The University of Iowa University of Iowa


Types of Art

Kabre art forms are usually tied to initiation and also include a rich musical tradition.


Population buildup in the mountainous area of northern Togo, where Kabre live today, occurred during the 17th and 18th centuries in response to the slave raiding practices of the northern kingdoms of Malprussi, Dagomba, Mossi, and Bariba. In an effort to escape these militaristic states, people fled southward into the mountain region, which was more difficult to attack. Despite these efforts, Kabre peoples were still caught up in regional slave trade. Located, as they are, so close to the Asante and Dahomey kingdoms, both of which sold slaves directly to European merchants, the Kabre supplied slaves to these and other powerful centralized states. Perhaps in an effort to maintain societal stability, Kabre sold their own kin into slavery, rather than suffer the consequences of slave raids.


Kabre economy centers around what is known as presentational gift giving. This means that most surplus is given away to other community members in an effort to foster social ties, which in time may lead to intermarriage and familial ties. Crops in the region include yams, millet, and peanuts. Sorghum is grown largely for use in local beer production. Although markets do exist in Kabre land, economic exchange is rooted in practices of bartering, where something is exchanged for something of equal value, rather than exchanged for cash, which can be used to buy things produced outside of the local economy.

Political Systems

Stability in Kabre society is maintained through complex levels of gift giving and exchange. Historically, Kabre land was uncentralized, and on occasion tribute was demanded by their centralized neighbors. Families do own land, but often this land is lent out to others in order to establish gift giving ties, and products which grow naturally on fallow land are not considered the property of the owner. Political ties are cemented through marriage between two families, which usually occurs only after years of gift exchange and ikpanture, the formation of lifelong ties between individuals. What begins as lower level exchanges involving yams and sorghum, may eventually lead to the exchange of meat and beer and eventually to the exchange of women between families.


Kabre recognize the role the ancestors played in the formation of society. They are remembered as previous owners of the land and are thanked annually for the contribution they made to the development of agriculture in the area. Ancestors are remembered for the work they put into making the fields. A portion of each year's crops is set aside for the ancestors and offered to them as an expression of gratitude. Kabre believe in witchcraft and further believe that a witch receives money in exchange for eating an individual. Given the relative disdain for cash exchanges outlined above, it is possible to imagine why witches, symbolically charged with representing what is unacceptable to the society, would be paid in currency.

Facts about Kabre




Kabre (Voltaic)



Neighboring Peoples

Mamprussi, Dagomba, Mossi, Bariba, Akan