I have been reading a lot about Women lately owing to a certain interview that I am supposed to attend for a post-graduation in Women’s Studies. While going through some of the articles, I happened to read about Ritual Servitude or Trokosi. I felt the need to share the existence of such a custom in one part of the world where girls are made to suffer to please God. I assume I should elucidate this entire procedure of ritual servitude before delving into my views on the same. Trokosi is an unusual practice followed in some parts of Ghana, Africa wherein a family offers a virgin female to the traditional shrine to protect against the wrath of God in case a member of the family commits a crime or a moral sin. So, for example, if you are unable to pay the debt or you offend somebody, then to purify yourself of the sins you have committed, you must present a virgin daughter (or any other female) to a fetish shrine where she would serve the priests as a slave. In other circumstances, trokosis (as the girls offered are called) are given to the shrine as a continuous repayment for the services offered by the shrine to the respective family. Here, if a man believes that his wife conceived because of the blessings of the shrine, he would give a virgin female to the Gods/priests for ritual servitude in exchange for their services. I know this entire system and the underlying principle behind it is a little tough to digest because it seems so unreasonable and ghastly.
As I studied more about Trokosi, I found out that in a number of instances, the girls of a family endure the punishment for a sin committed generations ago. For a better explanation, I would quote another example. Suppose your family has offered a trokosi who eventually dies after serving the shrine for a few years; you are supposed to proffer another trokosi in place of the dead woman. In some other shrines, this servitude is for ‘fixed’ periods of time after which the girl is allowed to leave the shrine but her connection with it continues for her entire life. Accordingly, even if she lives away from the priests, every aspect of her life is controlled by them. The word ‘trokosi’ means ‘slave to the gods’ or ‘wife to the gods’ and hence, once a girl is committed to the shrine, a spiritual bondage between the two is established by a ritual and the girl is obliged to have sex with the priests once she starts with her menstruation.
I do not wish to go in the profundity of this awful custom because it makes me feel wretched and at times even powerless. Sometimes, girls as small as two years old are gifted as trokosis. In one account, I read about a seventeen year old girl who is the daughter of a trokosi and a priest and is herself serving the shrine since her birth. She questions the reporter and even the world- ‘Why don’t you do this with the boys as well? Why can’t a boy be a trokosi?’ None of us has an answer to her query. In fact, nobody can even picture visibly what these girls go through. It appears so out of the ordinary. I have been feeling as if I am reading a fantasy novel because this can’t be true; right? Alas! It is.
In 1998, the government of Ghana passed a law against ritual servitude but there have been no prosecutions under the law. Several NGOs have taken up the cause and their efforts have resulted in the liberation of 3,500 trokosis and have influenced about 50 shrines to bring an end to this practice. There are approximately 25 shrines in Ghana where the ritual still continues. The most active groups in liberating shrine slaves through negotiated community agreements have been FESLIM, Fetish Slaves Liberation Movement, International Needs Network, and Every Child Ministries.
When I first wrote about The Witch Camps of Ghana, I had no clue about another irrational tradition followed in the country, plainly against the survival of women. Now, it makes me wonder; why can’t the world get together to empower the women all around? We are all ‘one’, we are all ‘together’ and we are all ‘humans’. The least we can do is spread awareness and pray. Probably, that’s all in our control for now.
Note: Tomorrow is the International Women’s Day. Make the women around you feel special.