Sunday, May 24, 2020


It’s a three-day weekend this weekend for Memorial Day! But it’s not quite the same this year. In Indiana, the Indy 500 was supposed to be today, but it’s been a quiet May here with its postponement. (They’ve moved it to August, and I think it’ll run with no crowds). We also finally moved the rest of our stuff from the other house to our current ones, only to find that our barbecue grills have been thrown out. So, no barbecue for us this weekend. My husband was at one store the other day where he saw some cheap ones, but they were sold out by the time he went back. So, mer ner.

I'm excited to experiment around with different toppings and dips.
But we always have Tongan food today! The bread for today is called Keke ‘Isite. I combined my yeast with a cup of warm water and 1 tsp of sugar in a large bowl and mixed it until the yeast dissolved in the water. Then I left it on the counter for about 10 minutes until it was frothy. In the same bowl, I added in another cup of warm water, ⅔ c of sugar, and 4 c of all-purpose flour. It should be the consistency of a thick batter, but you may need to add a little water or flour to get it to the right consistency (I added about a ¼ cup). Using my hands, I mixed it until it started to come from the side of the bowl. Covering it, I let it rise for about an hour or so. It doubled in size, so I used my hands to knock it down a bit, and let it rest for another 20-30 minutes. It was soooooo sticky, I had to use quite a bit of flour to keep it from sticking. After this time, I heated my oil in a heavy skillet (make sure you have enough oil to fill at least 2-3” deep). You can test the oil by putting a tiny piece of dough in it--it should float to the top within seconds, but if it browns within 30 seconds, then the fire’s too hot. The recipe says these need to brown slower, around 2 minutes on each side. Using my hand, I scooped out a handful of the batter and formed a ball about the size of a golfball and put it in the oil, flipping it after a couple minutes to brown each side. First of all, my heat was too hot at first, and my first batch was burnt. And it took WAY less than that time, even when I turned the heat way down. When they were done, I took them out and let them drain. You can serve these a number of ways. I dusted some with powdered sugar and dipped some in honey. The kids just ate them plain. I think these were a hit -- even the burnt ones, oddly enough.

This was really good. I almost liked it better than the corned beef version. But it would be better if I ate them side by side.
For my main dish, I decided to make a variation of a dish that is popular in Tonga as well as other nearby Pacific countries. So, I decided to make Lu Moa. This dish is usually made with corned beef, but I’m making it with chicken this time. And in lieu of taro leaves, I’m using collard greens, which I thought would go well with chicken anyway, and much easier to find during a pandemic. First, I washed the greens and cut out the stems. Then I lined a baking dish with foil and placed the collard greens on top of that. I spread my chicken on top of the greens (I cheated a little and used a bag of cooked diced chicken). Then I spread my sliced onion and chopped tomato on top of the chicken, and poured a half can of coconut milk on top of all of it. Now it comes time to assemble it. Because my casserole dish was larger, I added more leaves on top of it and then another piece of foil over the top to tightly cover everything. I put this in an oven I set at 375ºF for about an hour. This was really good, and I think everyone enjoyed it. We love collard greens, and the chicken was very tender. All of flavors really blended together. It was simple enough to make, and I think it lends itself to creating variations (I think this would be good with some oyster mushrooms or even lemon and capers).

You can never go wrong with sweet potatoes.
To go with this, I made Sweet Potatoes in Coconut Milk. This easy dish called for sweet potatoes (again, I cheated and used canned sweet potatoes that I already had), some coconut milk, and a bit of sugar. All of the ingredients are essentially combined in a saucepan and brought to a boil. Then I lowered my heat and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. I cut back on the sugar, but I feel like I probably should’ve either let it simmer longer or added a bit more sugar in it. The sauce was a little runny. But it still tasted good.

OK, I'm just gonna say it. It needs some coconut rum.
And it’s been a while since I’ve made a drink, but I also made ‘Otai, or a Tongan watermelon drink. Perfect timing for summer! I cut up some watermelon and mashed it so that it was mostly liquid with some chunks. Then I added to this a cup of crushed pineapple, a can of coconut milk, a cup of coconut water, and the lime juice of half a lime. Some people add in a little simple syrup, but I thought it was sweet enough as it was. When it was all mixed together (which should be a bit thick), I let it chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes. This tasted really good, but I regret not actually making this in the blender. I think it would’ve had a better texture. But it was good regardless, quite refreshing.

