In the North of Togo live the Bassar or Bassari, a proud population of farmers and iron workers, who, even today, follow the traditions and customs of their ancestors.
The Bassar in the past were called Bi-Thambe, that means worker of metals, this because they were one of the first populations, among all the societies of sub-Saharan Africa, to work iron.
Bassar was the site where, since 500 BC, iron production took place; this attracted other African groups to the area, who migrated to Bassar in search of work or trade.
To the original inhabitants of Bassar, who came from the sacred forest of Kibre, located North-West of the present city of Bassar, then joined the other populations.
Some archaeological research indicates that the first settlements, dating back to the late Stone Age, were small and the people who lived here practiced both hunting and harvesting, and a rudimentary form of horticulture and agriculture.
The settlements of the Iron Age instead became larger, their size was about 1 sq. Km, this suggests that, in this historical moment, the practice of breeding began, that led to a specialization of the life of the Bassar; this period is fundamental in their history, since it is at this moment that the industrial production of iron began, still practiced today.
Archaeological studies claim that iron production in Bassar began around 500 B.C., these studies show that Bassar was the largest industrial iron producer in West Africa between the 6th century BC. and the 19th century A.C.
When the Germans came into contact with the Bassar in 1890, they documented that more than 500 furnaces were still operating, with an industrial capacity ranging between 10 and 20 tons of iron per year.
This production greatly exceeded the local consumption, which implies that the Bassar traded and exchanged iron with other societies in West Africa; in particular in the 15th and 16th centuries there was a greater demand for iron, that was used in the production of military weapons, following the rise and development of new kingdoms in neighboring Ghana.
Iron production has had a major impact on the economy of the area.
Iron technology has increased food production, thanks to the creation of more efficient tools for tilling the soil; this allowed for greater productivity.
In turn, the increase in food production has allowed the growth of population density, that has allowed specialization and social differentiation, especially the formation of classes.
The largest and most stable communities have been the result of both greater specialization and food surplus, specialization has also led to an increase in trade.
In addition, the increase in agricultural productivity and alimentation, have allowed to increase the production of iron of Bassar, a growth attested around 400% and 600% between 500 BC. and 1750 A.C .
This virtuous circle has also greatly increased the standard of living, making the city attractive, as a result many people have emigrated here and the population has greatly increased.
The iron industry has also influenced the political, economic and socio-cultural structures of Bassar, the industrial power of iron has made Bassar a stable domain; the Bassar communities consisted of a single group, a local exogamous class, or several classes belonging to one or more clans.
The majority of these clans were subdivided according to their specific geographic position within the territory of Bassar, furthermore each clan specialized in a particular aspect of the iron working process.
For example, the members of the Bissibe clan were mainly melters, while the Koli were mainly blacksmiths, this implied that there were social and political interdependencies among the clans.
As documented by the first Europeans, there was a political organization based on the existence of a king and the importance of the elderly.
The King, called "earth priest" was a descendant of the first founder of Bassar, he was elected according to his knowledge of the history of the city and its borders, the priest was responsible for the resolution of internal conflicts and acted as ambassador to the near cities in case of disputes.
The elders flanked the "earth priest" to ensure that every inhabitant had a fair share of land to cultivate, this system promoted the equity and stability of Bassar's internal social institutions.
The oldest member of the family solved the problems within the family institution, however, when the problem involved other families, the king was deputed to find the solution.
Today the economy of Bassar is no longer limited solely to the fusion and production of iron and coal; but these activities were joined by cattle breeding and agriculture, so that today Bassar is known as one of the largest producing regions of yam in Togo.