The Tragedy of Trokosi or Shrine Slavery--One Hideous Form of Modern-Day Slavery
For hundreds of years, young virgin girls of pubescent years have been given to traditional shrines in Ghana, Togo, Benin and parts of Nigeria as living sacrifices or payment for the transgressions of others--almost ALWAYS men. Although conidions and precise practices vary from shrine to shrine, the girls are usually raped regularly by the priest of the shrine. An average of four children usually end up being born to them through that ordeal, and the priest who sires the children takes no responsibility for them and bestows no affection on them. The girls are often reduced to scrounging for food for themselves and their children, since the shrine provides little or nothing for them, and the families of the girls often live in mortal fear of the gods served in the shrines. No human affection is ever expressed, and punishment is frequent and harsh.
Why has trokosi slavery survived and thrived thus far?
For a long time the dirty secret of trokosi slavery thrived amongst the Anlo-Ewe people and the Ada and some Adangbe people in the southern Volta Region and in parts of the Eastern and Great Accra Regions of Ghana (as well as in Togo and Benin and parts of NIgeria). It thrived simply because stark fear prevented anyone from talking. It was considered a traditional taboo to talk about the slavery system. People believed that the gods who were served in the shrines could hear every word they said and would srike them dead if they dared to reveal the horrors that were happening to their daughters.
PUNISHING THOSE WHO DARED TO SPEAK UP: One man from the area wrote to the early colonial government of Ghana, then Gold Coast Colony, informing them of the practice and hoping to persuade them to do something about it and its debilitating effects. A precursory investigation followed, the priests told the colonial masters they had no idea what the man was talking about, and the case was dismissed. The lone, brave soul who dared to speak up was ridiculed, branded as a "one eyed man in the land of the blind", a misguided soul whose learning had gone to his head. He was right, of course, and the practice continued while the colonial masters ignored it. Thousands of girls who have finally been liberated through the intervention of Christians now attest to the reality and the horror of the practice, called trokosi (traditionalists spell it troxovi and in some areas it is called fiashidi).
Is there no end to the horrors of slavery?
One would think that after suffering the humiliation and horror of bondage in the Arabic and then the trans-Atlantic slave trade, every African everywhere, in fact, every person on earth would be anxious to get rid of every last vestige of slavery. Not so. Ghanaians had the good sense to outlaw the practice in 1998, but fear of the gods is so pervasive that the law has never been enforced.
Why does the Afrikania Mission defend slavery?
In recent years, the so-called Afrikania "Mission" has appeared, trying to bring all forms of African traditional religions together under one central banner, giving them one name (the "Afrikania" faith, of course), and making them in form look more like Christianity. This is evidently the arbitrary collection of ancient religious writing from Egypt, etc. into a "Bible" or "holy book", the establishment of weekly worship services outside the shrines (on Sunday, of course), and even by the use of the name "mission", which had previously been identified with Christianity. Then, out of the plethora of competing gods, they chose the ancient Egyptian god Amen Ra as their fundamental deity to provide a central rallying point for traditionalists. The mode of operation, according to the observation of one Ghanaian, seems to be to find devotees of gods and goddesses whatever they might be, then to strengthen them and unite them into one religion.
The control that Afrikania "Mission" exerts over shrines is so strong that visitors seeking to speak with shrine leaders are sent way back to Accra, the capitol city, to get written permission from the Afrikania "Mission" first, as if shrine leaders were incapable of thinking or acting for themselves.
Of course, they have the right to do all these things, since the Ghanaian constitution guarantees to all its citizens freedom of religion. But the Afrikania "Mission" does not stop there. On the internet, in the public press and other media, in eduction, and in constant public pronouncements, they are fighting to maintain the traditional practice of trokosi slavery.
Actually, Afrikania's methods vary like a yo-yo going up and down. They speak out of both sides of their mouths, sometimes claiming that such a practice as trokosi in unknown and has never existed, sometimes even going so far as to say that those who claim to have been liberated are all actors and actresses hired by Christians to say they were trokosi. At other times they defend the practice, claiming it is a glorious institution that must be preserved at all costs, although perhaps modified.
Why does it seem that only their voice is heard?
The leaders of the Afrikania "Mission" are well-educated, while the girls enslaved by the trokosi system remain illiterate, since education is almost always denied to them. Therefore, there is an imbalance. There are many who know and have experienced the truth of the horrors of the trokosi system, but they are uneducated and ill-equipped to speak up for themselves, while the leaders of the movement that seeks to keep them enslaved is savvy in the ways of the media, and uses it to every possible advantage. The traditional voices are thus heard constantly, and their victims are far less able to be heard in the public arena.
This is why many Christian organizations have decided to speak up for them. Slavery existed in the past because fear kept it as a nasty little secret, quietly tucked away for fear of being struck dead. That began to change when one Christian, Pastor Mark Wisdom, began to publicly challenge the priests and the system. It was widely believed that he would be struck dead, but he declared in the public press that he was not afraid of the curses of the shrines. Twenty years later, the fearless pastor was still alive and well. He finally died as an old man.
