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Pre-2008 Posts

“Wives of the Gods,” Slaves of Men

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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.”

Sokari at Black Looks wrote about Trokosi in 2004  here.

Photo essay about Trokosi

Link  Link Link Link

Heart

Discussion

13 thoughts on ““Wives of the Gods,” Slaves of Men

  1. A woman named Juliana Dogbadzi, a survivor of Torkosi, has emerged as a leader in the movement against Trokosi:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/photo/onassignment/truth/st/09.htm

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | October 26, 2006, 7:00 pm
  2. The thing that makes me so angry about this is that all the women easily outnumber the priest and could easily kill him and stash the body if they wanted to, but they can’t because of patriarchal religious beliefs. This shows the insidious mental effects of patriarchal superstitions about the power of priests. And it also rebuts those who would say that patriarchy is “natural” due to physical imbalances of power. On the contrary–it’s culturally mediated, and continues to operate in a context where the young women are probably stronger than the old man.

    Posted by Laila | October 26, 2006, 10:48 pm
  3. That is disgusting beyond words.
    “a threat to traditional culture” what bollocks. A threat to traditional abuse, rape, and exploitation perhaps.

    Those poor women and girls.

    Posted by stormcloud | October 28, 2006, 3:58 pm
  4. I was at the Klikor Shrine in July of 1999, traveling there to study West African drumming and dance within its cultural context.

    We were there during a crop festival of some type, and all of the “priest’s wives” were dressed in blue and white. They were so beautiful… I took at least two rolls of film of them dancing and sitting around the priest and sub-priests.

    It wasn’t until I started looking at these slides today and doing a little research that I realized these beautiful women were trokosi.

    I have photos of these women on my walls… and I had no idea…. We were told by our Ghanaian guide that were women were honored wives of the priest. Of course.

    Posted by Gloria | January 16, 2007, 9:10 pm
  5. This TROKOSI thing must be stop for the Trokosi girls and men have their freedom especailly the girls.

    Why is it that some people are born to have their freedom but the Trokosi girls and men are not? Are we not all human beings so why should some enjoy and some others to suffer in the hands of our ancestors and gods whiles they are not the cause of whatever thing happened in the past.

    How can a young girl of 10 and above years stay with an old man of about 50 or so years. Why can’t our people do something about it. Pleaseeeeeeee I am begging our dear Government to do something about it because it is hurting.

    Please let our brother’s and sister’s have their freedom because you may not know what will happened in the near future maybe they are coming to be our future leaders such as; President, Lawyers, Engineers, Doctors, Nurses, mm! so why don’t we fight for the TROKOSI PEOPLE so that they can have their own freedom.

    So that they can also go to school to become somebody in future because I don’t think that they will have chance to go to school. Help them to be free from the god’s and do their own work as well to help themselves. How can a 15years girl give birth without working or going to school I mean it is hurting.
    So please do all your best to help and remember everything you do you put our Lord Jesus Christ first because without him we are nobody.
    Thank you.

    Posted by AKUA | June 13, 2007, 6:53 pm
  6. Please nobody pile on Akua for being a Christian. We all know what’s what around here so far as that goes. The situation of the Trokosi is horrible, I want the focus to be there, on how they can get free. 😦

    About the Trokosi you are so right, Akua. We have to fight for them, in any way we can find, any way that makes sense.

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | June 13, 2007, 7:04 pm
  7. im 14 years old and i just read this, and it hurts me to see that girls my age are being abused at such an early age while im here at home enjoying my life. i dont know how does girls let themeselves be enslaved like that, since i dont believe that those gods actually exist. those girls all deserve a proper education and a good life, not the life that they are forced to live ……. no one deserves that kind of life.

    maja

    Posted by maja | June 19, 2007, 5:35 pm
  8. sounds absolutely horrible. many parties are to blame. is anyone looking out for the interests of these young women?
    i doubt it. seems to me, the same story is told from age to age and nation to nation, throughout history.

    Posted by scott | August 4, 2008, 5:24 am
  9. This has brought tears to my eyes. Is there anything that people around the world can do to help these poor, abused, and misguided women and girls. This is horrible, and more primitive and devilish than I could have imagined. Tell us what to do.

    Thank you.

    Posted by Shocked | August 21, 2008, 1:56 pm
  10. All must join hand to fight this out of society.

    Posted by Buatsi prosper | July 11, 2012, 3:29 am
  11. All must join hands to fight this out of society.our dear ladies are really suffering from the chief priets

    Posted by Buatsi prosper | July 11, 2012, 3:34 am
  12. our dear ladies are really suffering from the chief priets.the law must take it couse in the country now!

    Posted by Buatsi prosper | July 11, 2012, 3:39 am
  13. Buatsi, YES. We need a global uprising of all who care for these young women and all young women, an uprising such as we have not seen yet.

    Posted by Heart | July 11, 2012, 5:25 am

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