Overall, this was a good meal. Loved all of it!
If there was one ingredient that dominated this meal (three-quarters of my meal used it), it would be coconut milk. But what do you expect from an island nation that is covered with coconut trees? Despite having the word “nut” in its name, coconuts aren’t nuts. Rather, it’s a subcategory of fruits called drupes. It’s related to other fruits like peaches, apricots, avocados, olives, mangoes, walnuts, cherries, and generally other types of fruits with pits. People who live in tropical islands like Tonga tend to use most of the coconut to make a number of items: grated coconut, coconut milk, coconut water, coconut oil, coir (coconut fiber), and charcoal. It’s no wonder it’s used in everything and such an important part of their culture. It can do everything.

Up next: Trinidad and Tobago

Saturday, May 23, 2020


Tongan music generally falls into three main categories: traditional music, religious music, and secular music. There are some similarities with other Polynesian musical styles. Many of these traditional musical styles are often performed at ceremonies and festivals. Radio Tonga also is a key promoter of traditional music.

There are a few instruments that are used in Tongan music. One slightly odd instrument is the nose flute. It’s a type of woodwind instrument with finger holes and a setup like a recorder, but it’s played through the nose instead of the mouth. This seems like it’s not quite the most sanitary of instruments. There was one famous nose flute player named Ve’ehala, but it’s not really performed much today. There’s also a type of slit-gong called the lali that is often used in place of a church bell.

When European missionaries arrived in Tonga, they brought along with them their music as well. Hymns suddenly made their way into Tongan culture and fused itself with their traditional music. However, it depends on which denomination we’re talking about on how integrated Western religious music is. Methodist churches often use unaccompanied singers, with a leader starting off the hymns and having the others join in. The Free Wesleyan Churches have a strong choral presence, but they also make use of brass bands.

Because of their ties with traditional music, there are also a few dances that are still commonly performed. The ula (also known as the faha’i-ula) is a type of split dance. This is mostly danced by girls who are split into two groups on either side of the stage and meet in the middle, mostly movements coming from the hands and head. The ‘otuhaka dance has a strong influence from Samoa. The dancers here sit cross-legged and dance using their arms. This dance can be performed by both men and women and is usually followed by the ula dance. A related dance is the ma'ulu'ulu. Another dance considered part of Tongan intangible heritage is the lakalaka dance group that often performs at special occasions. For this one, women typically make smaller steps while the men’s movements are more lively.

There wasn’t a lot of Tongan music I found that has been produced commercially. I did find a couple nose flute songs by the one and only Ve’ehala. If you’re listening to it, you probably wouldn’t even know he’s playing it with his nose. Unless you’re a nose flute connoisseur or something.


I also found the music of The Jets, a Tongan-American band from the 1980s. Their family moved from Tonga to Minnesota, and they had enough kids to staff a basketball team with an entire reserve team. And they really embraced the 80s teen pop ballad/pop hits. I recognized a few of the song but had no idea what their band was called.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, May 20, 2020


In traditional Tongan art, different kinds of crafts were divided between the sexes. There were certain types of crafts that were done by men and ones that were done by women. Women were mainly the weavers. They created what is called koloa, a type of woven barkcloth or mat. But these weren’t just mats; they were used as a sign of wealth and typically exchanged during ceremonies like weddings. These koloa mats were used for a number of things, from just sleeping on them to wearing them.
Men’s arts are generally centered around woodworking. Carving tools like food bowls, spears, and war clubs are sometimes also inlaid with other materials like pearl shell and ivory, depending on the item. These war clubs were also pretty popular in Fiji. Canoe building was also a men’s skill, especially dugout canoes that were made out of one log.

One style of Tongan architecture is well known. A type of building style called the fale consists of a curved roof sitting on top of wooden pillars, using woven screens as walls. If there is a particularly bad storm bearing down on them that threatens the integrity of the walls, they’ll simply cut the wooden pillars down so that the roof is laying on the ground. The curvature of the roof allows the wind to flow over it easier. They've updated some of their building materials over the decades, though. There are also stone monuments and tombs that are found throughout the islands as well.

