African Archaeological Review

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 43–78 | Cite as

The Hammers of Mawu: Ironworking Traditions in the Togo Hills, Ghana

Recent Iron Age (seventeenth to twentieth centuries), Ghana, West Africa
  • Len Michael PoleEmail author
Original Article


This paper examines ironworking practices and traditions among the Mawu (Akpafu) and Lolobi communities of the northern Volta Region of Ghana. It compares them with other accounts gathered from published sources and observations made during fieldwork conducted in the 1970s. It describes the processes of mining, smelting, and tool manufacturing from reconstructions and oral histories and delineates the transformations that have been worked on the content of the tradition in the past 100 years. The narratives of the migrations of the Mawu, gleaned from their own elders, from ground surface evidence, and from written reports are considered in the context of archaeological and historical evidence from other parts of southern Ghana. The conventional picture of the movement of the Mawu/Lolobi communities is one of displacement by incoming groups, but the conclusion that they have been pushed within the past 150 years into the very district containing the greatest concentration of iron-rich deposits in this whole mountain area is given critical examination. It is likely that the Togo hills have been the site of ironworking for several centuries. It is, therefore, suggested that these communities may represent the distillation of a formerly more widespread set of such communities which existed wherever iron ore was to be found in southeast Ghana.


Ironworking Ghana Iron age Oral tradition Technology Ethno-history 


Ce document examine les procédures et les traditions de l’industrie de fer parmi les communautés de Mawu (Akpafu) et de Lolobi dans le nord de la Region Volta au Ghana. Il les compare avec d’autres récits obtenus de publications et d’observations collectées lors de travaux de recherche effectués dans les années 70. Il décrit les processus d’exploitation minière, de fonte, et de fabrication d’outils, a partir de reconstitutions et de traditions orales. Il retrace également les changements qui ont êté effectués sur le contenu de la tradition ces 100 dernières années. Les récits de migrations des Mawu, obtenus à partir de leurs anciens, des témoignages et des rapports ecrits ont êté considérés dans le cadre d’évidences archéologiques et historiques provenant d’autres regions du sud du Ghana. L’image conventionnelle du mouvement des populations Mawu/Lolobi est une image d’un déplacement causé par les groupes entrants, mais la conclusion que ces populations ont êté poussées, ces 150 dernières annees, dans ce secteur montagneux contenant la plus grande concentration de dépôts riches en fer, est examinée avec un oeil critique. Il est probable que les collines du Togo ont êté un site d’extraction du fer pour plusieurs siecles. Ainsi, il est suggeré que ces communautés représentent la distillation d’un groupe auparavant plus étendu de les mêmes communautés, ce qui existaient à ces endroits où les minerais de fer pouvaient être trouvés dans le sud-est de Ghana.



This paper was originally prepared for publication in 1983, having been first presented at the 1982 meeting of African Archaeologists in UK in Cambridge. This paper in itself included discussion of issues which were first put together as a fieldwork report, in 1973. In revising for publication now, I am emboldened by the example of Thurston Shaw who eventually wrote up his 1938 excavation of an iron-smelting furnace in Achimota, just outside Accra, a little more than 30 years later (Shaw 1969). In the need to take account of work published in the years since 1983, I have benefited from discussions with Mark Dingemanse on linguistic matters, but I am not aware of any recent archaeological investigations which significantly affect the detailed history of this part of Ghana in the period between 1500 and 1800 or so. I realize that it may be equivalent to skating on thin ice to apply this statement to areas of endeavor in which I am not expert, but I am encouraged by the overview of Kense & Okoro (1993) and others. I also wish to acknowledge the usefulness of comments received from Merrick Posnansky and Kodzo Gavua. I would also like to thank Mary Knight and Rachel Lee, respectively, for their help with German and French translations.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.World Cultures CollectionsSaffron WaldenUK

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