Hi Gary,

Here are the pictures I promised you from the soil collection in Togo. The collector is Idamou N'Tcha, a farmer from the village of Naboba in the Tamberma Valley of northern Togo. The soil was collected from a field in front of his traditional house, called a "tata." The last picture is of Idamou in front of this house. I hope this is helpful. Best of luck with the project!


The Architecture of Art

By Jheri St. James

“All architecture is shelter,
All great architecture is the design of space
That contains, cuddles, exalts, or
Stimulates the persons in that space.”
                                      Philip Johnson

Typical Tamberma Tata  

“This soil sample came from the ground surrounding one of the thousands of traditional, fortress-like houses that dot the Tamberma Valley landscape. According to Idamou N’Tcha, the soil collector, this sample is of the variety that would be combined with straw, clay and mud to build one of these houses.

“Known as tatas, the houses are still the valley’s predominant living structure, much as they were in the 17th century when the Tamberma people arrived to flee enslaving Abomey kings. In a typical two-story tata, the ground floor is used to house animals (goat, sheep, guinea fowl) as well as a small cooking area. The top floor, exposed to the sky, is used for sleeping and, more commonly in times of aggression, surveying the surrounding countryside. The towers of the tata open to provide ample space for grain storage.

“In addition to its practical uses, a tata also harbors the spirits of those living and deceased within the owner’s family, which in this case would include Idamou, his wife, his five children, and a collection of closely descended ancestors. In front of the building lie various sized mounds, each of which is associated with the spirit of a particular person. During ceremonies and other key moments in a lifetime, fetishes will be performed on the mounds, usually in the form of killing a sacred animal, in order to ensure the spirit’s well-being.” (Ambassador D.B. Dunn, Togo)

Monkeys, Porcupine Skin, Warthog Teeth –
Fetish Market Togo
Fetishes in Tamberma Tata Togo

ar-chi-tec-ture. 1: the science, art or profession of designing and constructing buildings, bridges, etc. . . . 5. any framework, system, etc….”
(Webster’s New World College Dictionary)

*   *   *

Togo is a small, thin, sub-Saharan nation. Officially the Togolese Republic, this country in West Africa, borders Ghana in the west, Benin in the east, and Burkina Faso in the north. In the south, it has a short Gulf of Guinea coast, on which the capital Lomé is located. Western history does not record what happened in Togo before the Portuguese arrived in the late 15th century. During the period from the 11th-16th centuries, various tribes entered the region from all directions: the Ewé from Nigeria and Benin; and the Mina and Guin from Ghana. When the slave trade began in earnest in the 16th century, the coastal region was a major raiding center for Europeans in search of slaves, earning Togo and the surrounding region the name “The Slave Coast” for the next 200 years. Subsequently ruled by the Portuguese, the Germans, the French and the UK, Togo finally became an autonomous, independent republic in 1960. In 1967 Eyadema Gnassingbe became president until February 5, 2005, 38 years in power, Africa’s longest sitting dictator. A majority of the Togolese population (50%) adhere to indigenous animist beliefs; Christianity is the second largest religious group (295) and the remaining 21% follow Islam. Togo’s culture reflects the influences of its now 37 ethnic groups, the largest and most influential of which are the Ewé, Mina and Kabre. French is the official language with many indigenous African languages spoken by Togolese.

Some of the artistic expressions in Togo include: Ewé statuary--famous statuettes illustrating the worship of the twins, the ibéji. Sculptures and hunting trophies are formed here rather than the more ubiquitous African masks. The woodcarvers of Kloto are famous for their “chains of marriage”: two characters connected by rings drawn from only one piece of wood. The dyed fabric batiks of the artisanal center of Kloto represent stylized and colored scenes of ancient everyday life and ceremonial loincloths used in the ceremonies of Assahoun are famous. Works of the painter Sokey Edorh are inspired by the immense arid lands, swept by the harmattan winds, and where the laterite topsoil/rock formations memorialize the prints of the men and the animals. The plastics technician Paul Ahyi is internationally recognized today for “zota”, a kind of pyroengraving, and his monumental achievements decorate Lomé.

"There are three forms of visual art. Painting is art to look at, sculpture is art you can walk around, and architecture is art you can walk through.” Dan Rice

*   *   *

“Dear Jheri, I was the Peace Corps Volunteer in the village who assisted in the soil collection. I worked extensively with Idamou (N’Tcha) over the course of two years as an environment volunteer. He is a local farmer who volunteers part-time at the village’s only NGO (Association of Young Volunteers for Community Development). He worked with me on several projects including starting school gardens and tree nurseries, countless trainings on the advantages of using organic compost, as well as a large-scale reforestation project that culminated in the planting of 3,000 seedlings.

“Idamou’s last name, N’Tcha, means second-born son in the local language. He is about 40 and has a wife and five children. He has the village’s best garden and tree nursery. The soil sample was taken right outside his “tata” or house. I do have several excellent pictures of the soil collection. Unfortunately they are at my home in LA and I am in DC. I will do my best to get them sent to me, but if not, I can have them to you at Christmas for certain.

“Also, FYI, contacting Idamou will be difficult. He has no phone and there is no email access close by. The email I gave is the head of the local NGO, so please explain the situation, in French, so the information can be transferred to Idamou.

“Good luck with everything and feel free to contact me with further questions. I could probably help you out with just about anything concerning Idamou and the area. Best, Charlie” (Gillig).

“Organic architecture seeks superior sense of use and a
finer sense of comfort, expressed in organic simplicity.”

                                                               Frank Lloyd Wright

Kara Togo
Colonial House Lome ‘s Beach Togo

”The mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own,
we have no soul of our own civilization.”

                           Frank Lloyd Wright

Who is the architect of planet Earth? Who designed the landscapes—mountains, deserts, windy plains, oceans and sea life, trees, colorful flowers, birds flying overhead? Where is the blueprint for the myriad, root systems, insects and underground forms—caves, channels of oil, shale, water, tectonic plates? Reverently we speak the names of great men for being architects of our building structures, our bridges, but perhaps the most important and greatest architect of all is often ignored, forgotten. Gaia is a self-perpetuating framework, a system, an armature that stages our building, our marching . . . and embraces our deaths. All habitations on our planet are created from her raw materials—concrete, glass, asbestos, brick, mud, thatch. All the media that become fetishes, religious icons and artistic expressions come from the earth—organic totems, monkey bones, paint, gold leaf, precious metals, and jewels.

This soil collection comes from the hands of Idamou N’Tcha, a farmer in Togo, from the earth used to build his family tata, his country’s homeland. From Idamou to Charlie Gillig, the Peace Corps volunteer, to C. B. Dunn, American Ambassador, to Gary Simpson, conceptual artist, to the final fresco, using soil as the medium. This chain of hands is the heart of the architecture of art and the soul of Common Ground 191.

The word for peace in the Ditammari language of Togo is “kukombuoku.”

“Architecture, of all the arts, is the one which acts the most slowly,
but the most surely, on the soul.”
                         Ernest Dimnet

Rain forest, Togo

“A great architect is not made by way of a brain
nearly so much as he is made by way of a
cultivated, enriched heart.”
                                        Frank Lloyd Wright

Mountain view through window – Pic D’Agou Highest Mountain - Togo






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