Like other South Pacific countries, tattooing is a common part of their culture. Some of these can be fairly elaborate and generally tell a story. It was often viewed as a symbol of strength. When the missionaries arrived in Tonga, they highly discouraged it (what a buzzkill), and the practice fell to the wayside somewhat. Today, it’s common for both men and women to have some tattoos. (One day I’ll finally figure out what I want a tattoo of.)

Tonga has not had a strong written literary history, which has mostly been in the form of oral tales and stories. However, during the 1960s and 1970s, there was a general push for developing Pacific Islander literature on a broader scale. Although there are newspapers and a few magazines that are produced in the Tongan language, there are few literature publications that are produced in Tongan. English is taught in school and serves as one of the main languages of instruction and business, so most authors end up publishing their works in English for a broader audience.

Epeli Hau'ofa
And not to be left out, Tonga has had two writers who emerged during this period. Epeli Hau’ofa is known as a short story writer, especially for the collection called Tales of the Tikongs as well as a novel Kisses in the Nederends. He actually traveled around and lived between Tonga and Fiji. While he was living in Tonga, he also produced a literary magazine with his wife called Faikara.

Konai Helu Thaman
Another author from Tonga is Konai Helu Thaman. Not only was she a teacher and poet, she’s also taken several positions with UNESCO. Many of her works have been used as part of the curriculum across the Pacific.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, May 17, 2020


I’m not typically a sports fan. Yeah, I’ll admit live games are more entertaining than watching them on television. But there is one sporting event that I am mildly interested in, and that’s the Olympics. But more specifically, the Opening Ceremonies. At the opening of the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, there was one athlete who took us by surprise as he carried the flag. And that was Pita Taufatofua. It wasn’t that he was one of the only Tongans to compete or that he was there for taekwondo. It was because he got the attention of every woman (and probably a few men) as he waved the Tongan flag while wearing a ta’ovala (traditional mat worn in formal situations) bearing his oiled, chiseled shirtless torso. He basically stole the show. They could’ve just shut it down and went home from there.

Tonga means “southward” in the Tongan language as well as other Polynesian languages. It’s based on its location as one of the southernmost island groups in central Polynesia. However, after James Cook landed on the island, he called it the Friendly Islands after they invited him to a celebration that was already taking place.

This island country consists of 169 islands where only 36 of them have people living on them. (Actually a new island was just formed in 2014 after a volcanic eruption. And it only took four years for a significant number of plants, birds, and owls to make it their home.) They’re divided up into three groups, from north to south: Vava’u, Ha’apai, and Tongatapu. Fiji and the French islands of Wallis and Fortuna lie to the northwest while Samoa, American Samoa, and Niue lie to the northeast. The north island of New Zealand is to the southwest quite a ways. Most of the islands are either limestone on top of coral or limestone on top of a volcanic base. They have distinct warm and cooler seasons. But temperature and rainfall can vary somewhat depending on which island you’re on.

The first people who arrived to live on these islands were Austronesians making their way there between 1500-1000 BC. The 12th century Tongan chief Tu’i Tonga basically had a reputation that preceded him and pretty much everyone in the South Pacific knew of him. The Tongans didn’t encounter any Europeans until the 1600s when several Dutch trading and exploration ships made pit stops in the Tongan islands, including Abel Tasman. British and Spanish explorers also made their way through Tonga during the 1700s as well as the US during the 1800s. Not only were explorers stopping by unannounced but missionaries and whaling vessels were also coming by. In 1845, there was a young warrior-turned-chief known as Taufa’ahau who really changed things up. He united Tonga as a kingdom, and 30 years later, declared it as a constitutional monarchy based on western styles. They became a protected state of Britain as part of a treaty. Tonga was allowed to continue on with its sovereignty during this time, and they are one of the few Pacific countries that has had an uninterrupted monarchy. During 1918, a ship from New Zealand brought the Spanish flu to the islands and killed over nearly 1800 of them -- that’s about 8% of their population at the time! Their protectorate with Britain ended in 1970, when they joined the Commonwealth and the UN.

The capital city is Nuku’alofa, situated on the north side of the island of Tongatapu, which is in the southernmost group of islands. This city of only about 23,000 is the center of government, housing both where the Parliament meets and the Royal Palace. It’s also the central transportation hub for the islands. There is a central market and business district but a lot of it was destroyed during the riots that took place in November 2006.

