Trokosi (Ewe spelling troxovi, also called ritual servitude) is a form of sexual slavery involving mainly women and girls . It is based on cultural traditions of West Africa involving the requirement of a young virgin girl in consideration of the services of the priests in certain shrines of African Traditional Religion, particularly in areas of Ghana, Togo and Benin The word trokosi comes from the tribal Ewe language of Ghana and Togo, and means "wives of the gods". The girls are considered to be wives of the idol god who is venerated and served at the shrine. In practical terms they are concubines and slaves of the priests of those shrines. They must obey his command under pain of severe punishment if they refuse, they work his fields, produce items for sale by the shrine, and serve him sexually. In turn they receive no compensation, no affection, and no human interaction. The term "trokosi" refers both to the practice or institution and to the slaves themselves.
- 1 Alternate Terms for the Practice
- 2 Legal Status of the Practice
- 3 Trokosi and Freedom of Religion
- 4 Selection and duties
- 5 General life
- 6 Reasons for Servitude of the Trokosi
- 7 What ages are the trokosi?
- 8 Length of Service
- 9 Temporary Release or Flaxoxo
- 10 Come and Go Shrines
- 11 Number of shrine slaves
- 12 Children of the Trokosi
- 13 Justifying the Practice
- 14 Answering Those Who Justify the Practice
- 15 Liberation Methods
- 16 Rehabilitation Following Liberation
- 17 History of the Practice
- 18 The Beginning of Opposition to the Practice
- 19 References
Alternate Terms for the Practice
There are many other terms for the practice, depending on the specific area and the specific shrine. The most common include vaudonsi or vudusi(with many variant spellings)in French-speaking countries. 'Vudusi' comes from 'vaudon' meaning an idol god, combined with "si" meaning "subservient of". Hence, the meaning is exactly the same. In English-speaking countries fiashidi, woryokwe, and a myriad of names using the name of the spirit served and ending with “si,” such as "yevesi", meaning "subservient of the thunder-god" or "mamisi", meaning "subservient of mamiwata."
Legal Status of the Practice
In August 1998 Ghana outlawed the practice. The law says, "Whoever sends to or receives at any place any person or participates in or is concerned with any ritual or customary activity in respect of any person with the purpose of subjecting that person to any form of ritual or customary servitude or any form of forced labor related to customary ritual shall be guilty of a second degree felony and liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than three years." However, the practice of trokosi continues because the law has never been enforced. No one has ever even attempted to bring a case to court involving trokosi, leaving the shrines to continue the practice openly.
Opponents of the practice of trokosi state that they see two main reasons why the law is not enforced. One is the government's reluctance to interfere with the customs of the people. Trokosi is a cultural practice, and as opponents see it, a cultural injustice. Another reason is the widespread fear that anyone who opposes the priests or neglects to do the bidding of the gods of the shrines will be cursed, causing them to become insane or die. The idols of many of the shrines are war gods obtained at a time when the Ewe tribe was seeking help in tribal wars over land and migration issues. The basic function of those idols as understood by the people is to kill, so mcuh of the population lives in abject fear of the shrines and priests who serve them.
Trokosi and Freedom of Religion
Under the Constitution of Ghana, Article 21 (1), (a) and (c), all citizens of Ghana have the right to freedom of religion. Both supporters and opponents of the trokosi practice appeal to this constitutional right. Those who support the practice see it as strictly a cultural practice that is therefore protected under the Constitution. Those who oppose it see it as a violation of freedom of religion, since the trokosi themselves have no choice in whether or not they will serve.
Selection and duties
Becoming a trokosi is not a voluntary act. Payment of a trokosi is arbitrarily requested by a priest or shrine of African traditional religion in an act often called "atoning", since it is believed that the girl's servitude atones for the misdeed of a family member, relative or ancestor, generally a male. The requirement is presented to the family in the belief that the payment of a trokosi may assuage the anger of the gods against the family and the community. The family is then forced to select one of its virgin daughters to become a trokosi, or a shrine slave. This is often done against the will of the selected daughter. The Trokosi then serve the idol gods of the shrine, offering them sacrifices, cleaning and powdering them, and sweeping the compound around them. Some of them have reported that as they did so, they were required for more sins to be committed so that more slaves would come to the shrine. They also serve the priest (sometimes priestess) of the shrine in any way he requires. Common tasks are howing his fields, reaping his harvest without eating a single grain, fetching water, making charcoal, and weaving baskets or mats for sale by the shrine. Trokosi also serve the priests sexually, or in the case of priestesses, serve the shrine elders. This is considered a sacred duty since the sexual organs of the priest have been dedicated to the deity of the shrine. No affection is involved in the sexual encounter. At other times they may be forced to stand over the priest, fanning him to keep away flies.
Trokosi are generally treated poorly. According to some sources, if they do not meet their work quota, or if they disobey or displease the priest, they are generally punished with Corporal Punishment. In order to maintain their loyalty, they are made to believe that they will be cursed and caused to die should they not comply with the priest's demands. They are forbidden to wear normal clothing or shoes, and are forced to go barefoot and to wear wrap-around clothes of a distinctive color—often dark blue, but sometimes black, red, yellow, or white. This garb is readily recognized from a distance so that people may fear them and avoid social interaction with them. Many of the trokosi have confided to foreign aid workers that they are dehumanized while working.
