The Story behind Tokor Atorlia (Nyiko custom)
In order to preserve virtue among boys and girls, there existed two customs for the punishment of wrong-doers.
(a) Banishment by slavery
(b) The Nyiko custom
The chief evils of those days were (in order of gravity)
1. Taking away one's life through witchcraft or the practice of black-magic art.
3. Meddling with another's wife
4. Incurring debts.
5. Disobedience to parents
Of these evils, the first offence was always punished by the Nyiko custom, the second and third by the said custom, but only at the third offence, and the fourth, fifth and sixth were punished either by banishment into slavery or by the Nyiko custom, and that also at the third offence.
If a young man seduced another's wife for the third time, this meant he has passed the limit considered proper in that line, and the first two previous offences of seduction would have cost his family a hefty fine. This debt would have been paid thus depriving his other younger members of the family the necessaries of life, and to shelter him further is to incur supernatural displeasure for the whole village, which will be more than bearable on the land. This son would then be considered as a ruin of the family. The elders will decide in secret consultations and the decision of the punishment above will be reached.
The Nyiko custom
An elder who has sat in the council to pronounce judgment was then dispatched the next day to Anloga, to acquaint the elders of the relations that a young man has been doomed by Nyiko. The latter will then inform the awadada and he would then appoint a day for the execution. The elder sent to Anloga returns to his people with the appointed date. The awadada then informs the executioners and the two Nyiko drums are restored, a male and female trowo signals the beating of the drums which announces the fact that someone had just been subjected to punishment by Nyiko. All these meetings are conducted in astonishing secrecy.
The Nyiko drums which were believed to be the home of the deities, who lent their own spiritual authority to the proceedings. These customs were only performed at Anloga because it was an important spiritual site where the gods in the custody of the awoamefia and the awadada who oversaw the welfare of the entire people existed. It was also at Anloga that many unhappy spirits of those executed could roam about, along with others who had died an untimely death, without harming the population because of the power of the deities that protected the town and its people.
On the morning of the appointed day, the maternal uncle or an elder would send the doomed person to Anloga on an errand which he obeys and on arrival, he is received by the head of his relatives who would pleasantly indulge him in a flood of communicative expressions and praise for his willingness to do his kinsmen such a good turn and partly that the required items are not readily at hand and finally round of with a request that the messenger stays the night for the items to arrive
Later on at night when the house had retired, the head or elder of the family would wake the doomed messenger from his sleep, and request him and another elder person from the family to kindly lead him with a lamp to the latrines, which were usually outside the town. The young man having waked, would sleepily obey, and with the lantern in his hand, join in a solemn procession of the three, led by the first elder, and the rear of which was the second elder.
This order was strictly kept, winding through the lanes and into the thick bush outside the town, for the man in the middle was the person to be assailed. Once they have reached the place called Agbakute (ne egbea aku, if you refuse to conform you die), the front man would pretend going to attend to his minor needs in the bush, while the rear man stopped. Suddenly there come out from the bush a band of executioners armed with weapons would club the victim to death.
His body would then be carried and buried in a shallow grave so that the hyenas could dig and eat it. His clothes sent to Anloga by his maternal uncle would then be spread on shrubs or cactus plants. A messenger then informs the Nyiko drummers that the deed was done, upon which the drum at the south side will play... Mieɖe za, mie gbɔ za; Mieɖe za miegbɔ za) we went at night at night and came back at niight) The second drummers at the north side also responded...Gbewoe nye nye gbe ( I concur)
The next day a messenger would be dispatched to Anloga to inform the uncles and elders that the deed was done.
No one ever spoke any more of him in the house. His absences was never remarked upon. But should anyone be so incautious as to openly ask where he was, the intimation Eyi torkor atorlia (he has gone the fifth river side. This was translated as woƒo nyiko de edzi, he has been tabooed) was enough to satify him of his fate.
Throughout this account the family was involved in each stage of the judgment and punishment, but equally important is the fact that all such executions always involved the spiritually powerful who were based in Anloga. The awadada has to consent to the wishes, but his authority was reinforced by his own association with the gods that gave him the power to lead others to victory in times of war. The end
For additional information on these, see Westermann, study of Ewe, 242-245, and Fiawoo, The 'Influence' 106-108, G Hartter's description of Nyiko custom and F.K Fiawoo, The fifth Landing Stage, A play in Five Acts originally published in 1943.