Tonga largely depends on remittances sent home from people working abroad. One of the problems is that the royal family owns quite a few of the industries in Tonga, like telecommunications. Agriculture carries part of their economy, especially in crops like vanilla beans, squash, coconut, coffee beans, sweet potatoes, cassava, and taro. Tourism has never really been that strong, but it’s growing somewhat. Cruise ships stop in Vava’u for whale watching, surfing, fishing, and just plain ol’ hanging out on the beach. Tonga’s colorful stamps are also apparently a hot ticket item among stamp collectors around the world.

Officially, Tonga doesn't have an established religion. Practically though, Christianity is ingrained in all the aspects of their lives. Because Queen Salote Tupou III was a member of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, she established that as the state religion of Tonga back in 1928. However, that was later revised out in 1998. But because of that, they do still have a majority of the people following that denomination. Other Christian that are found in Tonga include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Roman Catholics, and The Free Church of Tonga.

The official language is Tongan, a Polynesian language that is closely related to Wallisian, Hawaiian, Samoan, Tahitian, Maori, and Niuean. English is also an official language. Known as lea fakatonga in Tongan, it’s interesting because it has a verb-subject-object sentence order (whereas English has a subject-verb-object order).

One thing I came across in reading about Tonga is the sacred flying fox bats. These small bats are protected, and no one in the general public can touch, harm, or kill them (only the royal family can harm or hunt them apparently). In fact, they’re practically tame at this point, or at least extremely docile. On some of the islands, there’s a growing ecotourism where people come to observe them (although they’re known in Tonga, these bats are also found in nearby islands of Niue and the Samoas). It seems odd that these bats are solely the property of the king, but in a way, maybe it’s not necessarily a bad thing that they’re protected from the majority of people. Humans are essentially it’s main predator.

Up next: art and literature

Tuesday, May 12, 2020


Well, it’s my first Mother’s Day in our new home, and that’s where we’ll be spending it today. I personally haven’t left our property for about a month. It doesn’t super bother me, except I miss going to the grocery store. My husband is the only one to go out now, to minimize who comes in contact with what. He reports back how crazy it is, though. People are angry. People aren’t wearing masks and not social distancing. If I don’t come out of this without a mild case of agoraphobia, it’ll be a miracle.

It looks like a desert landscape. A bread desert.
But today I’m staying safe and cooking food from Togo! The bread I made is called Ablo, or Togolese Corn Bread. I sifted my maize (corn) flour in bowl along with some wheat flour. Then I took about a quarter of this and mixed with 200mL of water until it was smooth like a slurry. In a saucepan, I brought another 200mL to a boil. Then I whisked in my slurry and stirred constantly until it was just under a boil before I took it off the heat. It was really kind of thick. In the same bowl with the rest of my flour, I added in the yeast and salt. And when the slurry/paste was completely cool, I added that in as well. I stirred and kneaded to make it a light dough, having to add quite a bit of water to get it that way. And even at that, it was very dense. Then I covered it and let it sit for an hour. Like the famous book by Chinua Achebe, this is where things start to fall apart. It was supposed to have risen, but it did nothing. I lined a springform cake tin and lined it with wax paper. I made five layers (or as many layers as I could), separating each layer with wax paper. I was supposed to place my cake tin inside of a roasting pan that I filled halfway up with boiling water, but I didn’t have anything big enough to put it in. So, I just put it in the oven and baked in a 350ºF oven for 30-40 minutes or until what I hoped was cooked through. I was going to put a pan with water below it in the oven, but I didn’t think of that until later and didn’t think it would’ve had the same effect. The top layer was cracked and the bottom layers just didn’t like they cooked through all the way. And it stuck to the wax paper so that all I could get was crumbs: this was kind of an epic fail. But it smelled good, and it actually tasted good too. Just crumbly.

Amaaaaaaaaazing! I loved this so much. (Except the meat getting stuck in my teeth.)
The main meal for today is called Gboma Dessi. For this, I got out my pressure cooker. I sautéed some onion in a little oil along with some minced garlic and ginger for a couple minutes. Then I added in my stew beef, salt, pepper, a bouillon cube and covered it all with water. I cooked it on high heat until it started to whistle, then turned it to low heat and let it cook for 45 minutes. Then I removed the meat and set it aside in a bowl. I seasoned the meat with Gbotemi spice (a mixture that I amended but essentially included clove, cardamom, oregano and thyme--it’s not the same but probably kinda close, I hope). While the meat was cooking, I took my spinach leaves (I got bagged spinach since it was already washed and ready to go) and boiled them in salted water for 10-15 minutes. In a large pot, I sautéed more onions and garlic with a bit of oil. After a couple minutes, I added in a small can of tomato sauce, some pepper, and another bouillon cube. If you’re using hot peppers, which I am not, you can add them now. After stirring constantly for a few minutes, I added in my broth from my pressure cooker and boiled this over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Then I added in my drained spinach leaves and meat and let it all simmer for about 25 minutes (which turned into an hour because I had my husband and daughter help me, and well, they forgot). But no matter: this was amazing. It tasted like beef stew. It was so good and the meat practically fell apart. Honestly, I think the whole thing could’ve been made in the pressure cooker (and my husband wanted to add in potatoes). I served it with rice, and it was amazing.

You know, I'd do this again but experiment around with it. Maybe with some dulce de leche??
And for dessert, I made Togolese Baked Bananas. I took my unpeeled bananas and placed them on a baking sheet and put it in a 350ºF oven, baking them for about 15 minutes until the skins became brown. Then I removed them and cut two slits down the middle when they cooled a bit and peeled back just a strip of the peel to reveal the banana inside. Then I squeezed a little bit of lime juice onto the banana, sprinkled a bit of brown sugar and poured a bit of heavy cream over them. I also garnished it with some crushed peanuts. The peanuts are a must. It really compliments the salty-sweet flavors. It was probably one of the strangest-looking desserts I’ve ever had, but it was quite tasty.

You know, as terrible as the bread turned out, it wasn't bad when crumbled in the stew.
Besides the peppers and the spice mix, this stew was easy to make and was almost the perfect kind of quarantine meal. I suppose you could’ve substituted other meats or greens, but that may also be the point. I imagine in a lot of places in West Africa, there are food shortages or items you just can’t find at times. And maybe learning a thing or two about food preservation and preparation from places like West Africa helps with knowing how to make good food out of a few ingredients that sticks to your ribs. It sounds so “first world problems,” but we’ve always taken going to the store for granted. And now we’re learning what many people around the world roll their eyes at and already know.

Up next: Tonga

Saturday, May 9, 2020


Most of the people who live in Togo live near the coastal southern regions. In these regions, the folk songs sung by fishermen are particularly popular. These are often accompanied by a type of bell called the gankogui, also known as the agogô (it can be a single or double bell). And because Togo is such a diverse place, these folksongs can be sung in several different languages: mainly Ewé or Kabiyé but also Fon and Yoruba.

When it comes to instruments, percussion is king. Drums are essentially the core of folk music, and there are many different types of drums used in their music, varying in their construction, materials used (for both the body and head of the drum), and size. Many times drums and percussion instruments are used in festivals and celebrations for certain life events. Not only are different types of drums used in different regions, but they also have different rhythms in their music. Outside of percussion, you’ll also find stringed instruments such as the kologo (or xalam, and it may be an ancestor to the banjo) and gonjey (a type of one- or two-stringed fiddle). Various sizes and styles of flutes, a type of xylophone called a balafon, and singing are also commonly heard in Togolese folk music.

There are quite a few traditional dances performed in Togo. Many of these dances are tied to different aspects of life and rituals like war dances (like the kpehouhuon and atsina) and hunter dances (like the adewu). Another dance includes a stilt dance called the tchebe. And each region has their own varieties, of course.

Bella Bellow
I did find several musicians on Spotify that I listened to. The first was Bella Bellow. She was famous during the 1960s and early 1970s, tragically dying in a car accident in 1973 at the age of 28. As young as she was, her voice sounded much older. And they had quite a bit of an American/European rock sound with her melodic vocals behind it. And interwoven within this rock sound, there are subtle African motifs in there. I really enjoyed this a lot.

Another singer that I think falls in the same category as above is Akofa Akoussah. She has a little more funk in her music. I can’t tell exactly which language she’s singing in, but I do know it’s not French. I liked what I heard from her music.