Reasons for Servitude of the Trokosi
Trokosi are not usually told the reason for their servitude, although some of them ask relatives and eventually find out. Akpabli was sent to the shrine at the age of 3 because the priest declared the gods were angry that her relatives did not thank the shrine properly for helping them find a missing fishing boat. Alice endured long years of misery as a shrine slave but never did find out the reason. An agency that works in liberating shrine slaves reports that reasons can vary from serious crimes like alleged murder to misfortunes like losing a necklace. Many trokosi also report that the shrine actively seeks the proliferation of trokosi, as seen in the fact that they are required to pray that there will be more offenses that will result in more girls atoning for those offenses at the shrine.
What ages are the trokosi?
Most trokosi were taken into slavery just before or at puberty; however, some report being taken as young as four years old. The workers of one mission agency report talking to one trokosi who was taken so young that the shrine had to make special arrangements for the child's mother to continue breastfeeding her. Of course, though taken in young, the trokosi grow up and grow old. So agencies who work with liberating trokosi find girls and women of all ages at the time of liberation. Some report meeting old women who have spent virtually their whole life in ritual servitude and many for whom the dehumanizing life of the shrine froms their earliest memories.
Length of Service
Practices vary from shrine to shrine, but many of the shrines hold the trokosi slaves in the shrines for the rest of their lives. They are sent to the fields to work, of course, and sometimes to the market, but there’s little worry of them escaping. Hardly anybody would be courageous enough to help them, for fear of being cursed by the gods themselves. And if they do escape, they believe the priest will send a curse to bring all kinds of misfortune and even death on them. Whether or not the curse works, when misfortune comes their way, they will fear for their lives and return to the shrine again, where terrible punishment will await them.
Some of the shrines theoretically require only a certain number of years of servitude, but in reality the family is seldom able to pay the high feeds demanded for return to the family, so in practicality few ever escape this situation.
Temporary Release or Flaxoxo
Some shrines have taken so many slaves that they can no longer live in the shrine, so after a certain number of years they are granted what is called “temporary release,” called “flaxoxo”. This allows the trokosi to physically leave the shrine and live in another close-by area approved by the shrine. Sometimes they can even get married, though only to a partner approved by the shrine and of course, one who brings many gifts to the shrine and serves the gods of the shrine. The term “flaxoxo” means “to bring peace”, but the researcher Dovlo said, “release from the shrine after flaxoxo hardly brings peace to the trokosi, for it does not mean release from the spouse relationship with the gods and concubinage with priests who act as the husband by proxy for the gods."
Come and Go Shrines
In some shrines, temporary release or flaxoxo has become the standard, so that the women stay only a short time confined to the shrine, then live outside, but come when called and for the observance of festivals and rituals. Such women may even belong to numerous shrines, doing their shrine duties on different days. To outsiders, they may seem free because they live outside the shrine, but their lives are still until the total domination of the shrine. Human rights advocates vary on whether the servants of these shrines are considered trokosi because the women are incarcerated for only a short time. Some, like International Needs Network, do not seek to liberate "Come and Go" shrines. Others, like the Fetish Slaves Liberation Movement and Every Child Ministries, see those on flaxoxo as victims of slavery, too, pointing out that "temporary" release is a misnomer because the trokosi never escapes the title or the restrictions and obligations of the shrine.
Number of shrine slaves
The number of shrine slaves varies depending on the motivation and viewpoint of doing or instigating the counting, the cooperation and truthfulness of respondents, and which varieties of shrine slaves are included and excluded. Some consider only those called trokosi, while others include vaudonsi, yevesi, etc.
It has been estimated that there were about 5,000 trokosi held in shrines in Ghana when Christians began to get involved in the 1980s. On an average each trokosi slave ends up having an average of four children each as a result of being regularly raped by the priest. Although they are not technically considered trokosi, they also serve every whim of the priest without pay so they are in reality slaves as well. Considering this, the system involved at least about 25,000 lives in Ghana. In reality the number may be much higher for two reasons: 1. The shrines tend to hide or dismiss the trokosi whenever they are in fear of being investigated, then to call them back again. 2. The estimates included only those officially called trokosi, and not those call by the names of specific spirits. Some do not even include "vaudonsi" which is the French/Ewe equivalent of "trokosi".
In March 2010, a total of 3,800 trokosi had been reported liberated through the intervention of Christians, thus freeing a total of 19,000 lives considering the children of the trokosi as well as those officially called trokosi. As of this date, an estimated 2,200 remain bound to the shrines, involving slavery of 11,000 lives in Ghana alone, plus an untold number in the neighboring countries.
Until the practice is totally abolished, the number enslaved can continue to grow, because the slaves frequently give birth as a result of rape and because new girls can still be taken into the shrines. On the other hand, the number does not diminish through death, for the priests insist that every crime must continually be atoned for until the end of time. No matter how petty the original offense, when one trokosi dies, her family is obliged to replace her with another. Therefore, except for NGO’s liberating these slaves, the number must always grow and can never be diminished on its own.
No attempt has ever been made to count or even to estimate the number of trokosi in Togo, Benin and Nigeria, but we know there are a substantial number. In those countries they are usually called vudusi or called by the name of the god served in the shrine.
The Afrikania Mission, a group that promotes all expressions of traditional religion, has worked to downplay the number of trokosi. They have charged humanitarian groups fighting the practice with dressing up church members and claiming they were trokosi, and humanitarian groups, on the other hand, have complained that false information that was sometimes given them by the shrines. Sometimes priests have "padded the roles" of women to be liberated so that non-trokosi would be included in the benefits of the training offered after liberation. This also adds to the confusion swirling around the questions of how many there are, how many have been liberated, and how many remain to be liberated.
Children of the Trokosi
Trokosi have an average of four children each as a result of being regularly raped by the priest and sometimes by his relatives or by shrine elders. These children are not always technically trokosi, but they always belong to the shrine, having been born into slavery. The mothers alone care for the children, and the priest takes no responsibility for them and shows no affection toward them.
Justifying the Practice
The Afrikania Mission According to Kofitse Ahadzi (of the pro-trokosi Afrikania Mission), a family could send a girl to the shrine if the family were experiencing difficulties beyond its wisdom. According to him, the girl would acquire divine powers and then come back. He calls the girl a queen, not a slave.
Ahadzi also sees the trokosi system as a means of social control. The presence of the trokosi reminds community members to live moral lives, he contends. Some priests claim they see trokosi as role models and that the existence of trokosi lowers the crime rate in communities where it is practiced. Ahadzi, too, claims that the trokosi is a role model for the offending family, thus bringing peace between it and society.
Datey-Kumordzie in his writings contended that he saw the whole trokosi system as originally a kind of religious convent.
Answering Those Who Justify the Practice
Christian and humanitarian groups fighting against the practice point out as despite Ahadzi's claim that trokosi are really queens, the trokosi see themselves as nothing but slaves. When they are confronted with the claim that trokosi are queens, they simply claim, "That's a lie."< They point out that no one has ever shown evidence to suggest that trokosi lowers crime rates, and that trokosi is in itself a crime against the victim, her family, and the community. She brings peace to the community only inasmuch as the community believes that the gods require a sacrificial victim to atone for someone's sin. The peace is all in the traditional belief and not in reality.Further, when proponets claim that a trokosi shrine is a kind of convent, they choose to ignore entirely the fact that membership in a Christian religious convent is a matter of personal choice, whereas becoming a trokosi is forced on the participant. That explains why trokosi is considered ritual servitude, while membership in a convent is simply a religious choice.
Ahadji thinks trokosi are role models. Mama Mawusi, a writer with Every Child Ministries, an organization that opposes the trokosi practice responds: "It is only because I have am always talking to so many of my compatriots that I would disagree. I see people fearing trokosi, looking down on trokosi, keeping away from trokosi. Never have I heard of anyone looking to a trokosi as a role model. Many, including myself, doubt that these are the true values of the practice. If the shrine were to teach morality, one could certainly question what kind of morality perpetrates the killing of the innocent and the punishment of the innocent while the guilty go free. One could certainly wonder why those who have been forced into such a system, once they are permitted to speak somewhat freely, so often accuse the shrines of great wickedness."
There are major ways in which trokosi have been liberated. All have been done by Christian and humanitarian organizations:
1. Negotiation The most common way has been through negotiation to reach an agreement with the shrines, in the case of Christian organizations, that negotiation being supported by a massive prayer effort. The more recent agreements include the total abolition of the practice of slavery at that shrine, the unconditional liberation of all held in slavery, and the breaking of all spiritual ties to the shrine.
A payment is made to the shrine, usually based on the total number to be liberated. Although the shrine is free to use the money as it pleases, some have said they would buy corn mills with which they could make a profit, since in freeing the slaves the shrine loses one of its prime income producers. Also, the priest's livelihood may be affecte (although he is still free to ask other compensation for his services). Once an agreement is reached between a shrine community and a liberating organization, documents are prepared, translators go over them with all parties to make sure the agreement is solid, and a public liberation ceremony is planned. It is believed that the public liberation helps both the trokosi and her family to understand that she has been freed. This method has been used by IN Network and other humanitarian organizations.
2. Purchase At least one group, Ghana Baptist Convention, has negotiated individually for the liberation of girls. A negotiator visits the shrine, asks for a certain number of girls, and compensates the shrine for them. These girls are taken into vocational training with the understanding that they will never go back to the shrine. This is successful for the girls involved but less successful in undermining the trokosi movement as a whole, since many of the shrines simply replace the girls lost with others, so that the total number of trokosi is not diminished.
3. Gospel One group, Every Child Ministries, has succeeded in liberating a shrine through the effect of the Gospel taking root in the life of the priest so that he requested to liberate his shrine servants and did so without even asking for compensation.
Rehabilitation Following Liberation
After liberation most liberating organizations give the girls who are of adult age the opportunity to receive vocational training. The girls are given an introduction to various skills by which they can make a living, and they may specialize in one. They can learn dressmaking, soapmaking, dying cloth, baking, catering, hairdressing, or traditional kente cloth weaving. They also learn to cook traditional Ghanaian dishes in order to prepare them for normal life. They may also begin literacy training, receive counseling, attend chapel, and have the opportunity to hear the Gospel. Many of them do choose to become Christians. After graduation, many of them go into business for themselves. At present, there are at least four vocational centers offering this kind of training: BREDA, the Baptist vocational school at Frankadua in the Eastern Region, Mutual Faith Ministries center in the S Tongu District, Mission International’s center at Adidome operated by Sharon Tatian, and IN Network’s school at Adidome in the N Tongu District. At present, Every Child Ministries has conducted short-term training and is preparing a vocational center in the Ketu District near Aflao.
In almost all cases, an attempt is made at reconciliation with the victim's family, and this sometimes succeeds. Some of the girls are able to return to their home villages. At other times the families still refuse them. Every Child Ministries’ Haven of Hope Home is open to child trokosis who need a stable, loving Christian home and the organization also maintains traveling counselors to continuously help the women work through the numerous issues of rebuilding normal lives after liberation.
History of the Practice
Trokosi is similar to common practices of many ancient religions
The giving of virgin girls to the gods was part of many ancient religions involving the worship of many gods.. For example, Baal, the male god of the Canaanites and Ashtereth, (sometimes called Astarte) their female deity, (both mentioned in the Bible), were worshiped in “lewd” and “lascivious” sexual rites. The widespread appeal of Baal worship in the ancient world, some Bible scholars believe, was due to the “licentious character” of the worship. Smith says that this worship was also found in ancient Phoenicia and even in the ancient British islands. It was also common in the time of Moses amongst the Moabites and Midianites, and presented a constant temptation to the people of Israel whenever they fell away from God. The practices associated with these ancient gods seem very similar to that of modern trokosi. The Catholic Encyclopedia out-and-out calls it “cultic prostitution.”
According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, the “Fertile Crescent” between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers,had many ancient temples devoted to various deities where sacred prostitution was commonly practiced. One scholar believes that the later kings had the custom of establishing and demonstrating the legitimacy of their authority by taking part in a sexual ceremony in the temple for one night, on the tenth day of the New Year festival Akitu. He believes that the practice came to an end only when the emperor Constantine destroyed the goddess temples when he became a Christian.
The Old Testament in the Hebrew Scriptures used two different words for prostitute, zonah (זנה), an ordinary for-party prostitute or loose woman, and kedeshah (קדשה).literally meaning "consecrated (feminine form)", from the Semitic root q-d-sh (קדש) meaning "holy" or "set apart", in other words a sacred or religious prostitute. Qedesha was also used as the Canaanite name for their goddess of sex (or perhaps a title for either the goddess Astarte or the goddess Asherah in this role), adapted into Egyptian as Qetesh or Qudshu. The Hebrew Bible commonly uses both words in one passage, showing that in God’s sight, so-called sacred prostitution is as evil as common prostitution undertaken for profit. For example, Deuteronomy 23:17-18 warns followers of God: None of the daughters of Israel shall be a sexual shrine servant (kedeshah), nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a male sexual shrine servant (kades)h. You shall not bring the hire of a prostitute (zonah) or the wages of a dog (keleb) into the house of the Lord your God to pay a vow, for both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God. The fact that two words exist for the two kinds of prostitutes shows, of course, that the existence of prostitutes in temples of the gods was well known in the time of Moses.
Sacred prostitutes were also known in ancient Egypt. “The temple also had a priestess with a superior at the head; they included hierodules, sacred prostitutes, whose actions… were supposed to provoke the sacred marriage of the gods in the sky, the source of fertility on earth”. One can easily see in this practice something very similar to trokosi, in which the genitals of the priest are dedicated to the gods of the shrine, so that to have sex with the priest is deemed in effect to copulate with the gods themselves.
Development of the practice in modern times
In Old Dahomey (Benin)—Ahosi of the king-priest
In West Africa the practice has gone on for at least several hundred years. Similar practices using similar terminology were found in the royal court of the Kingdom of Dahomey (in what is now Benin), in the 1700s and 1800s. Wives, slaves, and in fact all persons connected with the royal palace of Dahomey were called "ahosi", from "aho" meaning "king", and "si" meaning "dependent" or "subordinate." The kingdoms of this age were by no means modern democracies. Individual rights were subjugated to the will of the all-powerful king. The difference between wives and slaves was often one of semantics. By one estimate there were 5,000 to 7,000 ahosi living in the palace at Abomey, with a few hundred eunuchs charged with controlling the women.
Associated with human sacrifice--
The king was guarded by powerful, specially-trained female guards called Amazons. The king controlled every aspect of the lives and even the deaths of the ahosi. Visitors to old Abomey today are shown a mass grave and told that the king's wives "volunteered," on his death, to be buried alive with him in order to accompany him and serve him in the world to come. One researcher pointed out, "Of course, one should not make the mistake of ascribing modern democratic meaning to the word "volunteered" as if the wives wanted to die or had any choice in the matter. Ahosi who became too powerful or too independently-minded were simply sacrificed (literally and physically) in the annual office ceremony lasting several days in which the power of the king was renewed by hundreds of human sacrifices, usually performed by public beheadings.
Another researcher on the history of the trokosi system, A.E. Amoah, reported that in former times virgins sent to the shrines were sacrificed to the river and eaten by crocodiles.
Possible origin amongst the Ewe of Ghana and Togo
Some claim that the deities of the trokosi shrines were war gods used to fight enemies and brought with the Ewe from their ancestral home at Notsie in Togo. After the tribal wars ended, the deities were institutionalized in shrines where their devotees are able to visit them and consult them.
The practice amongst the Ewe in the late 1800s
The practice was documented by A.B. Ellis who was an eyewitness of the practice in the Dahomey Empire (now Benin) in 1895. According to him, one god called "Khebioso" had 1500 wives in Dahomey alone, the women being called "kosio". He said they cared for the shrines of the gods, but their main business was religious prostitution. According to Ellis, most of the gods of the Ewe-speaking people at that time had such women who were similarly consecrated to their service and were commonly considered "wives" of the gods.
One might argue that those ahosi were wives of the king and lived in the palace, not wives of the gods living in the shrines. But that distinction is not nearly as clearcut as it might first seem, for the palace was the center of Dahomean religious life, and the place where sacrifices were performed. Over time, it was an easy jump from being ahosi living lives totally controlled by the king in the palace where sacrifices were offered and rituals were performed, to being trokosi living lives totally controlled by a priest in a shrine where sacrifices were offered and rituals were performed. Even in the time of the Kingdom of Dahomey, one reads of the vodun or gods successfully demanding that someone become a devotee or vodunsi (wife or follower of the god). This point is further strengthened by the fact that in the Kingdom of Dahomey, the king was “regarded as the head of the priesthood,” so that to be an ahosi of the king was indeed to be an ahosi of the priest.
The practice amongst the Yoruba (Nigeria):
At the beginning of the 18th Century, the Yoruba empire was united under the King of Old Oyo, sometimes called Katunga. The tribes of this confederation included the Yoruba of modern Nigeria, Dahomi of modern Benin, and Ashanti of modern Ghana. Like the people of Dahomey, amongst the Yoruba human sacrifices were customary at the annual office which was believed to renew the spiritual power of the king for another year. In Yoruba land, victims were placed in baskets, thrown from a height, then beaten with clubs. In prosperous times the victim was sometimes spared and became a temple-slave instead. The temple slave would have been much like a modern trokosi, a living sacrifice instead of a dead one. A similar thing probably happened in the other cultures that were closely associated.
The practice in Ghana, early 19th century
As people migrated within West Africa, the practice spread. Researcher Sandra Greene has noted that in Ghana, the practice dates to at least the late eighteenth century. At that time the Amlade clan Sui became very powerful and began to demand female slaves from those who sought its services. The practice called "replacement" also began in Ghana at that time, if not before. Under this practice, if a shrine slave died or ran away, the family was required to replace her with another girl.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Nyigbla became the chief Anlo deity, and its shrines also began to demand slaves for its services. Involuntary slavery, however, may not have been common at that time and in that place common, since Nyigbla also instituted a practice called foasi, whereby two servants were recruited annually on a more-or-less voluntary basis. At that time, the slaves were often married to members of powerful priestly families.
The king controlled every aspect of the lives and even the deaths of the ahosi. In Benin, visitors to old Abomey today, for example, are shown a mass grave and told that the king’s wives “volunteered”, on his death, to be buried alive with him in order to accompany and serve him in the world to come. Of course, one should not make the mistake of ascribing modern democratic meaning to the word “volunteered,” as if the wives wanted to die or had any choice in the matter.
Some ahosi did not even make it to the point of the king’s death, for Ahosi who became too powerful or too independently-minded were simply sacrificed along with captured slaves in the annual office, a days-long ceremony in which the spiritual power of the king was renewed by hundreds of human sacrifices. The concept of king-priest has already been mentioned, but we should clarify that it was not only in Abomey but also in Ghana that the two offices were often intertwined. Vorsah, who was once a trokosi herself, writes that in the Mafi Traditional Area, part of the N Tongu District, “choice of priest-chiefs devolved entirely on the gods…usually, the priest=chief’s election was through divination”. She also refers to sources in the Mafi Traditional Area of N Tongu who claim that in the past, in time of war men went to the shrines to be fortified by the gods, and promised to donate virgins to the shrine if the gods enabled them to survive. This shows the connection with the war gods, but if they were to give virgins as gifts to the shrine, this shows that the practice of receiving virgins must have already existed. African traditional religion enters the modern era
African Traditional Religion enters the modern era
Somewhere along the way, as cultural groups entered the modern era, many of them dropped their practices of ritual servitude along with their practices of human sacrifice. Today, many shrines of African traditional religion do not practice trokosi or vudusi. This shows that the practice of ritual servitude is not an essential part of traditional worship, and leaves one wondering why any traditionalists would still be defending it, since their religion would certainly be more attractive without it.
