Saturday, August 14, 2021

Comments & Excerpts About The Guin / Mina People & Languages Of Togo And Benin, West Africa

Edited by Azizi Powell 

This pancocojams post presents some comments from a pancocojams post's discussion thread and from an email that was sent to me about the Guin/Mina people and languages of Togo and Benin, West Africa..

This pancocojams post also presents a brief overview of the West African nation of Togo and the West African nation of Benin. This post also presents several articles/journal excerpts about the history and present information about the Guin/Mina people of Togo and Benin, West Africa.

The content of this post is presented for historical and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

"Togo..., officially the Togolese Republic (French: République togolaise), is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Ghana to the west, Benin to the east and Burkina Faso to the north.[7] The country extends south to the Gulf of Guinea, where its capital and largest city Lomé is located.[8] Togo covers 57,000 square kilometres (22,008 square miles), making it one of the smallest countries in Africa, with a population of approximately 8 million,[9] as well as one of the narrowest countries in the world with a width of less than 115 km (71 mi) between Ghana and its slightly larger eastern neighbor, Benin.[10][11]

From the 11th to the 16th century, various tribes entered the region from all directions. From the 16th century to the 18th century, the coastal region was a major trading center for Europeans to purchase slaves, earning Togo and the surrounding region the name "The Slave Coast". In 1884, Germany declared a region including present-day Togo as a protectorate called Togoland. After World War I, rule over Togo was transferred to France. Togo gained its independence from France in 1960.[12][2] In 1967, Gnassingbé Eyadéma led a successful military coup d'état after which he became president of an anti-communist, single-party state. Eventually, in 1993, Eyadéma faced multiparty elections, which were marred by irregularities, and he won the presidency three times. At the time of his death, Eyadéma was the longest-serving leader in modern African history, having been president for 38 years.[13] In 2005, his son Faure Gnassingbé was elected president. He continues to hold the office as of 2021."...

"Benin..., officially the Republic of Benin (French: République du Bénin) (formerly known as Dahomey), is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, Burkina Faso to the north-west, and Niger to the north-east. The majority of its population lives on the small southern coastline of the Bight of Benin, part of the Gulf of Guinea in the northernmost tropical portion of the Atlantic Ocean.[9] The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo, but the seat of government is in Cotonou, the country's largest city and economic capital. Benin covers an area of 114,763 square kilometres (44,310 sq mi)[3] and its population in 2018 was estimated to be approximately 11.49 million.[10][11] Benin is a tropical nation, highly dependent on agriculture, and is a large exporter of cotton and palm oil. Substantial employment and income arise from subsistence farming.[12]

The official language of Benin is French, with several indigenous languages such as Fon, Bariba, Yoruba and Dendi also being commonly spoken.


Little is known of Benin's early history. From the 17th to the 19th century, the main political entities in the area were the Kingdom of Dahomey, along with the city-state of Porto-Novo, and a large area with many different nations to the north. This region was referred to as the Slave Coast from as early as the 17th century due to the large number of people who were kidnapped and trafficked to the New World during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. After slavery was abolished, France took over the country and renamed it French Dahomey. In 1960, Dahomey gained full independence from France. The sovereign state has had a tumultuous history since then, with many different democratic governments, military coups, and military governments. A Marxist–Leninist state called the People's Republic of Benin existed between 1975 and 1990. In 1991, it was replaced by the current multi-party Republic of Benin.[14]"...

These comments were posted by an anonymous contributor in the discussion thread for this 2021 pancocojams post entitled " "Yevu" And "Obroni" (Ghanaian Referents For White People And For Foreigners, Including Black People Who Were Weren't Born & Raised In Ghana)"

(Numbers are added for referencing purposes only)

AnonymousAugust 6, 2021 at 5:31 AM
"In Togo and Benin where Mina(some sort of creole language mainly derived from Ewe) is spoken, "Yevu" is pronounced "Yovo", and a common custom by kids in both countries is to say "Yovo, yovo bonsoir!"(White person, white person, good evening!" when they see a white person.

Historically the full song was part of the colonial period. French missionaries arrived bearing gifts as means to attract and win over support of the communities."

Azizi Powell, August 6, 2021 at 7:02 AM
"Thanks, Anonymous for sharing that historical and contemporary information about the Creole language Mina in Togo and Benin/

 Also, thanks for sharing information about the Mina* word "Yovo" as a referent for White person. Is "Yovo: also used to refer to Black people who aren't from Togo (or Benin) the way that "Obroni" has been used?

 Best wishes!"
*I corrected my spelling error in this quote.

Anonymous, August 6, 2021 at 3:19 PM
"There are a people in Togo, specifically the town of Aneho, called the "Guin". They come from Ghana but migrated in Togo centuries ago. Their ancestors were Ga and Fante. After a while, their ancestors mixed with local Aja & Ewe and adopted a lot of their culture. Pure Ga is still spoken by some Guin in Togo, and that's what we call "Guin-gbe", or language of the Guin.

