By Isaac Akwetey,Ave -Dzalele
Your authoritative Chronicle newspaper can confirm that the practice where virgin girls, through no fault of theirs are incarcerated and have to labour for somebody completely unknown to them, with its corresponding inhuman treatment, which gained notoriety in some parts of the Volta Region, is still going on.
This came to light after a week of undercover mission to some of the shrines, where the practice is still “cherished” in some parts of the Volta Region. Some of the areas visited by this reporter include; Asitor Atama shrine at Ave-Dzalele in the Akatsi North District and the Mafi-Wute shrine at Mafi in the Adidome municipality, among others.
Women and young girls in some of these shrines are still suffering from abusive cultural practices which are very inimical to their personal and societal development.
Trokosi is a ritual servitude where traditional religious shrines take human beings, usually young virgin girls, in payment for services or in religious atonement for alleged misdeeds of a family member.
A Trokosi girl is shaved on the head and can only boast of a piece of cloth to cover her naked body, with some thread of leaves around her neck and legs, in a typical old traditional style which depicts some amount of disgrace to human rights and modern tradition.
The Trokosi girls are enslaved and made to go to farm as early as 5:30am each morning without any foot wear and on empty stomachs, and work on the farm of their masters, as well as do other demeaning works that the master deems fit for the ‘slaves’.
In most cases, the boys who work with these masters take advantage of the vulnerability of these girls, some of them teenage girls, make love with them and impregnate them, thereby depriving them of their potentials in life.
VICTIMS STILL AT SHRINES
At the Mafi-wute shrine, there are 11 young girls, aged between seven (7) to 20 years, who have been denied education and other social and intellectual development, as they serve their masters to atone for crimes allegedly committed by their relatives.
The girls stay at the shrine to serve their masters for the rest of their lives. They sometimes stay at the shrine for a minimum of 14 years, depending on the negotiation and condition that brought them to the shrine, if there is no intervention from external bodies.
Speaking to this reporter, 17 year old Jessica Gamotse, who was in Junior High School (JHS) before being taken to the shrine, said she could not understand why her future should be sacrificed for somebody’s crime.
According to her, her future would come to an end if nobody comes to her rescue, since she would not have access to education.
Charlotte Agboloto, a 20 year old JHS student and another victim at the shrine, said she was told by her parents to accompany them to the place, only to be presented to the shrine as a sacrifice for a crime committed by a relative.
As at the time of the visit, some of the girls, according to the master, have been taken to the Northern Region to work.
They have, therefore, called on the society, especially Christians, to save them from these outmoded cultural practices and restore them to the comfort of their homes and society.
EX-TROKOSI GIRLS AT TRAINING CENTRE
Meanwhile, the Baptist Vocational Training Centre (BVCT), located at Frankadua, in the Asuogyaman District of the Eastern region, which was established in 1999, has taken it upon itself to train ex-trokosi girls.
The Ghana Baptist Convention (GBC) was motivated to establish the centre because of the vital role it played in championing the fight against outmoded cultural practices, which did not only violate the rights of the girls, but make them lose their confidence in society.
The GBC, through the Baptist Relief and Development Agency (BREDA), has gone to some of these shrines to save the lives of the young ladies, whose future would otherwise have been jeopardized.
The centre is run on the wings of the Baptist Relief and Development Agency (BREDA), subsidiary of the GBC and other benevolent bodies and individuals, and has since graduated over 200 ex-trokosi girls.
They undergo vocations in Catering, Dressmaking, Tailoring, Batik tie and dye, Carpentry, Kente weaving, Bead designing and Hairdressing, as well as learn subjects like English, Mathematics, Entrepreneurial skills and Information Communication Technology (ICT).
After three years, they write their Foundation examination, Certificate One (1) and Proficiency examinations with the National Vocational Training Institute (NVTI).
They are given start-up tools, which include oven, gas cylinder, hair dryer, sewing machines, certificates and undisclosed seed money, in the area of their training, to enable them set up their own businesses after graduation.
VICTIMS AFTER SKILLS TRAINING
Some of the ex-trokosi girls, who have graduated and established their own businesses, narrated their success story to this reporter, when he caught up with them at Ho, the capital of the Volta Region.
Kpodo Beatrice, who was rescued by the Baptist Convention Church and has received skills training in dress making through the Baptist Vocational Training Centre located at Frankadua in the Asuogyaman District of the Eastern Region broke down in tears when this reporter approached her to tell her story.
According to the 28 year old lady, who through the timely intervention of BVTC is now a master dress maker and owns her shop, described the practice as devilish and an affront to human rights, considering the treatment one has to go through.
She thanked the management of Baptist Vocational Training Centre (BVTC) for taking her out of the ordeal, give her a profession that she could depend on for the rest of her life, and most importantly introduce her to Christ.
She called on guardians, parents and relatives to do away with what she called a useless tradition and embrace modern trends which give a prosperous future to the society, instead of the trokosi practice and belief.
Miss Forgive Theresa Nuwormgbe, another ex trokosi victim, appealed to the government to enforce laws that proscribe practices that infringe on human rights of innocent people in the country.
She was among thirty-three ex trokosis, who recently underwent various vocational and technical training courses to equip them for their future.
According to her, she was made to labour in the homes and farms of her master, with all forms of abuses.
“I am pleading with government to send people to the affected places to put a stop to the practice, since it did not only make the victims illiterate, but also demonstrate disrespect to the dignity of the young girls”, she added.
Miss Nuwormgbe added that the sort of treatment they go through at the shrines make them less confident and also they find it difficult to interact with the rest of society, and that women are the economic backbone of every nation, hence the country would pay dearly if the future of these girls are destroyed.