I also listened to Afia Mala. I found an album where she has a strong Cuban influence on her music. I’m a big fan of Cuban music, so I really enjoyed this album. From what I could tell, the songs were sung in Spanish, French, and maybe whatever her native language is.

King Mensah
One of the more well-known musicians from Togo is King Mensah. He uses elements from Afropop, funk, reggae, and other local styles. He sings in multiple languages and has won numerous awards in his long music career.

Jimi Hope
Jimi Hope is a guitarist as well as a painter and sculptor. He actually just passed away in 2019. I think he has more of a blues and funk style and sings mostly in English (at least on the album I was listening to) and in his native language. I liked his style on most of his songs, especially the ones that were more blues.

Finally I came across a couple of hip-hop artists. The first one I listened to was Small Poppy. They tended to use a lot of sound effects and mixing in their music. I thought some of the songs were pretty catchy. I also listened to Toofan. Their music was a little more melodic, the style being kind of similar to that of the French-Congolese rapper Youssoupha (who I love). I really enjoyed their music.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, May 6, 2020


The art of Togo is similar to that of its neighbors, Ghana and Benin. In Togo, animism is practiced by nearly a third of the population (perhaps more if you count the people who practice animism and another religion in tandem), and it’s worked itself into the fabric of their culture. Small carved statues and sculptures are extremely common and have a variety of meanings and different areas of worship. For example, the ibéji statue is in honor of the worship of twins. And two characters with interlocking rings carved from one piece of wood represents the bond of marriage. Wooden masks are also carved and worn for different occasions.

Fabric dying is also a common art in Togo. Dyed batik-style fabric comes in many different colors and patterns, each signifying different aspects of life. Today, these clothes are used in formal or ceremonial events. Batik fabric is also used to make pictures out of and hang them as prints.
There are a few modern-style artists from Togo who have made a name for themselves. The painter Sokey Edorh is known for his prints of the people and animals of Togo and how they change with the environment. Paul Ahyi is another artist who mainly works in zota, a style of pyro engraving. His works are not only showcased in Lomé, but they’re also internationally known.

Work by Paul Ahyi, almost reminds me a little of Gustav Klimt meets African style art.
I couldn’t find much on early literature in Togo, but I’m imagining that it’s probably the same thing that I’ve seen in much of this part of the world. Storytelling of epic poetry and local histories that may also serve as parables have been passed down from generation to generation. However, written literature as we know it didn’t really start to become a thing until the early part of the 20th century. As Togo had shifted through colonial powers and was eventually run by the French, a lot of their literature during this time reflected this period where day-to-day life seemed precarious. Félix Couchoro was one such author who wrote during this time, making him among Africa’s first authors to be published during this time. Choosing to write in French, I think it gave him a larger audience (and especially one who probably needed to hear what he had to say).
Félix Couchoro
As Togo geared up toward independence during the 1950s, many other writers emerged. David Ananou first published his novel Le Fils du fétiche in 1955 which is often considered one of the first Togolese novels. A few other authors from this transitional period include Victor Aladji, Julien Atsou Guenou, Gnoussira Analla, and Tété Michel Kpomassié (who wrote about his time he spent with the Inuit).

There were also quite a few playwrights from Togo. Anoumou Pedro Santos got them started with his play Fasi that he published in 1956. If you’re interested in the theatre, you should check out the works of Henri Ajavon, Modest d’Almeida, and Gilbert Laclé.

Christiane Akoua Ekua

I’m glad to see there are quite a few women getting books published in Togo as well, including Pyabelo Kouly Chaold (famous for her book Memories of Twelve Years Spent in Germany), Christiane Akoua Ekue, Gad Ami, and Emilie Anifrani Ehah (known for her short stories).

Up next: music and dance

Monday, May 4, 2020


I can remember in elementary school studying about the countries in Africa, and several of the class clowns joked at the mispronunciation of Togo: “I’ll have one country To Go, please.” This rectangle sliver of a country in Western Africa is one of the smaller countries on the continent. But its diverse culture has come to outweigh its tragic past.

The name Togo is from the Ewé language, one of the dominant languages of this area. It’s been translated to mean “land where the lagoons lie.” I’m not sure how you get all of that meaning out of one small word, but A+ for efficiency.