Mina is a language derived mainly from Ewe but that also got Aja, Ga, English, and French influences in it. That's why I said it's a creole, similar to how Lingala in Congo is a creole. It's called Mina because some of the ancestors of the "Guin", of Aneho people, were Fante traders from ElMINA in Ghana.

Mina became a lingua-franca in Southern Togo and Benin, because it was mutually intelligible with Ewe/Aja and other "Gbe" languages, and easily learned. It was useful for trade in the region and still is.

While Mina is derived mainly from Ewe, you can still find Ga words in Mina because of the Ga origins of the Guin. An example is "kakla", which means knife. It's not an Ewe word but people in Togo and Benin who speak Mina and are not Guin use it all the time.

As for Yovo, yes Westernized blacks can sometimes be called "Yovo" if they have foreign mannerisms. Mixed people are also called Yovo."
I posted another comment to that discussion thread giving Anonymous my email address and suggested that he or she write me there. Here's a portion of the subsequent email that I received: 
..."It's going to be hard finding resources on Togo, the Guin etc... in English. Can you read French?

Here is some content that can help you if you can understand French :


She [The vlogger of the above cited videos] uses the first two tomes of a serie of books by the historian Gayibor Nicoue called "Histoire des Togolais" as a source.
Specifically the chapter 23 of the tome 2 of the book, parts of which are available on google books :

There is some info in the first tome too, which is fully available online for free. I can translate a short part of the book that briefly talks about the Guin:
"The Guin/Mina: the first arrived from the Ga kingdom of Accra, from which they had been driven by wars in the second half of the seventeenth century. They were soon reinforced by the arrival of the second group, the Fanti of Elmina. Today the two groups have merged indissolubly. They can be found on the coastal strip, from Lomé to Aného, as well as in Glidji, from where they have spread to Anfoin and Aklakou. Their early contacts with the Europeans made them renowned traders and privileged auxiliaries of colonization, and they were educated very early on." "...

[These excerpts are numbered for referencing purposes only.]
Excerpt #1

"Not to be confused with Mina language (Cameroon).

Gen (also called Gɛ̃, Gɛn gbe, Gebe, Guin, Mina, Mina-Gen, and Popo) is a Gbe language spoken in the southeast of Togo in the Maritime Region. Like the other Gbe languages, Gen is a tonal language.

There were 200,000 Gen-speakers in Togo in 1991, and 130,000 in Benin in 2006.[1]"

Excerpt #2
From Ewe and Fon
" "Ewe" is the umbrella name for a number of groups that speak dialects of the same language and have separate local names, such as Anlo, Abutia, Be, Kpelle, and Ho. (These are not subnations but populations of towns or small regions.) Closely related groups with slightly different mutually comprehensible languages and cultures may be grouped with Ewe, notably Adja, Oatchi, and Peda. 

Fon and Ewe people are often considered to belong to the same, larger grouping, although their related languages are mutually incomprehensible. All these peoples are said to have originated in the general area of Tado, a town in present-day Togo, at about the same latitude as Abomey, Benin. 

Mina and Guin are the descendants of Fanti and Ga people who left the Gold Coast in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, settling in the Aneho and Glidji areas, where they intermarried with Ewe, Oatchi, Peda, and Adja. 

The Guin-Mina and Ewe languages are mutually comprehensible, although there are significant structural and lexical differences.


Mina are the Fante-Ane from Elmina who founded Aneho, and Guin are the Ga immigrants from Accra who occupied the plain between Lake Gbaga and the Mono River. They encountered there the Xwla or Peda people (whom the Portuguese of the fifteenth century named "Popo"), whose language also overlaps with the Ewe language.

The coastal areas of Benin, Togo, and southeastern Ghana are flat, with numerous palm groves. Just north of the beach areas is a string of lagoons, navigable in some areas. An undulating plain lies behind the lagoons, with a soil of red laterite and sand. The southern parts of the Akwapim ridge in Ghana, about 120 kilometers from the coast, are forested and reach an elevation of about 750 meters."....
I reformatted this excerpt to enhance its readability.

Excerpt #3

Ethnicities of Enslaved Africans in the Diaspora: On the Meanings of “Mina”  (Again)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 May 2014

Robin Law


The term “Mina,” when encountered as an ethnic designation of enslaved Africans in the Americas in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, has commonly been interpreted as referring to persons brought from the area of the “Gold Coast” (“Costa da Mina” in Portuguese usage), corresponding roughly to modern Ghana, who are further commonly presumed to have been mainly speakers of the Akan languages (Fante, Twi, etc.) dominant on that section of the coast and its immediate hinterland. In a recently published paper, however, Gwendolyn Hall has questioned this conventional interpretation, and suggested instead that most of those called “Mina” in the Americas were actually from the “Slave Coast” to the east (modern southeastern Ghana, Togo, and Bénin), and hence speakers of the languages nowadays generally termed “Gbe” (though formerly more commonly “Ewe”), including Ewe, Adja, and Fon. Given the numerical strength of the “Mina” presence in the Americas, as Hall rightly notes, this revision would substantially alter our understanding of ethnic formation in the Americas.

