The Koutammakou landscape in north-eastern Togo, which extends into neighbouring Benin, is home to the Batammariba whose remarkable mud tower-houses (Takienta) have come to be seen as a symbol of Togo. In this landscape, nature is strongly associated with the rituals and beliefs of society. The 50,000-ha cultural landscape is remarkable due to the architecture of its tower-houses which are a reflection of social structure; its farmland and forest; and the associations between people and landscape. Many of the buildings are two storeys high and those with granaries feature an almost spherical form above a cylindrical base. Some of the buildings have flat roofs, others have conical thatched roofs. They are grouped in villages, which also include ceremonial spaces, springs, rocks and sites reserved for initiation ceremonies.
Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba
Outstanding Universal Value
Koutammakou is the name of a large semi-mountainous region located in north-eastern Togo and which extends into neighbouring Benin. Koutammakou of Togo covers approximately 50 000 ha and joins the border of Benin for 15 km. This living cultural landscape is inhabited by the Batammariba people, whose remarkable earth tower houses, called « takienta », have become a symbol of Togo.
Koutammakou is an outstanding example of territorial occupation by a people in constant search of harmony between man and the surrounding nature. However, the Koutammakou cultural landscape possesses a particular characteristic. Indeed, the “takienta”, a basic family dwelling where technical, utilitarian and symbolic elements are combined, is unique. Although many dwellings of the region possess fairly strong symbolic dimensions, none possess such a close interrelationship between symbolism, function and technique. This particular type of dwelling, which owes its aesthetic aspect to the spectacular shapes, is the result of the creative genius of the Batammariba : « those who model the earth » or, by extension, « the good masons » according to the translation of some anthropologists.
The Koutammakou, as an evolving living landscape, exhibits all the facets of an agricultural society working in harmony with the landscape and where nature underpins beliefs, rituals and everyday life. It comprises tangible elements such as sacred rocks, forests, houses, fields, sources of construction materials, wild and domesticated animals, as well as intangible elements including beliefs, craft techniques, songs, dances, traditional sports, etc.
Criterion (v): The Koutammakou is an outstanding example of a system of traditional settlement that is still living and dynamic, and subject to traditional and sustainable systems and practices, and which reflects the singular culture of the Batammariba, particularly the “takienta” tower houses.
Criterion (vi): The Koutammakou is an eloquent testimony to the strength of spiritual association between people and the landscape, as manifested in the harmony between the Batammariba and their natural surroundings.
The overall landscape of the Koutammakou reflects every aspect of the life of the Batammariba, and thus the socio-economic-cultural system which is contained in the inscribed property. However, as the property extends beyond the border into Benin, it does not represent whole system, but rather a part of it.
The traditional dwelling remains a current model. Throughout the region it may be noted that the life cycle of the buildings remains: construction, abandon, demolition and reconstruction of the ruins. A close observation might reveal changes in the type of materials used, the traditional model persists because the house is more than a dwelling: it is a temple dedicated to worship! Therefore, even the ground floor area reserved for the animals and the presence of granaries remain essential features. Thus, many « modern » houses are completed by a traditional dwelling which, if sometimes of reduced dimensions, retains all the traditional characteristics.
The maintenance of the tower houses requires the continuation of local construction traditions, and the use of local materials. The natural environment has suffered from overexploitation and it has become increasingly difficult to find sufficient wood for the new houses near the villages.
An excellent state of conservation of integrity exists as regards intangible aspects: links between attributes and symbolism – sacred woods, ritual paths and the conservation of traditions and life styles that are reflected by the construction of the “sikien”.
The Koutammakou landscape is an authentic reflection of a particular life style. No elements in the landscape are of any great age; rather, the overall landscape reflects the processes and practices that prevail over many centuries. In order to conserve its authenticity, these traditional practices must be maintained.
Education, centralization of administrative power, religions, tourism, monetary system and the appearance of new needs have all exercised their influence. Despite these aggressions that tend to unsettle the Tammari society, very strong and motivated centres exist in all the villages that constitute this melting-pot where the essential elements of the Tammari culture mix and persist throughout time and space. Therefore, despite the threat of globalization, expressions of culture and identity persist. Thus, and in spite of the development of small urban centres, (almost all at Nodoba), it is always the original landscape that can be observed today, with villages in which the houses are each located in the middle of their cultivated plots, spaced out and independent. The natural space is also very present, even though it would be desirable that some of its elements be reconstituted – it should be noted that this mainly concerns the « neutral » natural areas. Indeed, the authenticity of all the sacred areas remains intact.
Protection and management requirements
The region of the Koutammakou benefits from two types of protection: modern legal protection and traditional protection.