“Let us all rise up and fight against cultural practices that are inimical to the human rights of people. I am urging everybody to join the fight against these obnoxious cultural practices”, she said.
POSITION OF THE MASTERS
Despite showing their readiness to stop the practice, the masters of the shrines have indicated that they can only stop when an alternative livelihood has been provided for them, since they use the girls on their farms.
According to Hunor Agbodzi Atama, the fetish priest in charge of the Asitor Atama shrine, they do not go for the girls and that it is rather their relatives who bring them to the shrines, after consulting the gods for some misfortunes in the family.
For him, as far as people continue to perpetuate evil in society, it would be difficult to stop the practice, not because they (shrine masters) are happy with the system but, because there are too much of wrongdoings in society.
Main Comment on a peer network….
1. Sometimes when i see these articles i don’t know whether to laugh, cry or just move on. Fact is at least 4 things are at play here. From a research i did way back in the ’90s by visiting some of the shrines and NGOs in the Tongu, Ada and Klikor areas there is more to the issue than is published.
First and foremost there are economic factors at play for both the Trokosi ‘liberators’ (mostly Christian NGOs) and the Hunorwo (leaders of the shrines). There was a thriving enterprise for both groups–NGOS get more funding from sponsors, Hunorwo also laugh to the bank as ,monies change hands during the liberation process. Even people who are not Trokosi are paraded asuch and reparations paid for them. It was a win- win situation! Trokosi ‘Liberation’ videos and features in the newspapers were awash. And as many as possible of such sessions are held in some shrines on a regular basis. Trade centres are established, items like sewing machines, hairdressing accessories etc given to the ‘liberated’ Trokosi. There is happiness all around!
Two, it is a struggle between traditional religion and Christianity (the Charismatic type) who are out to stamp out traditional religion.
Three, so long as it is religion-based, no matter how eroneous it may be, law or force cannot outlaw Trokosi. Fact is so long as people believe, Trokosi or Troxorvi as a traditional religion-based culture and nobody forces anybody into it we are in for the long haul. Families believing that the ill befalling them is related to sins that need to be atoned for through Trokosi, will find means of going on with the practice.
Four, the other economic aspect that i found is the fact that ‘most’ of the ‘abuses’ were in less economically viable communities in the Tongu area. In a viable place like Klikor/Agbozume, the Trokosi were actually economic fortresses, academically ok etc. They were traders, well-off and unless you were told who they are you wouldn’t know.
As i said this was work i did in the ’90s sometimes clandestinely in shrines both at night and during the day disguised. I have reluctantly written this now because i think we are back to the ’90s as some money from human rights groups may be flowing around again. Let’s do a little research into our culture before we start the ‘ugly noises’ again. ‘Abuse’ there may be but there are underlying factors and other forces at play!
2.You have explained why the practice of Trokosi exists or persists. Yours is, by and large, a positive analysis although it is, in many respects, a defense of the practice. That’s my impression.
For the sake of clarity, I would like to focus on a key aspect of Trokosi: “A Child’s Atonement of a Crime (sin) by an Adult” (hereafter CACA). Your statement below is consistent with this definition:
“Fact is so long as people believe, Trokosi or Troxorvi as a traditional religion-based culture and nobody forces anybody into it we are in for the long haul. Families believing that the ill befalling them is related to sins that need to be atoned for through Trokosi, will find means of going on with the practice.”
Once you agree that there is something fundamentally wrong with the principle of CACA, I do not think you can argue that there is moral equivalence between the actions of the NGOs and the actions of the leaders of the shrines. Yes, they are both financially well-off but one is trying to liberate the trokosis from “bondage” while the other is trying to keep them in it. Using a financial incentive by both sides as the only moral criterion is misleading. We have to confront the principle of CACA.
You say that in some places “Trokosi were actually economic fortresses, academically ok etc”. Fine. If so, these trokosis will not allow themselves to be “liberated”. The fact remains that some Trokosi voluntarily prefer to be out of the shrines than being in them. Their action is a reliable moral compass for evaluating the welfare implications of the NGOs’ efforts. The Chronicle’s journalist interviewed ex-Trokosis, spoke to the Hunorwo, mentioned their names, etc. We may come up with all sorts of conspiracy theories (e.g., the ex-trokosis were coerced to bash the practice). I won’t find them credible. These girls don’t want to be in bondage.
I do not think this should be seen as a wholesale attack on traditional religion. What is being called into question is the principle of CACA. Besides, Ewes are not the only Ghanaians who practice traditional religion.
I agree that Trokosi should not be used as an excuse for Ewe bashing. One should not paint the inaccurate picture that it is a widespread practice in the Volta Region. I therefore share the sentiments expressed by Uncle Dave Tay here: “My view is that, surely if there are abuses in trokosi, they should be investigated, dealt with through the legal process and corrected. One should not throw the baby out with the bath water. An analogy I draw with trokosi is what has been and is still being reported about the Catholic Church. Many cases of abuses of boys by Catholic priests and the huge amounts of cover-up money paid by the Church have been reported. But at no time have I heard anybody bashing all Catholics or asking for the Catholic Church to be abolished. So, why should trokosi be abolished because some of the priests have abused their office?”: http://www.kganu.net/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/thesubjectoftrokosi.htm
However, I am against the principle of CACA. I think that it is absurd. I do not understand why a child, usually a girl, should atone for the crime (or sin) of an adult. Isn’t the adult alive to atone for his/her own sin? I agree with you that this practice is driven by belief that the gods have power. Hmmm, when I look at the picture of the shrine and the chairs in there, all I see is poverty ooo. This type of power does not translate into economic wealth or command over resources. They need a few dollars in their pocket when trokosis are liberated. Physician heal thyself … Hunor Agbodzi Atama and co.