Commencing on January 8th and spanning the week, Sokodé, the capital of the Tchaoudjo prefecture in central Togo, hosts its first-ever International Horse Festival. This cultural extravaganza is set to attract 500 riders from Togo and Benin, with an anticipated 6,000 visitors converging on the country’s second-largest city. The event aims to showcase an ancient equestrian tradition deeply rooted in the region.
The festival traces its origins back to the early 19th century when Semassi riders reportedly arrived from Niger to assist the communities of Tchaoudjo, in the Tem region, in fending off those from Dapaong further north, within the present-day borders of Togo.
Farrida Ouro-Adoï, the driving force behind the inaugural festival, explains the enduring nature of the equestrian tradition in Sokodé: “What remains of this tradition is the riders who make appearances during traditional and Muslim celebrations such as Ramadan and Tabaski. When there are festivities and tourists, they are also called upon to showcase the practices of the ancestral horsemen. Semassi riders are recognized by their distinctive hat and red beret, representing a cultural heritage unique to the locality.”
The festival, a potential annual precursor to the traditional Adossa-Gadao celebrations, promises a captivating lineup, including horse parades and races, conferences, and a vibrant exhibition of colorful adornments. Notably, 500 riders are expected, with those from Djougou in Benin serving as distinguished guests. The organizer envisions the possibility of introducing a female presence, perhaps an Amazon, into this traditionally male-dominated equestrian milieu in central Togo.