The overall legal tools comprise the Law 90-24 of 23 November 1990 relating to the Protection of National Cultural Heritage; Decree No. 010/MCJS of 17 July 2003 concerning the inscription of the sites and monuments on the List of National Cultural Heritage; Decree No. 124/MC/CAB of 1 October 2003 designating the geographical boundaries of the site and identifying the elements of the Koutammakou; the Decree concerning the composition and attributions of the Management Committee of the Koutammakou; and the Decree concerning the creation of the Service for the Conservation and Promotion of the Koutammakou.
The traditional practices that cover both the technical processes and the social observances that impact on land management include: respect for ancestral spirits, observance of taboos and restrictions, absolute obedience to elders, religious and clan chiefs, continuance of traditional rules reaffirmed through initiation ceremonies, the carefully prescribed roles of individual clan members and continuous respect for tangible and intangible values associated with the landscape.
These objectives are included in the main body of the Conservation and Management Plan for the Koutammakou.
The Service for the Conservation and the Promotion of the Koutammakou (administrative institution) is responsible for the management of the site in cooperation with the Management Committee representing the local populations. Its aim is to strengthen or complete the traditional protection in such a way as to guarantee the proper conservation of the site and the intangible elements that underpin it. The management process follows the following schema: definition of objectives, recording activities taking into account the threats to the site and the identification of the expected results. The targeted objectives are encourage the use of traditional materials for the construction of the « takienta » in order to maintain the authenticity and integrity of the site; control the “anarchic” exploitation of wood in the clear areas; achieve successful sustainable development in the framework of a living cultural landscape; promotion of the Tammari culture, and promotion of tourism that respects the values of the site.
The Koutammakou, a cultural landscape in north-eastern Togo extending into neighbouring Benin, is home to the Batammariba people whose remarkable Takienta mud tower-houses have come to be seen as a symbol of Togo. They are also a reflection of social structure and are known to blend uniquely with the natural environment of farmland and forest. Many of the buildings are two storeys high and those with granaries feature an almost spherical form above a cylindrical base. Some of the buildings have flat roofs, others have conical thatched roofs. They are grouped in villages, which also include ceremonial spaces, springs, rocks and sites reserved for initiation ceremonies.
The word butabu describes a process of moistening earth with water in preparation for building. Whether modelled by hand or built from mud-brick, the variety of architectural forms found throughout West Africa illustrates the myriad ways in which the simple properties of earth and water have come together to create works of striking artistic sophistication and interest.
Not only do the sun's rays bathe the earthen core of a building, making it hard and resilient, but they also continually redefine the structure's surface and interior features with patterns of light and shade as they pass overhead through the course of each day. Many of these edifices, especially the tall ones, boast rows of timbers bristling from their exteriors, on which the sun's shadows play particularly dramatically. These spiky elements serve both to solidify the structure, and to help alleviate moisture, but also to offer supportive scaffolding during yearly plastering. Building roofs, which have wooden or pottery drain spouts to channel seasonal rains, are made from thatch or earth, the latter either domed or flat.
West African earthen architecture collectively challenges the inherent boundaries between built form and sculpture in their visual power and unique play of texture, geometry, light, and shade. These buildings incorporate the vital attributes of geometrical primacy and boldness that pervade so many of the continent's figural traditions and invite tactility, an element critical to appreciation. Centuries of upheaval, which led to the massive uprooting of local populations through war, migrations, and slavery, also have left a mark on the region's architecture, and in part, as a result, this architecture also expresses vital social and political concerns.
On the interior, multiple levels of space often are articulated through a combination of pole and beam flooring/terrace articulation supported by the adjacent earthen joining walls. Upper levels, which are reached by earthen steps or ladders, serve a variety of functions as both open-air spaces and enclosed chambers.
Beyond their sheer architectural value, West African buildings of earth are often imbued with potent symbolism. Cones of the same material, which historically have served as shrines in this area dedicated to deities, ancestors, wild game, and an array of spirit powers, often punctuate a portal, either at ground level or along the roofline.
In addition to the Takienta mud-tower houses, the Koutammakou landscape is also marked by its farmland and forest. There is a great value in the 'associations between people and landscape' in the hilly landscape of the Togo-Benin border, where nature is strongly associated with the rituals and beliefs of society.
The Koutammakou is an outstanding example of a system of traditional settlement that is still living and dynamic and subject to traditional and sustainable systems and practices, and which reflects the singular culture of the Batammariba, particularly the Takienta tower houses. It is eloquent testimony to the strength of spiritual association between people and landscape, as manifested in the harmony between the Batammariba and their natural surroundings. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
The Batammariba are linguistically associated with other people in the area such as the Gangan, Gurma, Moba, Bassar, Nawda, etc.
The origins of the Batammariba are somewhat uncertain. Archaeological investigations and oral history indicates that the Batammariba migrated to their present home from the north and northwest around Burkino Faso where they were living with the Mossi people sometime between the 16th and 18th centuries. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation