The Koutammakou landscape in north-eastern Togo, which extends into neighboring Benin, is home to the Batammariba whose remarkable mud tower-houses (Takienta) have come to be seen as a symbol of Togo.
In this landscape, nature is strongly associated with the rituals and beliefs of society. The 50,000-hectare cultural landscape is remarkable due to the architecture of its tower-houses, which are a reflection of social structure; its farmland and forest; and the associations between people and landscape.
Many of the buildings have two-story and those with granaries feature an almost spherical form above a cylindrical base. Some of the buildings have flat roofs, others have conical thatched roofs.
They are grouped in villages, which also include ceremonial spaces, springs, rocks, and sites reserved for initiation ceremonies. The houses are built during the dry season and consist of packed dirt which, once caked, becomes as hard stone.
It can take one season to built a house and it is built in successive layers, giving it a rigged texture. The door to the inside of the tata is always located on the west side of the structure as, in this region, strong winds are coming from the east and it is said that it is also from the east that evil spirits are coming.
Above the house are some trinkets which show the occupation of the family. For example, cow herders will have cow skulls above their porch. The entrance leads into a room used for the preparation of certain grains, with a stone used for grinding placed on a counter.
There is also a hole on the ground which is used as a mortar to grind fonio, the African couscous. At night, chickens come back into the safety of the house by themselves. There is also a room where the livestock is kept at night.
Being like a real fortress, the Tata is built to house the animals and its inhabitants away from weather as well as invaders. There is a hearth as well as a rock bed in this room.
The smoke produced by the hearth treats the wood that is used to make the ceiling, making it more resistant to termites. The rock bed is used by elders who might not be able to climb up to a room on the roof or, in time of war, as accommodation for the family while the Tata is turned as a shelter.
The chicken coop is right by this bed so the inhabitants can reach the coop from the bed, it also provides them with a natural alarm clock in the morning.
There is an indoor kitchen as the last room of the ground level, this kitchen is used in case of bad weather, but, since it warms the house quite a lot, in times of warm weather, the outdoor kitchen on the roof is preferred.
To access the roof, the inhabitants take the ladder located inside the house. On the roof is located in a second kitchen. There is also a small hole in the wall to evacuate water, as the dishes are washed.
The rooms are upstairs. There is a bedroom for the man, a bedroom for the woman and the infants, and finally a room for the children. The rooms have a small sliding door and people enter them crawling, inside, you’ll find a bed and some other very interesting things such as a small personal hearth to keep warm during cold days, baskets for personal objects, and so on.
In the woman’s room, a small bowl is carved in the ground, which is for infants to relieve themselves without having to leave the room and go outside.
Tata houses are currently endangered, as are most African traditional housing, as the younger generation finds it annoying to have to renovate their houses every three years and sometimes every year in case of termites. Tatas are thus often abandoned and cement or brick houses are built in their stead.
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