The Kotokoli, constitute one of the most important Togolese ethnic groups, they are more properly identified as Tem or Temba, because of the Niger-Congo language they speak, the language tem precisely.
Temba in fact means "one who speaks tem", the meaning of Kotokoli is instead to be found in the nickname that was given to this population or "koto kolim".
Koto kolim means "those who give and take back", it seems that the reason for this nickname is to be found in the fact that the Temba were traders with rather shady and subtle ways, so the local merchants started calling them with this derogatory nickname, increasing their reputation as unscrupulous merchants.
According to their oral history, the Temba migrated from the current Burkina Faso between 1600 and 1700 and settled in the area where today there is the city of Sokode in Togo, later they were contaminated with the Gurunsi from Burkina Faso and Ghana and with the Kabya from Togo.
Even today the Kotokoli are concentrated in the city of Sokode, that is located along one of the ancient caravan routes of Togo; the ancient settlement was called Sokode, that means "closed", because the city was often isolated due of the barriers built by the tribal groups, who tried to control the trade of caravans.
Sokode is also the city where the chief of the Kotokoli, called Uro, resides.
The Kotokoli are currently mainly farmers, they grow mainly sorghum and yam as basic crops, but they also produce millet, corn, beans, okra, peanuts, sweet potatoes and pumpkins.
They also breed some animals including cattle, donkeys, goats, sheep, pigs and chickens; the cattle are used for religious sacrifices, marriage payments and their skin.
It is curious to note that despite the Kotokoli drink milk, they never milk their animals, the milking is performed by the Fulani herders, who are hired to treat the herds.
The Kotokoli also maintain the ancient tradition of trade, the Kotokoli traders regularly frequent local markets to exchange their goods, so that the tem is the most used language in commercial exchanges throughout Togo.
The Kotokoli men mainly deal with livestock care, land management and most of the agricultural work, while women's responsibilities include the collection of nuts, berries, wild herbs and construction materials in the forests, and also to help their husbands with the harvest and perform all the houseworks.
Most of the Kotokoli live in round mud huts with straw-brick walls and cone-shaped straw roofs; the houses, that are built around a central courtyard, are grouped together in a village where a family nucleus lives, sometimes a high mud wall surrounds the complex.
Each local community has a ritual leader, usually the oldest member in lineage, who has the responsibility of maintaining good relations and social order among his people, then there is a village chief who responds directly to the supreme leader or the Uro.
The Kotokoli's marriages are usually organized by parents when those concerned are still children, before a marriage is considered complete, the groom must serve the bride, that means the young man has to work on the farm of the girl's parents for a certain period of time.
The bride also has a substantial price that the future husband must pay in livestock to the bride's family, with the acceptance of these and other gifts, donated by the groom, the marriage of the couple becomes legitimate.
The Kotokoli practice the endogamic marriage, a matrimonial arrangement for which the spouses are obligatorily selected within the same tribe.
Polygamy is accepted among the Kotokoli, the first wife enjoys a higher status than the other wives and every wife lives in a separate hut.
Today almost all the Kotokoli are Muslims, the Muslim religion was introduced in Northern Togo in the mid-1800, the Kotokoli were exposed for the first time to the Islamic religion through contacts with the Hausa and Fulani herdsmen.
The Muslim influence caused religious wars in the Sokodè area and initially the Uro tried to free its country from Muslim mercenaries, but without any success.
Sokodé is the historical capital of Islam in Togo, home to the first mosque, that was built in 1820, although animism and voodoo practices are still common among the population.
For the Temba the most important celebrations are the religious festivals of Ramadan and Tabaski, but they are very proud of the traditional festivals like Adosa, Kumbe and the Dance of Fire.
The celebration of Adosa or Gadao-Adossa is made to thank the spirits and ancestors for good harvest, it is known as the festival of the knives, it is an initiation rite born with the Semassi warriors who demonstrate their strength and courage facing physical challenges, today young people use a special potion to protect themselves while running with sharp knives with bare torso.
The Kotokoli use musical instruments such as antelope horns, flutes, drums to perform the traditional music that accompanies the dances.
The traditional dance of Kumbe or Goumbe is a very energetic dance that was played by warriors after defeating their enemies in wars, it was a way to honor their ancestors who had protected them in battle.
The Dance of Fire is perhaps the most striking, it is a traditional dance that is practiced both by the Kotokoli and by the neighboring Bassari population.
At the center of the village a great fire illuminates those present, who start the dances at the rhythm of the drums, the dancers in trance jump into the embers, take them in their hands, put them in the mouth almost swallowing them, they pass it everywhere on their body without reporting any burns or giving signs of pain.
Courage? Self-suggestion? Magic? Difficult to explain such a performance, perhaps it is the influence of the fetishes that really protects from fire.