Sagbadre War of 1784: Denmark's punitive expedition against the Anlo Ewe

Sagbadre War

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The Sagbadre War was a brief but significant conflict in the late 18th century, involving a punitive expedition by Denmark and its native allies against the Anlo Ewe. This clash was precipitated by a series of incidents and strategic interests, leading to a decisive campaign that reshaped regional dynamics.

The war's name derives from a Danish official nicknamed Sagbadre, meaning "gulp" or "swallow" in Ewe, who was mistreated by the Anlo Ewe. This mistreatment, coupled with raids into Danish territory against Ada in 1783, provided Danish Governor Kiøge with the pretext to launch a military expedition against Anlo to secure trade rights.

The Anlo Ewe had previously expanded their territory through various wars, prompting the Danes to form a formidable alliance to effectively subdue Anlo. The coalition assembled for this campaign numbered 4,000 troops, with Little Popo contributing the most significant contingent of 1,100 men. Denmark's contribution was minimal, but the force included key figures such as Governor Kiøge and Paul Erdmann Isert, who later documented the conflict. The overall command was held by Oto Brafo, Chief of Osu.

The Ada-Danish Alliance commenced their campaign by navigating the Volta River on war canoes equipped with Dane guns. Despite the Anlo Ewe demonstrating advanced tactical skills, they were overwhelmed by the superior numbers and firepower of the alliance. Initially, Keta supported Anlo but switched sides when the tide turned in favor of the allies.

The conflict saw the razing of several towns, including Woe, Tegbi, and Pottebra, and culminated in the destruction of Anlo's capital, Anloga. The Danish forces, losing control of their native troops, inflicted significant damage. While many Anlo defenders fled, those who stayed managed to inflict casualties on the allies. Isert reported 40 native allies wounded and several killed, some by suicide. He noted that Anlo Ewe casualties were heavier, with at least 13 decapitated. Civilians from Anloga fled to Veta and Klikor.

The war ended with Prince Ofoly Bussum of Glidji negotiating a treaty with the Anlo Ewe on June 18. The treaty stipulated the return of territory Anlo had previously acquired from all allied tribes, secured a Danish trade monopoly, and allowed the construction of Fort Prinzenstein. Little Popo warriors protected the fort's construction, and Prince Ofoly Bussum received a monthly stipend from it.

Anlo's commander, Adagla, chose to drown himself in a river rather than face the disgrace of defeat.

The Sagbadre War underscores the complex interplay of local and foreign powers in West Africa during the 18th century. It highlights how European colonial ambitions and local rivalries could converge to reshape the region's political and economic landscape. The conflict and its aftermath significantly impacted Anlo and set a precedent for future interactions between European colonial powers and African states.

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