According to Aird (2010), Trokosi system is a religious system in which women and young girls are exposed to incidences of rape and hard labor. Aird has noted that despite the prohibition by both the current constitution of Ghana and other binding international agreements to which Ghana is a member, the practice has persisted over the years. Gillard (2010), on the other hand, observes that Trokosi as a form of slavery is based on certain religious traditions and other superstitions. This practice provides a worst form of slavery both in the past and even the modern society. It involved the families having to give out their daughters to the shrine priests as sacrifices to the gods for any crime committed by any of their members’ failure to which there will not be forgiveness.
The Origin of the Trokosi
According to Idriss (2010), the custom has continued from the fetish belief system. In the fetish practice, there was belief that gods or spirits usually reside in different types of objects used for rituals and also in shrine priests. Idriss (2010) noted that the tradition was first practiced in Togo and Benin where it was used as a ritual before people could go for any war. This was in the 16th century. Idriss (2010) explains that in this original form, the worriers were expected to visit the religious shrines with their wives whom they willingly offered to the priest in exchange for victory. Idriss (2010) reported that according to the recent studies, Ghana presently has a total of slightly over 5,000 Trokosi slaves. The practice is totally embraced by many, with the priests of Trokosi continuing to enjoy a great respect from all the sections of the Ghanaian population. The tradition of Trokosi is majorly common among the Ewe ethnic group. The practice has also been changing in form with time.
Trokosi Practice in its Past Form
During the past, the practice equally required that whenever a crime is committed, the relatives of the criminal must give a virgin girl normally between the age of eight to the age of eighteen. The daughters were to be given to the shrine in which they were made the Trokosi, which meant that they were gods’ slaves (Bales & Trodd, 2008). Once there, the girls were made subjects to the priests who took them as their property. They could be beaten whenever they were found making attempts to escape, they had no freedom of expression or interaction and the priest would force them into labor and sex. Aird (2010) noted that the girls could also not be given basic human needs such as food education and health services.
Reasons for the Persistence of the Practice
Rinaudo (2003) observed that even with the brutal nature of this practice, research has shown that most of the Ghanaian families continue to give out their daughters to the shrines freely. There are a number of reasons that have been given for the continued existence of this practice among the Ghanaians and other West African nations. The first is the continued belief that the requirement of the virgins is mandatory for the gods to forgive any crime done by a member of the family (Cummings and Parrot, 2008). According to Aird (2010), the priests have continued to take advantage of this common belief to further their exploitation of the virgins.
Abbas & Idriss (2011) have also noted that the ancient superstitions have also made the families to believe that without heeding to the call to sacrifice their virgin daughter for any wrong done, they would face various consequences. Aird (2010) noted that the consequences range from being attacked by diseases to falling victims of various misfortunes and finally to experiencing several deaths. Studies have also shown that some families have also, in certain occasions, voluntarily given their daughters to the shrines because they believed that in that way, their daughters would be guaranteed good luck in future.
Rinaudo (2003) has noted that there is also a common belief that the priests are able to communicate with the war gods and that they have an unquestionable influence in the spiritual world. Some Ghanaians even believe that the priests have power to determine one’s time of death. The priests are, therefore, greatly respected with people fearing to question their actions. Another reason given by Idriss (2010) is the argument by the priests that the practice has offered the community with an effective way of ensuring that the community members adhere to the norms. The priests have also argued that the Trokosi slaves also provide their families with access to the gods who give them the power to live morally.
Cummings & Parrot (2008) have also noted that there is a common fear that the released Trokosi may have carried misfortune when they leave the shrine. This has made it difficult for those who are released to be welcomed back into their families. Several Trokosi have, therefore, opted to continue serving in the shrines beyond their term. Having been denied education, health care and other services, it has always proved very difficult for the Trokosi to fit back into the society.
The Modern Trokosi
Idriss (2010) has noted that the present way of practicing Trokosi is slightly different from the past. The today Trokosi has taken the form of any other business involving the exchange of goods for money. The priests have literally put it as a law that anyone who wants to see them must have an offering. The fetish shrines where the priests live and carry out these practices are also owned by the elders of the clan who also benefits economically from this practice. Today’s Trokosi, unlike those of the past practice, serve even the economic interest of both the priests and the shrine owners.
According to Gillard (2010), in today’s practice, the slaves are overworked without any compensation. They are involved in farming and different forms of petty trades from which they don’t get any financial support in return. This implies that the slaves’ needs have to be supplied for by their families. This has worsened the state of today’s Trokosi compared to those who served in the past as most of the family members are either afraid of going to the shrine or are so poor to offer any support to their daughters.
The Similarities of the Past and Present Forms of Trokosi
Idriss (2010) has noted certain similarities in the past and present Trokosi practices. In both cases, the duration of service is determined by the kind of the crime committed. Also, in the cases where the virgin given dies before the slavery duration, the family is expected to provide another virgin daughter. Idriss (2010) also noted that in both cases certain crimes like commitment of homicide amounted to the need for a family to send a number of virgins over several generations. Bales & Trodd (2008) have also noted that in both cases the power to release a Trokosi rests only on the priest and the shrine owners. The two also observed that in both cases, whenever a priest dies, his Trokosi and children are inherited by the priest who replaces him.
Why Females and not Males?
Gillard (2010) observes that a good number of Trokosi are females. According to him, the priests’ preference of females is because girls are naturally less rebellious compared to males. They are, therefore, less likely to escape from the shrines. Additionally, females have an obedient attribute preferred by the priests. Gillard (2010) similarly relates the priests’ female preference to the capacity to transform them into a set of obedient servants. Additionally, they females provide the priests with a source of productive and reproductive labor. The females are also used to satisfy the sexual desires of the priests (Gillard, 2010).
Idriss (2010) has revealed a case of Abla Kotor who is nine year old and had been sent to the shrine by her own family when she was six years old. She had been taken to Awlo-Korti shrine which is located in the southern Ghana. She was offered as a sacrifice for a crime that had been committed by her father. The situation was funny because the father had raped her niece resulting into the birth of Abla. Abla was, therefore, given as a sacrifice to the priests for her father to be forgiven and her family to be covered from vengeance. As she served, she was abused both physically and sexually. She did all kinds of work assigned to her by the priest and could neither go to school nor leave the shrine.
Presently, Ghana has been receiving pressures from numerous human rights activists, both local and international, to end this form of human slavery. Despite provisions in its own constitution, the practice is still predominant in a number of its communities. Trokosi priests have continued to instill fear to enable them to further exploit the community in what has presently become a form of business. Surprisingly, the Ghanaian government has not been arresting those who are found practicing the vise despite the mounting pressures and the enactment of the laws.
The people of Ghana have continued to express unwillingness to abolish such uncivilized practices. Noting that the government's is also unwilling to interfere with people's religious and cultural practices, it is, therefore, clear that this practice may continue into the future. It may only be countered by an added aggressiveness in the parts of the various civil activists and international organizations operating in the country. Of primary importance will also be various intervention programs that aim at luring the community to abandon such practices.