When I first arrived in Togo in September 2009 to begin my Peace Corps service in that country as a Girls’ Education and Empowerment volunteer, the other trainees and I stayed in Tsévié, a town twenty miles north of the capital, Lomé. Unlike the Northern, Lamba town of Kanté that would become my home for the next two years, Tsévié was inhabited mostly by Ewe people. On a couple of occasions, I woke up early and accompanied my host sister Catholic mass, which was a sweltering, and also, surprisingly rhythmic event, with plenty of singing and drumming. In my journal after one of these visits I wrote:
Even though the walls were partially open to the air, it became so hot in there that I nearly passed out—probably a combination of the heat, the uncomfortable backless wooden benches, the early hour (started at 6am), and the length of the mass (wasn’t over until after 8:30). When the priest came down the aisle after baptizing a baby, flinging a sponge on a string that he kept dipping into a bucket of water, I really said, “Praise God!” It was so nice to feel a few drops of water on my skin. Unlike probably any Catholic mass in the US, this one was accompanied by drumming, and when we filed around the pews on two separate occasions to drop an offering of small change into a basket, the way hips and shoulders were dipping into the music, it was almost as if we were doing a line dance at a wedding.
I rediscovered some audio recordings I made during one of these masses, and am making them available to listen to on YouTube.
According to the Archdiocese of Lomé website, the first missionaries founded the Church in Togo in 1892. The Togolese practice a mix of religions, with animism still strong, but Catholics representing about 25% of inhabitants. I would also attend a few Catholic services with friends and host family members in the North of the country in Kanté, where there was also much drumming and dancing involved, but the people there being of the Lamba ethnicity, the sound and flavor there was distinct. This picture was taken about 2am after the (also sweltering hot) Easter Eve midnight mass that included the baptism of my 22-year-old host brother: