The Ewe people, called nanchon Yewe in Creole, lived on the coast of Dahomey. Today, most of the territory of the former Kingdom of Dahomey lies in the country Benin. Portions of this old kingdom are also in Togo and Nigeria. In the Americas, the Ewe people are best known for their Kingdom Whydah (Wida in Creole) and for the Whydah Bird also pronounced as the widow Bird. In Haiti, the Ewe-Dahomean city of Velekete is often talked about in various songs. The Ewe people called the commercial center of their Kingdom, Glewou. The political capital was Savi. As Glewou grew in importance, the outside world referred to it as the city of Wida. The Ewe people were proud of their kingdom and they would never forget their kingdom and this gave rise to the Haitian expresion Adye Wida. This expression is used to mean that something is as impossible as forgetting Wida. It is the Ewe people, as well as the people in the area surrounding Wida, who took to Haiti the belief in Danbala, Ayida, Ayizan, Sobo, Bade, Èzili, Loko and Agwe. As a results, these spirits are known in Haiti as Dahomean spirits.
Glewou is about 4 kilometers from the beach and has multiple rivers linking the coast to the city. The location of the city was selected for its fertile land. The name Glewou itself means farmhouse. Homes in Whydah were widely separated by large patches of cultivated land to keep fires from spreading from one home to another. The rivers produced lots of fish and fishing was widely practiced. As in Haiti, men did the fishing and women took the catch to market. Even the manner in which Haitian people fish using traps made of banbou strips is influenced by the Ewe people.
The neighboring Nago people called the city of Glewou, Gelefe. As a result, one Vodou song speaks of people coming to Haiti from Gelefe: Mwen soti lan peyi Gelefe, Tou sele avèk lwa lan tèt mwen la, M ape mande sa ka resevwa mwen. M pa moun isit o, Sa ka resevwa mwen la. Indeed, of the 10 million people who came to the Americas from Africa, it is estimated that 1 million came through the Port of Whydah. One Ewe word for Ancestor is Dantan and one Vodou song proclaims Ewe Ancestors to be among the Lwas served in Haiti: Lwa rele Lwa, Dantan Yewe.
During the commerce of people as slaves, the majority of people taken from Wida were taken to Brazil and to Haiti. As a result, Haitian culture has been deeply influenced by the religious beliefs of the Ewe people. Ayizan is not only a spirit served among the Ewe people but it was also the name of one of their kings (Ayizan 1703-1708). Ayizan is the patron spirit of the market place of the Ewe city of Velekete. In Haiti we commonly sing about Ayizan being from Velekete. One song states: Ayizan Velekete, Imamou Se Gwe lo, Rele Ayizan do Yewe. This song says: Ayizan of Velekete, Is a priestess with wisdom, Call upon Ayizan of the Ewe people.
Today, it may be safe to say that the religious fever of the Haitian people is certainly in part from the Ewe people. In 1772, the city of Glewou had an estimated population of 8000. This small city had about 100 temples. Nowadays, some small Haitian communities have just as many Vodou Temples and Christian Churches. This testifies for the fact that the Haitian community is as passionately religious as their Ewe Ancestors.
Danbala and Ayida Wedo are also spirits served by the Ewe people. The link between the people of Ewe, their city of Glewou and their religious service to Danbala is remembered in this song: Sa m a di Glewou, sa ma di yo, e a Glewou, Danbala Wedo, e gade honfò a meaning What shall I say to the people of Glewou, What shall I say to them, To the people of Glewou, Keep watch of, Danbala Wedo’s Temple. Of all the Haitian spirits the one best known for the Kingdom of Wida is Èzili Freda. In fact, Freda was the title used for prince and princess in Wida. During the 17th century it was common for the Dutch to call the Kingdom of Wida, Freda. Èzili’s origins is recognized in her more complete name, Èzili Freda Dahomey.
Political events in the small city of Glewou had a huge influence on the people of Haiti. European traders liked doing business in Wida. In 1703 King Ayizan declared Wida to be a neutral territory and even during times of European wars, European Nationals could not bring their discords to Wida. The French, the British, the Portuguese all had their stations built in Wida. As a result, the commerce of people as slaves thrived in Wida. The British quarters was in Sobaji a place that was formerly named for So, the patron spirit of lightning whose name is short for Sobo. Before becoming the British Quarters, Sobadji was the place where people who died after being struck by lightning were buried. The connection between Sobaji and Sobo is recalled in the Vodou song: De wa kou lele, imako miwa, Sobaji Sobo kou lele, Imako miwa. (See the book Remembrance or Sevis Ginen for a more thorough interpretation of this song).
During King Huffon’s reign in march of 1727, Kadya Bosou, the King of Dahomey, invaded the Kingdom of Wida to gain access to this port city which had a bustling market of African goods like palm wine, gold, fish as well as that of people as slaves. Prices in that market were not set by supply and demand but rather by public officials. This appears to have been done in much the same way that the Haitian government sets the price of public transportation and of other goods on the Haitian market. Corrie shells were used as currency and the number of corrie shells needed to buy a person as slave was called one cabess, the Portuguese word for head. Today in Haiti, when playing dominos, the term two cabess is used to mean two heads. Furthermore, when we purchase something pricey we still say it was as costly as a persons head- tèt Nèg.
In Haiti people are most familiar with the Ewe kingdom of Wida in the statement Adye Wida. This statement is used to mean that one will dare not forget Wida. Indeed the people of Wida could never forget their kingdom. This expression may have emerged after Kadya Bosou’s invasion of Wida on march 9th, 1727. The invasion resulted in the Ewe King Houfon fleing from the Kingdom to take refuge on a nearby island. Under the leadership of one of the Kingdom’s Yovogan, a person in charge of monitoring the activity of European nationals, some Ewe forces fled to Gran Popo. These Ewe forces repeatedly attack Glewou in an effort to regain control of the Kingdom. Following the death of Kadya Bosou in 1743, his son Bosou Ashade took office and his administration also had to struggle to control the conquered kingdom of Wida. These wars and efforts to regain control of Glewou and of the Kingdom of Wida continued until 1795. However, rumors of impending attacks continued until 1803 and the Dahomean army had to respond constantly to these rumors.
The Africans taken to Haiti brought news of events occuring back home in Ginen. The Ewe people certainly brought news of their resistance. They fought for nearly 80 years, the people of Wida, in exile, held out hope that Wida would one day be ruled by them again. While only those in exile communities surrounding Wida could attempt to regain the kingdom, those taken to Haiti could take solace that their countrymen in Africa never gave up on regaining Wida.