Togo is located in Western Africa, surrounded by Benin to the east; Burkina Faso to the north; Ghana to the west; and the Bight of Benin (part of the Gulf of Guinea) to the south. The country is divided into five regions from south to north: Maritime, Plateaux, Centrale, Kara, and Savanes. The south has sandy beaches and lagoons, and as you move farther north, you’ll find woodland plateaux and more hills in the central part of the country. The northern regions are characterized by rolling savannas, hence its name. It’s generally pretty tropical and dry, with the exception of two rainy seasons. There are several national parks and protected areas (not to mention the 400-km long Mono River), but humans seem to keep destroying the life-giving forests. [Shakes fist at humans.]

Gnassingbé Eyadéma
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of definitive ancient history for this area. Archaeologists have found evidence that the ancient people had created and used pottery and had also developed ways to process iron. Quite a few tribes had moved through this area and many of them made Togo their home. The Mina and Gun tribes moved in from the east while the Ewé tribe migrated in from the west, primarily setting up their communities along the coastal areas. Then the Portuguese arrived in the latter part of the 1400s and changed their lives forever. Their promotion of the slave trade along this area of West Africa for nearly 200 years prompted the apt and unfortunate name of The Slave Coast. It wasn’t just the Portuguese who were in on this: the British, Dutch, and French also thought stealing people for profit was cool. In 1884, Germany took on the country as a protectorate and called the area Togoland. The locals were forced to mainly work in agriculture (cotton, cocoa, and coffee) and pay high taxes to them. Even though they put in some modern infrastructure (like railways and ports), it was more or less at the backbreaking hard work of the locals. During WWI, both Britain and France invaded and laid claim to the land, eventually breaking it apart and ruling over certain regions. The western part went to Britain, which eventually became part of Ghana during the 1950s. The eastern part went to France, which became an autonomous region in 1959 and gained independence from France the next year. As Togo started its first years on its own and held their first elections, it wasn’t without its problems and coups. Gnassingbé Eyadéma took over in 1967 after a bloodless coup and remained in power until his death in 2005. His 38-year rule was among some of Africa’s longest running heads of state. His son Faure Gnassingbé then took over right after his father’s death, and since then there have been multiple fights over the legitimacy of elections.

The coastal city of Lomé is Togo’s capital and largest city. With about 1.5 million people, Lomé is also their chief port, center for government, and commerce. Not only is it on the coast, but it’s also right on the border with Ghana. The city is a typical African city with several universities, large market for an array of goods, transportation hub, sports venues, cultural centers and museums as well as restaurants and entertainment.

Although Togo is a small country, they have some natural resources they depend on. Togo has quite sizable phosphate deposits, and they also depend quite a bit on their agricultural exports like coffee, cocoa beans, cotton, peanuts (groundnuts), maize, millet, cassava, and rice (mainly jasmine rice). Because of political and economic instability, they are still one of the least developed countries. Unreliable electricity, for example, is something that makes it hard to run a factory, or any other industry for that matter.

This anaconda's spine worn as a necklace is one of the many voodoo/animism trinkets worn for a variety of reasons. The place you can buy all these trinkets are found at a fetish market, which sounds... kinky.

In Togo, the top religion is traditional animism, practiced by nearly one-third of the population. Oftentimes, they practice animism along with another religion, mainly Christianity or Islam. Roman Catholics are the largest denomination of Christianity but there are also a smaller number of Protestant and other Christian  denominations in Togo, too. Sunni is the dominant form of Islam practiced here.

Although there are 39 languages spoken in Togo, there is only one official language: French. Two indigenous languages have been given national language status because they’re the most widely spoken: Ewé and Kabiyé. Ewé is part of the Niger-Congo language family and included in a group of related languages called Gbe. It’s typically spoken in Togo and Ghana. Kabiyé is part of the Eastern Gurunsi Gur language family and generally spoken in Togo, Ghana, and Benin.

Togo has one main similarity with my home state of Indiana. We both have limestone mining that’s helped with local and regional employment. Most of their limestone mining is from the Tabligbo basin and produces about 1.3 million tons of limestone. Although the country has some promising fields, they still remain fairly poor with inadequate resources. But one thing for sure is that I have found some seemingly tasty recipes.

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