40th Session of Unesco Heritage – Istanbul: THE ETHIC VALUES OF KOUTAMMAKOU (By Dominique Sewane)


Professor Dominique Sewane (dressed in white clothes) among other invited guests to the 40th Session of World heritage committee in Istanbul, Turkey.Professor Dominique Sewane (dressed in white clothes) among other invited guests to the 40th Session of World heritage committee in Istanbul, Turkey.


By Dominique Sewane


I would like to thank Professor Yonka Kösebay Ercan and Kadir Has University for inviting me to this important event.


I would like to insist on the ethical and spiritual values that underlie  the site Koutammakou, situated in the North-East of Togo, in the Atakora valley and mountains, spreading over the border into Benin. These values contribute to the balance between human and Nature. I propose to know better about these values and to take them into account  to preserve the sustainability of  the site. Why not to learn from the example of Koutammakou or other similar sites,  for the organization of our environment ? That will be my second proposal.


Dominique sewane PHOTO 3


Koutammakou received  two opportunities :


In 2004, it was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2004, as « Cultural Living Landscape » : the land of  the Batammariba people is a remarkable example of a traditional settlement system that is still thriving and dynamic and in which rituals, traditions and intangible cultural heritage expressions are closely associated with nature.


In 2008, the actions of Safeguarding of the Cultural Intangible Heritage of Batammariba, from the 2003 Convention, wanted to complete the inscription to World Heritage. The goal was to promote sustainability in Intergenerational transmission and preservation of skills and knowledge in all the essential areas of their culture, such as :

– manufacture of everyday and ceremonial objects

– traditional healing and useful plants

– takyentas construction

– dance, music, archery

– oral traditions

-overall, Teaching the ditammari, language of Batammariba in primary schools and education of youth in the intangible cultural heritage : distribution of texbooks

– Promotion of tourism respecting local traditions,values and mapping sacred areas

– Accumulation of data on the intangible cultural heritage and creation of access to it, recordings, films and photos….

These two Programs  would never have been established without the participation of Mr. Koichiro Matsuura,  then Director General of Unesco and  also, especially regarding the second Program, ,Mister Rieks Smeets, then Chief of the Department of World Intangible Cultural Heritage. Of course, for the second Program,  we thank very much «  Japan funds-in-trust-for the preservation and promotion  of Intangible Heritage « .


Koutammakou is currently protected … Probably too much. The danger is that the site  would become a living museum or a beautiful garden to photograph, despite the two programs, which probably have not been attentive enough to the depth of thought and ethics that are the basis of the exceptional preservation of Koutammakou.


Dominique sewane PHOTO 2




First :  They refuse to enslave and to be enslaved. Humans, animals and plants are concerned.

Their culture is based on a social organization that maintains a strict hierarchy between elders and youngsters (as in all African societies) but oppose any form of centralized power, rejecting hereditary chieftains.


Second : Link to the Land


The Batammariba are more defined by the way they are linked to the soil they inhabit rather than just the space they occupy and that can be called as “their territory”. Therefore, they don’t see themselves as owners of a land but more as simple administrators of said land.

They have a responsibility to maintain its integrity for the sake of future generations. I insist on this word, very important for them : responsability.


In general,  Batammariba consider that no human can claim to be the owner of the land that feeds him.

They insist : the real masters of the earth are the ground forces or underground energies.


When arriving in the Atakora in XVIIIe s,  their ancestors found the Babietiba, a side branch of the Waba, natives from Benin specialized in metallurgy.  Not only did the Babietiba welcomed them peacefully, but it is by dint of their meeting that the ancestors were allowed to inhabit the region.  The Babietiba then introduced them to the “true owners of the region”: underground forces incarnates into a source such as a rock or a tree. They concluded an alliance with these forces, swearing they would respect some agricultural rules and respect  the pieces of land that belonged to these forces.

In exchange of what, the ancestors where allowed to build houses, to harvest the soil.

Initiations of rituals are meetings with underground forces. For instance the initiation ritual for young virgin boys,  led  to the sanctuary of an underground  female snake, which symbolizes the wet element of the soil, essential to the life of plants, animals, humans.

Nowadays, the Batammariba give the same importance to their initiatic and funeral rituals

When we talk about “Harmony” or “beauty” in the Koutoummakou we are referring to the ancient bond with the forces of nature.


To summarize, according to Batammariba, a land can be habited  by different occupants, by different nationalities . The duty of the precedents occupants  is to receive newcomers as guests to present them to the true masters, these subterrain forces, to whom they claim their allegiance with a promise :  following their agricultural rules and preservation of certain places. Otherwise, these forces require them to leave.


2  – Second point of « way of beeing » of Batammariba  : the transmission of ancestors wisdom.


The notion of responsablity is fundamental for Batammaribas.

As Buddhists, they think that every act, every word will have long term consequences, good or bad. Also, a specialist of a knowledge should not be mistaken in choosing his future disciple, who must have these qualities : bravery, memory, discretion. He must refuse to do harm to  the other, refuse to kill  the other, even if he is threaten of death .


First  conclusion :


For Batamaribas, any place where they decide to stay will become a new Koutammakou,  if they have the opportunity to forge an alliance with the forces of the earth and to preserve the memory of their ancestors.


Second conclusion :


We must remember that the Koutammakou reflects a very ancient African culture, which has ties to  Egypt, Nubia, and perhaps India, as suggested by Teiga Boni,  researcher of Benin, director of the new IRDOC – Atakora, which includes linguists, historians, archaeologists in the region.


The Koutammakou is not  the testimony of a bygone era.  The lifestyle of the land can bring us the keys to make our planet sustainable and inhabitable for a long time, both materially and spiritually.

It is important to know these thoughts in depth, so that we do not consider it as a relic of the  past, but as an example to follow today.

Sustainability does not mean rigidity. « Memory is constantly reinvented », said Nathan Wachtel. Each generation appropriates its traditions in so far as these are sources of inspiration and stimulate its creative forces, resulting in great achievements. This is a living memory, constantly changing, on which no authority can exercise control.


Over the last 8 years the Unesco Chair « Influence of African Thought – Preservation of African Culture » created in 2006, under the aegis of Mister Matsuura has supported studies in these specialities. The Chair is fortunate to have the support of « Shumei International » and Miho Museum.




The depth of thought of a people, always linked to an ethic, is inseparable from the way that people organize and manage their space. Humanely, expressing elevation and beauty, inhuman, generating confusion and violence.

I propose


One :

– to intensify research in agronomy, archeology, history, linguistics

Second : 

– to encourage the creation of protected places with new forms of management based upon the example of people like the Batammaribas.


Now, the projects of Shumei Natural international in Africa,  Madagascar and Turkey : Farming and eating are the mediums for learning that approach to life. Miho museum, spiritual center and splendid musee near Kyoto, is of a serene beauty rarely seen and so well integrated in the surrounding nature.


Sustainability does not mean rigidity.  Memory is constantly reinvented. Each generation appropriates its traditions insofar as these are sources of inspiration and stimulate its creative forces, resulting in great achievements.

The project ‘Integration of a sustainable development perspective into the processes of the World Heritage Convention » is an important opportunity.



By Dominique Sewane

Holder of the Unesco Chair :




University of Lomé (Togo)