Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Togo 1940 - Togolese Woman

Many, many years ago, while attending a Trivia Night, the question was asked: Which African country has the smallest coastline? I remember this very clearly because I was on a crack team where at least one of us knew pretty much any question geography related. But this one stumped us. By consensus we thought it was Togo. We were wrong! The answer is actually quite tricky. It is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thankfully we went on to win that tournament regardless of the mistake. But the size of Togo or Togolese Republic as it is now officially called, and indeed its coastline, has always stayed lodged in my memory. Anyway, I digress...

Togo is a narrow little country located in West Africa, sandwiched between Ghana to the west and Benin to the east. Its tiny coastline of just 56 km (only 19 km longer than DRC!) drew tribes from the east and the west to settle close to the water. Unfortunately this life-giving coast also attracted Europeans. Togo became a trading port. But not only of goods. In the 16th Century this area became a hub for slave trading. So much so that Togo and the surrounding regions were given the name "The Slave Coast". The slave trade continued for another 200 odd years.

In the late 19th Century the area became a German Protectorate and became known as Togoland. Slave trading had been abolished. However, local people were now forced into back-breaking labor and used to cultivate coffee, cotton, and cocoa. And to rub salt into the wound, the taxes they paid were horrendously high.

Togoland was invaded and captured by British and French forces during World War I. At the end of the war Togoland was divided into British and French zones. In 1957 British Togoland merged with Ghana. And in 1959, French Togoland became an autonomous republic, joining the French Union. Today, French is one of the two primary languages spoken in Togo.


In 1940 Togo issued a set of 26 definitives. This set comprised four different designs. These designs were shared between three different French engravers. Pierre Gandon was responsible for the design used for the six highest values of the set. The Gandon design features the head of a Togolese woman. It is a rather striking design.

It is my preference to collect all the values of the same design in a set engraved by Gandon (and indeed by Decaris and Slania). I very much like seeing the design in different colours. Each colour can create a very different atmosphere within the design. To that end I shall display below all six values of Gandon's design.

I think for me the most striking aspect of this design is the woman's hairstyle. I wondered if this was actually a hairstyle that Togolese women used or whether it was a bit of artistic license on the part of Gandon. So I had a bit of a search online. I found several images of West-African women with their hair done in remarkably similar ways. Below are a couple of examples.

And one slightly more elaborate...

Until next time...