The young woman above was a Trokosi slave. She doesn’t know when she was given to the fetish priest in her community, but when she was released, she was 15 years old and four months pregnant.
Trokosi, meaning literally “slaves of the gods,” and occurring most frequently in Ghana, is the practice of a family turning a young daughter, sometimes as young as two years old, over to “fetish priests” to atone for the sins of family members. While they are with the priests, they are essentially enslaved. They must work in the fields, prepare the priest’s food, and do any other work he asks them to do. They are often beaten and abused if they resist and they often must wear chains and other kinds of bonds. After their third menstrual period, they must have sex with the priest, often an old man, and participate in various religious rituals which involve sex.
The Trokosi girls are not allowed any benefits from the work they perform and are not entitled to any financial or material help in raising the children they bear while they are enslaved. They must make their own and their children’s way, any way they can. This is so even though any children born of the sexual relationships between the girls and the priests become the property of the temple. If they are released — and many are not — they are usually shunned and cannot find work.
I read about this this morning in Hijabi Madness and found the following deeply disturbing:
Since 1999, trokosi-practising priests have formed a council called the Afrikania Mission and have support from politicians and academics who view efforts to stop the practice as a threat to traditional culture. This is now a very powerful lobby…
One of the communities most resistant to International Needs’ calls for an end to the practice is Klikor, close to the border with Togo. Hundreds of women and girls serve in its two shrines. The trokosi I saw there had closely shaved heads and were naked apart from the trademark black cloth around their waists, held together by rope…
Mercy says she was 13 when the Avakpe priest first slept with her. She gave birth to four children in the shrine. “The priest sleeps with every woman of his choice. He would not inform you’d he’d be coming to have sex with you. And if you refused he would assault you by beating you. When it first happened to me, I felt hurt, hurt in my private parts. The older trokosi women, they took care of me.”
A group called “International Needs Ghana” has been working to free Trokosi slave girls and to end the practice of Trokosi, which is outlawed in Ghana but still persists. Although shortly after Trokosi was criminalized in 1998, International Needs Ghana was able to free approximately 1,800 slave girls, ING has been consistently hindered in their efforts, not only by the priest council, but by a recent annual report on religious freedom from the US Department of State which claimed, preposterously:
Reports on the number of women and girls bound to various Trokosi shrines varied; however, a shrine rarely had more than four Trokosis serving their atonements at any one time. According to credible reports from international observers and local leaders, there were no more than fifty girls serving at Trokosi shrines throughout the Volta Region. ..
Although local officials portray Trokosis as a traditional practice that was not abusive, some NGOs maintained that Trokosis were subject to sexual exploitation and forced labor. Meanwhile, supporters of traditional African religions, such as the Afrikania Renaissance Mission, said that these NGOs misrepresent their beliefs and regarded their campaigns against Trokosi as religious persecution. Government agencies, such as CHRAJ, had at times actively campaigned against it.
In the past, there were reports that the priests subjected girls to sexual abuse; however, while individual instances of abuse may occur and many priests have eventually taken Trokosis as their wives, there is no evidence that sexual or physical abuse is a systematic part of the practice.
In fact, according to International Aid Ghana, there are approximately 5,000 Trokosi still enslaved and many of them remain enslaved for their entire lives. The priests terrorize communities with threats that if they do not supply Trokosi, they will suffer all manner of catastrophes, illnesses, and losses of various kinds. Because of this ongoing terrorism, even where Trokosi girls are not chained, they do not leave the priests, fearing it will bring harm and calamity on their families.
These are the words of Trokosi girls and women, taken from the links which follow:
Awlesi Amegawi lost both her freedom and her will to live 40 years ago when she was given away as a slave to a Ghanaian priest to atone for the sins of a family member. Amegawi, a wizened woman in her fifties, is a “trokosi” or the spouse of god…
Amegawi said every day was a welcome countdown to death…and eventual liberation. “When I die, I do not want to be born again. Every day I am insulted, humiliated and made to work like a super slave. I work in the priest’s fields, I cook, I gather firewood and I have four children from a man I do not love.
Mercy Senahe was nine years old when her parents handed her over to the Avakpe shrine, about 30km (19 miles) from her family home in Ho, the capital of Ghana’s Volta Region. Her grandmother had been blamed for the theft of a trokosi woman’s gold earring. After that, Mercy recalls that members of her family started falling ill and dying.
“Nothing was said to me before I was taken to the shrine. Beads were placed around my knees and ankles and then my family left. I started weeping when I realised that I’d been given to the priest. I cried until some of the women, also trokosis, came to tell me I could not go back, that they’d been there for many years.”
Mercy says there were about 60 women and girls in the shrine. As time went on, more children began to arrive. “The priest was about 50 years old. If we refused to do the work he gave us – chopping wood, working in the fields, preparing food – he would beat us…”
Ms. Dora Galley, now 22 years old … spent seven years in a shrine. She says she was compelled by the priest to work on the shrine’s farm from morning until evening without any payment or food.
“I had to cut down trees and uproot tree stumps to burn into charcoal to sell and make some money to take care of myself,” she says. “I did not have the right to take crops from the farm unless the priest allowed me to. Occasionally my parents sent me some food, but that was kept in the priest’s room and I had to request it any time I needed some. I was forced to have sex with the priest as one of the rituals in the shrine, but luckily I did not get pregnant.”
Ms. Patience Akope, now 31 … spent 21 years at a shrine and has one 15-year-old child. “The priest did not allow me to visit the clinic for prenatal care or go to the hospital,” she explains. “Throughout the pregnancy, I had to fend for myself.”