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Aguê the Sinister, also called Azizan

Among the Ewe people of Togo (formerly Togoland), the village of Bé lies at the foot of the Tokoin plateau, between a stagnant lagoon and a sacred wood, the meagre remnant of an ancient equatorial forest that once covered the south of the country in its entirety. Here, the animist bokonon priests and priestesses of the python cult worship the forces of nature, and maintain pre-monotheistic, pre-modern traditions in their sanctuaries.

In his Précis d’histoire, the Rev. Père Kwakume records that Aja tribal refugees from Dahomey, who once populated the village, passed three ordinances: against loud talking, firing rifles, and dancing to tom-toms — and so the place came to be known as Badépé or Badékpa (‘enclosure of the quiet voices’) or simply Bé (‘the hiding place’).

In recent times the villagers have forbidden the introduction of electricity within their boundaries, or the building of roads towards it from the nearby capital of Lomé (over which they still claim spiritual authority). Access to the village is prohibited to all non-Aja ethnicities, and the wood is guarded against unauthorised entry by camouflaged female watchers, who communicate through ululation and the throwing of voices. This, in combination with strange groans and cries emanating from the forest (as well as the shrieks of actual birds), serves to deter all but the most courageous and/or desperate supplicants. But the native anthropologist Kpomassie (An African in Greenland, Paris 1981; transl. Kirkup) narrates that the inquisitive children from neighbouring towns are kept away by fear of meeting a sinister creature called, in the Min or Mina or Gen dialect/language, Aguê* (and also ‘Azizan’):

a fabulous creature of the bush who has only one eye in the middle of its forehead and only one arm; it has only one leg, on which, we are warned, it can hop around with the greatest of ease and speed, ceaselessly patrolling all the forest paths. Its foot is back to front — that is, with the heel turned forward, the toes backward — so that its footprints deceive. Whenever it meets an intruder it has only to look him straight in the eye to scramble his memory. Then the intruder can’t find his way back and wanders in circles until the medicine men come for him.

The only purported defence against this treatment is to strip off all one’s close and dance naked before the Aguê. This amuses it, and so it loses its grip. Nonetheless, Kpomassie writes, what is certain is that ‘there were people who had entered that sacred forest and never been seen again.’ To this day, Togo bears the unfortunate reputation of being the saddest country in the world.

* a name curiously similar to Aglé, son of the hunter Djitri, founder of Lomé

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