The Beginning of Opposition to the Practice
Published eyewitness accounts, turn of 18th to 19th century British Colonial Accounts A.B. Ellis at the turn of the 18th to 19th century, opposed the practice in his own way by carefully documenting it and publishing his reports.
From the colonial archives of Ghana (then Gold Coast) we learn that then, too, a few citizens complained about the practice. The colonial masters were aware of it, but for their own economic interests they chose to turn their heads. When one person courageously spoke up about the practice, they derided him as "the blind man who wants to help others see." The colonial masters were primarily interested in ruling so as to promote trade beneficial to the empire, not for the welfare of the population and certainly not for the development of a state that recognized human rights.
The colonial government’s Commissioner of Native Affairs investigated the practice of trokosi at Atigo shrine near Battor from 1919 to 1924. The investigating District Commissioner, W. Price Jones, concluded that it was "a pernicious habit of handing girls over to the fetish," but for economic reasons, he too decided not to interfere. As a result of that inquiry, however, shrine slaves held at the Atigo shrine were told by the colonial ruler that they could return home if they wished. The colonial rulers took no note of the social, cultural, psychological and spiritual forces that kept the slaves at the shrine.
Soon after, the colonial government received and ignored another complaint that the shrine was still keeping trokosi.
Early Bremen missionaries to Ghana
Traditionalists have reported that since the mid-18th century the Bremen missionaries outspokenly opposed the practice and purchased freedom for individual trokosi, converting them to Christianity and calling them "new made slaves.". Although the traditionalists (Pyramid of Yahweh is a site of African traditional religion) are not happy about this, it shows that the earliest missionaries to Ghana encountered trokosi, recognized it as a form of slavery, and fought against it.
60 Years' Silence
After that, the practice slid back into secrecy, where it was widely practiced but not openly talked about. The subject was not brought to the public consciousness again until 1980.
Opposition is Renewed in the 1980s & 90’s
The Challenge of Mark Wisdom
The practice was drawn into the national spotlight again in the 1980s when Mark Wisdom, a Baptist pastor, responded to what he claims was a vision God gave him in 1977. Pastor Wisdom claimed that as he prayed, he saw a vision of women in bonds, desperately crying out for help. He didn’t understand it and struggled with it for some time. Then, he claimed, on one of his later evangelistic missions, he recognized the very same women he had seen in his dream, held in bondage in a shrine just across the Volta River from his home, but previously unknown to him. As a result of seeing the plight of these slave women, he investigated the matter. What he saw and learned horrified him. He met with the Paramount Chief of the Mafi Traditional Area, the late Togbui Asemm III, and explained his intention to fight against the system. The astonished chief admitted that he was himself afraid of the system, but agreed to lend his support. Wisdom organized the first public meeting to discuss abolition at Mafi Adidome in N Tongu District in 1982. He also began to openly challenge the trokosi system in the national media, publicly denouncing the practice.
His challenged was picked up by the newspapers, and soon, headlines in Ghana screamed that Pastor Mark Wisdom declared was not afraid of the shrine priests. Wisdom wrote a book on the subject of trokosi, founded FESLIM (Fetish Slaves Liberation Movement), and was instrumental in some of the earliest liberations, but his greatest contribution to the anti-slavery movement was his boldness in publicly and fearlessly talking about it in the news. Wisdom’s courage to speak up pricked the national consciousness. He brought about a kind of renaissance of resistance to the practice.
Vincent Azumah & FIDA take up the fight
In the early 1990s, a Ghanaian journalist, Vincent Azumah, wrote courageously and publicly about the practice—not just reporting Wisdom’s challenges to the priests, but publicly exposing the practice which had remained hidden for so long. His articles sparked a nationwide debate that may be considered the beginning of widespread and active resistance. Soon after, the International Federation of Women Laywyers in Ghana (FIDA)organized an investigation into practices in the shrine. Their report was issued in 1992. Opposition to the practice encounters official favoritism to traditional ways
These events took place while Jerry Rawlings still held the presidency of Ghana with an iron fist. Rawlings and his administration were defenders of African traditional religion of which trokosi is a practice. Rawlings and his group called traditional religion the "African Heritage" and a cause for national pride.
One example of Rawlings open favoritism towards traditional religion was his granting of free air time to the founder of the Afrikania movement, Okomfo Damuah, at a time when Christian churches were virtually denied access to both radio and TV. Afrikania has always been the primary defender of trokosi, so they did everything possible to squelch the growing public outcry over the practice. One can easily see, then, that journalist Azumah and FIDA's actions were very bold indeed in the light of the political climate of the day. Rawlings did, however, provide a platform, a press conference, for the bold Mark Wisdom to address the nation on the issue.
In Togo, too, the official powers favored the traditional worship, called voudou in Togo (a vodun being a god roughly equivalent to the Ewe tro). When the late President Gnassingbe Eyadema came into power in Togo in 1967, he promoted a policy called “authenticité” (authenticity) similar to what the president-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko had done in Zaire in the early 1960s. This was a deliberate promotion of ancestral tradition to the point of giving it official legitimacy and discouraging, sometimes forcibly, expressions of other African spirituality. Of couse, the trokosi/vudusi system is a part of ancestral tradition, so this granted it official favor in Togo.