All who know the truth about trokosi slavery must take the good pastor's example to heart. We must stop being afraid. We must start speaking up with the truth. We must start acting like those who know they serve the Creator God, the greatest Power in the universe. We must rest under His protection and His almighty power. We invite all others of good will who are interested in truth to join us.
Why must WE speak up for the slaves?
We cannot afford to allow those who identify themselves with the slave masters to publish their propaganda without check. Fairness demands that both sides be heard. Those who know the truth must speak up. Only then will the scourge of trokosi slavery be eliminated from the great nation of Ghana. Togo, Benin, and Nigeria will soon follow. We call on everyone who knows the truth about this heinous practice to come forward now and let your voices be heard!
Untwisting the Truth about Trokosi or Shrine Slavery
The Afrikania Mission says some pretty ridiculous things about the practice of trokosi, things that are patently untrue. Let's untwist some of their claims and discover the truth:
Afrikania: Non-profit organizations are enlisting ordinary men, rehearsing and presenting them as fetish priests in a fraudulent money-making scheme.
TRUTH: The liberation ceremonies in which the slaves are freed are entirely funded by the NGO's. They are a public matter involving both leaders and common people from the community where the shrines are located. The liberations are not done in secret. The people know the shrines and the priests of the area. How can anyone masquerade ordinary people as priests in public and get by with it? Isn't this claim an insult to the officials of the area who have attended the liberations? This implies that those public officials ALL sat there and participated in a liberation which they knew to be false. We think better of our leaders than that.
This kind of comment only shows how desperate Afrikania has become, and what kind of nonsense they have to resort to. Secondly, the non-profit organizations that are freeing the slaves are also spending huge amounts of money to rehabilitate the former slaves--providing free vocational training, and schooling for their children amongst other things. They have also built schools in some of the villages. These organizations are SPENDING lots of money to help those coming into freedom. And if they appeal for help with these costly projects, it is not to make money for themselves, but to enable more slaves to be released and to help more former slaves to start new lives.
Afrikania: If the (American) Kennedy family consulted the shrine and identified the cause of all their tragedies, they would be a happy lot today. All it would take them is a bottle of schnapps and some 5,000 cedis (Ghanaian currency) to appease the deity and identify the criminal. (Osofo Kofi Ameve, leader of the Afrikania Mission, quoted in Southern African Broadcasting News, August 25, 2001).
TRUTH: Help from the shrine is far from cheap or easy. All too often the price exacted at the shrines is the perpetual servitude of a virgin daughter of the family. That is exactly how 5,000 women and girls got into slavery in Ghana alone (1997 survey, includes only the trokosi themselves and not the children born to them through rape by the priest.) I wonder which daughter the Kennedy family would be willing to send as a slave to the shrine. I wonder which daughter they would allow to be repeatedly raped by the shrine priest in order to assure the good fortune of the rest of the family. Was Ameve out of his mind? What an insult to even suggest such a thing!
Afrikania: Christians are spearheading the movement against trokosi because they want to destroy the shrines and traditional religion and force people to become Christians.
TRUTH: Many Christians are involved in spearheading the opposition to trokosi, it is true, along with those just interested in human rights and others of good will. But as for we who are Christians, we are motivated by concern for the dignity and rights of human beings who have been cruelly enslaved. And while Christians do share the Gospel with the liberated slaves, no one is ever forced to become a Christian. Rather, Christians are champions of religious liberty. Also, we are not afraid to spearhead the movement, because we are not afraid of the shrine gods. Knowing we are protected by the Creator who made all spirits and everything there is, whose blessings no curse can overcome, we are emboldened to help where others might be afraid to speak up.
We offer Jesus, the best thing we know. And if some do chose to become Christians, so what? Isn't freedom of religion guaran- teed to all Ghanaian citizens under the Constitution? In reality, isn't it rather the slave- keeping shrines that deny freedom of religion? No girl is ever asked if she wants to worship the shrine deity. This is forced on her, just as is the long hours of work in the fields and the sexual intentions of the priest.
In reality, there is no such thing as forcing someone to become a Christian. If someone does not love our God from the heart, what good would his or her so- called "worship" do? A gal convinced against her will is of the same opinion still--and it goes for men as well.
The plain, unvarnished truth is this:
SLAVERY DOES EXIST IN GHANA. ONE OF ITS FORMS IS CALLED TROKOSI OR FIASHIDI--SHRINE SLAVERY. ALTHOUGH MANY HAVE BEEN FREED THROUGH THE INTERVENTION OF NGO'S, ABOUT 2,000 ARE STILL IN BONDAGE.
Trokosi slavery is far from a glorious institution that should be preserved. In fact, it is a DISGRACE and a SCOURGE that is not worthy of the great nation of Ghana or of the dignity of the African people.
HAVE NOT WE SUFFERED ENOUGH? THE AFRICAN PEOPLE MUST NEVER SEE SLAVERY AGAIN. NEVER!