True Collective Name for the People of Southern Benin, Togo and Parts of Ghana

Some years ago, we had settled on using the term Danxome (Dahomey) or Danxomean to refer to the various Gbe speaking people of Southern Benin republic. However, this is fairly inaccurate as Danxome was only created in the early 17th century, and the “Gbe-speaking” people have been around for thousands of years. The problem arose from the effort of trying to find a collective name for these ancient people; as with collective names like Yoruba, Igbo, Akan, kwk.

A little history sheds light on the proper collective name for the people and the culture they live. what follows is the current popular current narrative. However, this is but a partial truth.

The Common Accepted Narrative

Directly on the border of the current countries of Togo and Benin, in Southern Togo, is a very ancient city called Tado. Originally, this city was called Ezame which means surrounded with Eza trees. Around the early 13th century CE, there was great famine, disease, and drought in the city. Then arrived a mysterious man named Togbui Anyi. Togbui Anyi said he could cure all of the ills of the community and raise Ezame back to a great state. The people accepted his offer. In time, he did exactly what he said and the city became whole again. For this, he was made king. Shortly thereafter, he renamed the monarchy Tado, which means “step over”. This was to represent that all misfortunes would step over the monarchy. According to this common narrative, from this Aja group came the Ewe, Fon and other people of similar culture; a culture misnomered as “Gbe-speking people” by the yovo. The word gbe itself simply means “language”.

Another narrative mentions a wave/migration of fairly recent times that has the Aja originating in Ifẹ́ and implying they were originally Yoruba. The latter is untrue since this particular Ifẹ́ had several groups in a cosmopolitan type of situation. One can say that the Yoruba were originally Aja in that case. The fact is that these people have made several migrations and cross migrations for at least 6000 years.

The Bigger Picture

The truth of the matter is that the Aja have been here for thousands of years, and the above narrative is only one of many incidences of migrations and feats of the Aja. This is one of the narratives that the yovo (Europeans in this case) chose to popularize and thus has been accepted as the spread of what they call the “Gbe-speaking people”. For instance, one of our most sacred texts, the Gànhúmehàn, is dated back to 1329 AX (AX stands for “year of the clan”); 4920 years ago. The Aja are mentioned throughout several chapters of the Gànhúmehàn, as well as several other of what the yovo misnomer “Gbe -speaking people”.

Further proof comes from the fact that the monarchy of Xeviè, now a small town in southern Benin Republic, is dated to the year 5055 AX; 814 CE of the European calendar. This is at least 400-500 years before the time-frame of Tado and the great King Togbui Anyi. Thus, the only real question is a matter of the antiquity of the Aja people – the narrative that the Aja know of themselves or the one Europeans promote. Without a doubt, the Aja people know who they are. The Europeans did get it right that these related people (Ewe, Fòn, Seto, Ayizo, kwk) are offshoots of Aja. They just had the dates wrong and they took one big event in the history of the Aja, the creation of Tado, and attributed this as their origins and the spreading of the branches of these ancient people.

Based on the research we have done, we propose the much more appropriate and 100% accurate collective term for our culture to be Aja. Therefore, a monarch from the cultures of Southern Benin, Togo, and Ghana, who share the same this culture and rooted in Vodún, is referred to as an Aja Monarch just the same as when one refers to an Akan king or queen mother, or a Yoruba king.

It should be noted that the Fon are the result of the Aja mixing with the local Gedevi people of what is now Agbome, once the capital of the Danxome Federation. Thus, much of what we refer to as Fon language and culture is the product of an admixture of several cultures that scholars have misnamed “Gbe” or “Gbe speaking”. The word gbe simply means language in Aja/Fon/Hula/Seto/Xwla, kwk. In its golden age, between the 15th and 17th century, the monarchy of Tado was a confederation; in 1627 the Spanish Jesuit Alonzo de Sandoval described it as “a powerful kingdom that extends over an immense territory inland, with a coastal area where there is a safe harbor, governed by a black called Eminence“.

So, it should be made clear that just as the various Akan groups have different dialects of the same Twi language but are referred to collectively as Akan, so it is the same with the various Aja groups; having different dialects of the same Aja language.