Koutammakou, the land of the Batammariba, is a traditional settlement known for the architecture of mud Takienta tower-houses.
These buildings have two stories, and either flat or conical thatched roofs.
Koutammakou also is a living landscape where the agricultural society lives in harmony with the surrounding nature.
Map of Koutammakou
Anyone interested in Ethnology, Architecture, Cultural landscapes or African culture generally should try to reach this site. It consists of an area of country in NE Togo abutting Benin which is inhabited by the Battamariba people (who were called Tamberma by the colonial administration – we were told this meant “Good Builders”). Their “fortified” mud-brick houses called “Tata” (or Takienta”) are remarkable both visibly and as an introduction to their entire way of life and to their (animist) beliefs (photo). Walking the hilly savannah between the “villages”, seeing the daily life and agriculture and going inside a few houses is a fine travel experience.
The inscribed area of “Koutammakou” can be reached via a dirt road NE from Kande or by crossing from Benin near Boukombe. The area is not (yet?) on the international travel route to the same extent as Dogon country in Mali but is receiving a fair number of (mainly francophone?) tourists and visits to those Tata near to the road were somewhat more “touristy” than I had hoped, with displays of handicrafts for sale and calls for “cadeaux” from hordes of children. Across the Benin border the same people were called, pejoratively, “Somba” (= “Naked”) and, although that area is not included in the UNESCO site, it proved in our experience a more fruitful area for exploration and interaction with the Battamariba. Our (Togolese) guide claimed that there were differences in culture between Tamberma and Somba but we were never able to obtain a clear explanation of these. If our experience in Benin of walking well away from the road is valid for Togo as well then you should try to arrange such a trip. But, whatever you do, your visit will not be “impactless” (both good and bad) on these people and you will have to come to terms “morally” with this.
A local guide with appropriate knowledge, contacts and language is absolutely essential but I can give no advice on how best to choose one who will do his best to ensure as little “exploitation” as possible – guides of unknown (and no doubt variable) quality can certainly be obtained locally. We travelled with an apparently reputable Togolese travel company (TransAfrica) and felt that the visits to the houses were conducted responsibly with a reasonable recompense to the families which didn’t distort the local economy too much and with a sensitivity to the Battamariba as human beings.
Entrance to the “park” is only around 2 euro. At the entrance hut I obtained a fine 36 page colour booklet (in French) produced by CRATerre (ISBN 2-906901-39-3) with explanations of Battamariba history, religion, social organisation, farming practices and, above all the layout, construction and “meaning” of the multi-roomed houses. However good your guide might be there is just so much to take in and you will need a reference for later - but I got the last one!!
PS. This entire booklet is available for download as a PDF
I lived in this area for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It is truly an amazing people and an amazing cultural experience. The architecture is phenomenal and a prideful part of their lives. There is not a lot of infrastructure develped for tourists. So visitors need to be aware of that and accomodating. Organization for toursits can also be confusing as there is currently no good set up of finding a guide, renting a car, lodging, etc. Try and make sure who you are paying is really a local person and be respectful of the community. There have been some negative effects of tourism already. Children chase cars and people beg for gifts. Don't give out gifts. But always ask before taking photographs and pay them if they ask for money or give them some other small gift.
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