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TROKOSI: Some Traditionalists Defend System of Indentured Servitude in Ghana

Some girls in parts of Ghana, Benin and Togo are held in bondage in shrines in a traditional system called “trokosi.” Sometimes, they are committed to the shrines to pay off offenses committed against shrine by family members.

One organization that defends the trokosi system in Ghana is the Afrikania Mission. In its view, the practice of trokosi must be preserved.

Tracing the origins of the system, spokesman Osofo Ahadzi said some women consult deities in order to have children. These children are later pledged to the shrine or what he described as divinity. He said people who fail to redeem such pledges end up losing those children. People are also sent to the shrine for other reasons.

“If there is a calamity befalling a family and they go back to the divinity or shrine and it is said that such a person should be trained in the shrine to learn the skills and acquire the power of divination to protect the family, that is when that person is devoted to the shrine,” he said.

Persons presented to such shrines are almost always young female virgins. Their consent is never sought.

Ofoso Ahadzi denied reports that the girls are sent to the shrines to atone for crimes committed by other relations. He also denies that the girls are raped.

“It is completely out of place for anybody to claim that the keeper of the shrine plays around with the girls. You can’t do that. When you go against any of the regulations, it is not human beings that will punish you. The deity will punish you because all the girls who go in there for training are the daughters and princesses of the divinity. So if you take liberties with them you will be punished,” he said.

Osofo Ahadzi said such liberties may involve marrying a trokosi without permission from the shrine. This is because the girls are also regarded as wives of the deity. He said marrying a trokosi without going through the proper procedure will attract very severe punishment.

“You either have to get knocked down by the thunder god. There was a situation where the divinity asked one of the keepers not to marry this woman and he decided to go forward and marry. He thought that he was powerful and he went ahead and married. The mother died, he was going and the car had an accident. He died with his wife. In the traditional African religion the commandment is thou must not do this, if you do that you will get your punishment,” he said.

Osofo Ahadzi said the girls have a beautiful life at the shrine but the question put to him is why they are not allowed formal education.

“I have a whole lot of problems about this so called formal school not because it does not promote development. But we are realizing that the formal education is actually foreign cultural mis-education. You see our people, they come out of the universities and they have no work to do. What we are being taught in the classroom is not what we need in our society. Look at our environment. You go to the villages and the villages are cleaner than the cities where the so-called intellectuals live. So the people who don’t go through our so called formal education are better off than those who go through the formal education,” he said.

Osofo Ahadzi said the girls are not taken advantage of even though they are used as free labour on the farms. He said the chores they perform can be likened to what students are made to do in boarding schools. And are the trokosi girls, some of whom are as young as two years allowed freedom of movement like students undergoing formal education?

He said, “It is the height of irresponsible parentage to allow children to roam about”

Osofo Ahadzi said there is the need for Africans to tell their own unique stories. He said people who lose their roots lose their spiritual strength.

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