The push to criminalize the practice of trokosi in Ghana
These Ghanaian journalists revealed what had been a secret known only to a few. After these revelations, opposition to the practice developed quickly. The Ghana National Commission on Children brought attention to the issue during the celebration of the Organization of African Unity Day of the African Child on June 16, 1993. In 1994 and 1995 Ghanaian lawyer Anita Heymann Ababio researched the practice in the light of Ghanaian law. Recommendations from this research became a Law Reform Commission report to the Ghana government in 1995. According to Emmanuel Kweku Akeampong, a Ghanaian professor of history at Harvard University, the practice of trokosi was still much in the national attention in 1996 and 1997.
The practice of Trokosi outlawed in Ghana, 1998
In 1998 the Law Reform Commission, drawing on the recommendations of Ababio and others, drafted a law specifying "ritual or customary servitude" as a crime under the Criminal Code Amendment Act. The law passed, the Criminal Code of 1960, was amended, and ritual servitude was outlawed, requiring a mandatory three-year prison term for those found guilty. The general public in Ghana hailed it as a great breakthrough. However, no one has ever even been prosecuted under the law, let alone be convicted, and the practice continues to this day.
- FAQ About the Form of Slavery Called Trokosi, ECM Publications, 2002, p.1 ^ Field Findings on the System of Slavery Commonly Known as Trokosi, L W Rouster,M.R.E., ECMAfrica Publications, 2005, p. 1.
- "Everyone's Problem--The Issue of Shrine Slavery, Mama Mawusi, c. Every Child Ministries, (2010, p. 2)
- "Answers to Questions Frequently Asked about the System of Slavery Known as Trokosi", c. Every Child Ministries, 3011 ed., p.2.
- "Everyone's Problem--The Issue of Shrine Slavery", Mama Mawusi, Every Child Ministries, 2012 edition, p. 9.
- "Answers to Questions Frequently Asked about the System of Slavery Known as Trokosi", c. Every Child Ministries, 2011 ed., p. 3.
- "Answers to Questions Frequently Asked about the System of Slavery Known as Trokosi", c. Every Child Ministries, 2011 ed., p. 3.
- "Answers to Questions Frequently Asked about the System of Slavery Known as Trokosi", c. Every Child Ministries, 2011 ed., p. 4.
- "Answers to Questions Frequently Asked about the System of Slavery Known as Trokosi", Every Child Ministries, 2011 edition, p.4.
- "Everyone's Problem--The Issue of Shrine Slavery", Mama Mawusi, Every Child Ministries, p.11.
- "Everyone's Problem--The Issue of Shrine Slavery", Mama Mawusi, Every Child Ministries, 2012 edition, p. 11.
- Report on Trokosi Institution, Commissioned by International Needs, Dr. Elom Dovlo, University of Ghana at Legon, 1995, p. 12.
- "Everyone's Problem--The Issue of Shrine Slavery, Mama Mawusi, Every Child Ministries, p. 12.
- "Everyone's Problem--The Issue of Shrine Slavery," Mama Mawusi, Every Child Ministries, 2012 edition, p. 3.
- "Everyone's problem--The Issue of Shrine Slavery", Mama Mawusi, Every Child Ministries, 2012 edition, p.4.
- Wife of the Gods to ‘ke te pam tem eng’—Trokosi as seen through the eyes of the participants, Sofia Wiking, 2009, pp17-20.
- From “Report on Trokosi Institution” Commissioned by International Needs, Dovlo, E and Adzoyi, A.K., 1995, p.8.
- Interview with Lorella Rouster of Every Child Ministries, May 5, 2012.
- "Everyone's Problem--The Issue of Shrine Slavery", Mama Mawusi, Every Child Ministries, 2012 edition, p. 13.
- "Everyone's Problem--The Issue of Shrine Slavery", 2012 edition, Mama Mawusi, Every Child Ministries, p. 26-27.
- "Everyone's Problem--The Issue of Shrine Slavery", Mama Mawusi, Every Child Ministries, 2012 edition, p. 27.
- Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, Merrill C. Tenney, ed., Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1963, 1967, p. 77 & 87.
- Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, Merrill C. Tenney, ed., Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1963, 1967, p. 77 & 87.
- Bible Dictionary, Wm. Smith LlD., Universal Book & Bible House, Philadelphia, 1884., p. 70.
- The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, The Catholicc University of America, Washington, D.C., 1967, p. 947.
- The Histories 1.199, Herodutus, tr A.D. Godley (1920)
- The Sacred Marriage Rite, Samuel Noah Kramer from James Frazer (1922), The Golden Bough, 3e, Chapter 31: Adonis in Cyprus
- Associated with the corresponding verb zanah. Blue Letter Bible, Lexicon results for zanah (Strong's H2181), incorporating Strong's concordance (1890) and Gesenius's Lexicon (1857)
- Johanna Stuckey The "Holy One", MatriFocus, 2007
- Religions of the Ancient East, Vol. 141, Etienne Drioton, Georges Conenau & Jacques Duchemee-Gullemin, Hawthorne Books, NY, 1959, p. 1107. Located in MBI Library.
- Wives of the Leopard-- Gender, Politics & Culture in the Kingdom of Dahomey, Edna G. Bay, University of Virginia Press, 1998, p. 8.
- Warrior Women, The Amazons of Dahomey & the Nature of War", Robert B. Edgerton, University of California at Los Angeles, Westview Press, 2000, p. 15 & 52.
- "Lorella Rouster, Report on Visit to the Ancient Kingdom of Dahomey, May 2006, ECM Publications, p.2.
- Warrior Women, The Amazons of Dahomey & the Nature of War", Robert B. Edgerton, University of California at Los Angeles, Westview Press, 2000, p.53.
- “Trokosi in Retrospect,” A.E. Amoah, Daily Graphic, Tuesday, June 6, 1995. p. 5.
- “Trokosi system and Its’ Impact on the Education of the Female Child in the Mafi Traditional Area, Vorsah, Rebecca Abla, University of Cape Coast, 2000, p. 20.
- A.B. Ellis, Major, First Battalion West India Regiment, The Ewe-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa, Bahamas, 1890, republished by Benin Press, Chicago, 1965, p. 38.
- Wives of the Leopard-- Gender, Politics & Culture in the Kingdom of Dahomey, Edna G. Bay, University of Virginia Press, 1998, p. 22.
- The Ewe-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa, A.B. Ellis, Benin Press, Chicago 1965, p. 144.
- The Yoruba-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of WAF, 1970, Anthropology Publishers, Oosterhaut, The Netherlands, 1894. Gleaned from Dalzel’s “History of Dahomey”, 1793, p. 105.
- Sandra E. Greene, Gender, Ethnicity and Social Change on the Upper Slave Coast: A History of the Anlo-Ewe, Portsmouth, 1996, p. 64.
- Emmanuel Kwaku Akeampong, Between the Sea and the Lagoon, an Eco-Social History of the Anlo of Southeastern Ghana c. 1850 to Recent Times, Ohio University Press, Athens, OH, James Currey, Oxford, 2001, p. 225.
- "Lorella Rouster, Report on Visit to the Ancient Kingdom of Dahomey, May 2006, ECM Publications, p.3.
- Warrior Women, The Amazons of Dahomey & the Nature of War", Robert B. Edgerton, University of California at Los Angeles, Westview Press, 2000,p. 53.
- “Trokosi System and Its Impact on the Education of the Female Child in the Mafi Traditional Area”, Vorsah, Rebecca Abla, University of Cape Coast, 2000
- “Trokosi System and Its Impact on the Education of the Female Child in the Mafi Traditional Area, Vorsah, Rebecca Abla, 2000.
- A.B. Ellis, Major, First Battalion West India Regiment, The Ewe-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa, Bahamas, 1890, republished by Benin Press, Chicago, 1965.
- National Archives of Ghana, Accra, ADM 11/1/768 Acting District Commissioner of Ada, W. Price Jones to Commissioner for the Eastern Province (CEP), 10 March 1920.
- National Archives of Ghana, CEP, to Secretary of Native Affairs, Koforidua, 10 September 1924.
- Pyramid of Yahweh website, about trokosi, p. 4.
- "Everyone's Problem--The Issue of Shrine Slavery, Mama Mawusi, Every Child Ministries, 2012 edition, p.21.
- “Trokosi System and Its Impact on the Education of the Female Child in the Mafi Traditional Area”, Vorsah, Rebecca Abla, University of Cape Coast, 2000.
- "Everyone's Problem--The Issue of Shrine Slavery", Mama Mawusi, Every Child Ministries, 2012 edition, p.22.
- Anita Mamusina Heymann Ababio, "Trokosi, Woryokwe, Cultural and Individual Rights: A Case Study of Women's Empowerment and Community Rights in Ghana, St. Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, August 22, 2000, p. 21.
- The Trokosi System, Mark Wisdom, FESLIM, 2001, p. 14.
- The Ewe of Togo and Benin, Benjamin N. Lawrance, Ed., Woeli Publishing Services, Accra, Organization for Research on Eweland, 2005, p. 111.
- Heymann, Ababio A., The Impact of the Constitutional Provisions on the Customary Disabilities of Women in Ghana, Report on the Abolition of Ritual Slavery, Forced Labour and Other Related Practices, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London, April 1995.
- Emmanuel Kwaku Akeampong, Between the Sea and the Lagoon, an Eco-Social History of the Anlo of Southeastern Ghana c. 1850 to Recent Times, Ohio University Press, Athens, OH, James Currey, Oxford, 2001, p. 221-226.
- Heymann, Ababio A., The Impact of the Constitutional Provisions on the Customary Disabilities of Women in Ghana, Report on the Abolition of Ritual Slavery, Forced Labour and Other Related Practices, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London, April 1995, p. 21.Act 29
- The Criminal Code of Ghana, Act. 1998 Act. 554.