewes.
Yam farming is an extremely laborious task, and according to history, some of those who dared to try it back then did not live to see the rewards of their labor.
Therefore, it was necessary to be diligent and to seek the approval and direction of the gods of the land and the predecessors throughout the entire duration from planting to harvesting.
The Ewes hold that it would not have been possible to survive the perilous and labor-intensive period of yam cultivation, let alone produce a bumper crop and live to enjoy it, without God’s permission, direction, and protection.
The adage; “Ne wonye eteti tsogbe wo dua ete la, ne egbor ma kpor etsroa ha du o” refers to how labor-intensive, energy-draining, and dangerous it was and still is.
This literally means that if yams were eaten on the day they were planted, the goat would never have tasted the skin.
The gods and ancestors are offered the cooked and mashed yam, known as “bakabake,” which is often white and red-oiled, before any living thing does during the harvest season, which is typically in September. It is known as “Dzawuwu.”
The remaining mashed yam is then consumed as part of a group meal as a sign of the community’s overall goal of fostering harmony and understanding among families, clans, and all members of society.
The Asogli Traditional Area’s month-long festival now includes Christian and Muslim elements as well as prayers to God for sustained good health, wealth, peace and goodwill, unity, and reconciliation in the nation.
The Asogli State’s chiefs also take advantage of the occasion to reaffirm their commitment to their people, the ancestral stool, and whoever sits on it, while also mobilizing both material and human resources in order to create prosperity and jobs.
After being abandoned for more than ten years, the Yam Festival was revived in 2004 by Togbe Aede XIV—President of Asogli Traditional Area, and former President of the National House of Chiefs.
The Yam Festival offers the chance to experience traditional music, dance, storytelling, and a big durbar as the festival achieves its goal of teaching and entertaining both Ghanaians and guests about Asogli traditions.