In further discussion of these issues, this paper considers in greater detail than was possible in Hall's treatment: first, the application of the name “Mina” in European usage on the West African coast itself, and second, the range of meanings attached to it in the Americas. This separation of African and American data, it should be stressed, is adopted only for convenience of exposition, since it is very likely that ethnic terminology on the two sides of the Atlantic in fact evolved in a process of mutual interaction. In particular, the settlement of large numbers of returned exslaves from Brazil on the Slave Coast from the 1830s onwards very probably fed Brazilian usage back into west Africa, as I have argued earlier with respect to the use of the name “Nago” as a generic term for the Yoruba-speaking peoples."



2. "Law, Robin, “Ethnicity and the Slave Trade: ‘Lucumi’ and ‘Nago’ as Ethnonyms in West Africa,” HA 24(1997), 205–19Google Scholar; for the argument that the generic use of “Nago” in West Africa represents feedback from Brazil, see ibid., 212-15."

3. "An interesting question, which however cannot be pursued here, is whether/how far European usage in the Americas distinguished between the Akan and Ga-Adangme language groups. The English in the late seventeenth century did distinguish between “Cormantine” or “Gold Coast” slaves and the “Allampo,” i.e., Adangme, the former being much preferred: Phillips, Thomas, “A Journal of a Voyage made in the Hannibal of London” in Churchill, Awnsham and Churchill, John, comps., Collection of Voyages and Travels (6 vols.: London, 1732), 6:214Google Scholar; Law, Robin, ed., The English in West Africa 1685-1688: The Local Correspondence of the Royal African Company of Englan,d 1681-1699, Part 2 (London, 2001), 415Google Scholar (doc. 973: Edwyn Steede and Stephen Gascoigne, Barbados, 12 May 1686). But the distinction seems to have been lost in later English usage, and to be altogether absent in that of other European nations, which referred generically to “Mina” slaves."


24. "Local tradition in fact generally states that the Minas arrived at Little Popo only after the foundation of Glidji by the Accra settlers. But given the contemporary evidence for the existence of Little Popo already in the 1650s, this is probably a fiction intended to legitimize the authority of the Glidji kings over the coastal town.

A force from Little Popo which raided Ouidah in 1728, although reported in an English source as comprising “Accras” with other allied peoples, was described in a French source as “les Minois du Petit Popo:” Archives Nationales, Section d'Outre-Mer, Aix-en-Provence, C6/25, Du Petitval, 4 October 1728; cf. Law, , Slave Coast, 289 Google Scholar."


30. "This is suggested by the fact that they called the language of Dahomey and Porto-Novo “Djedje” (or “Gegi,” etc.), i.e., “Jeje,” a term which although current in Brazil already in the eighteenth century had not (to the best of my knowledge) previously been recorded in West Africa: see also Matory, J. Lorand, “The Trans-Atlantic Nation: Reconsidering Nations and Transnationalism,” paper presented at the conference on “Rethinking the African Diaspora: The Making of a Black Atlantic World in the Bight of Benin and Brazil,” Emory University, Atlanta, April 1998Google Scholar."


32. "A later account by another member of the mission noted explicitly that Grand-Popo, by its language and culture, did not belong among the “Minas,” but rather among the “Djedjes:” Bouche, Pierre, “Notes sur les républiques minas de la Côte des Esclaves,” Bulletin de la Société de la Géographie, 6/10 (1875), 93–100Google Scholar."


50. "Peixoto, António da Costa, Obra Nova de Língua Geral de Mina, ed. Silveira, Luís and Lopes, Edmundo Correia (Lisbon, 1945)Google Scholar; modern edition, de Castro, Yeda Pessoa, ed., A Língua Mina-Jeje no Brasil: um falar Africano em Ouro Preto do século XVIII (Minas Gerais, 2002)Google Scholar. For analysis see Yai, Olabiyi, “Texts of Enslavement: Fon and Yoruba Vocabularies from Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Brazil” in Lovejoy, Paul E., ed., Identity in the Shadow of Slavery (London, 2000), 102–12 Google Scholar."

51. "And providing the first documentation of this ethnonym, which is not attested in West Africa itself before the nineteenth century. The vocabulary also gives “Gamthòmè” for “as minas [the Minas].” This is interpreted by the editor Yeda Pessoa de Castro as Gentome, “Gen country,” i.e., Little Popo, but it seems more likely to refer to Minas Gerais in Brazil than to the “Minas” in Africa, perhaps from gan, “metal.”


Type: Research Article

Information: History in Africa , Volume 32 , 2005 , pp. 247 - 267

DOI: [Opens in a new window]

Copyright: Copyright © African Studies Association 2005

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