This paper discusses why the Trokosi system still exists by looking at it from different perspectives. I will examine the topic from various and critical angles. I will highlight the most prominent and dominating aspects of this modern day slavery.
Background of Trokosi System
After conducting a thorough research on diverse perspectives of this traditional belief, I came across quite a few differing viewpoints, which I would like to describe in detail. In order to examine the consequences of Trokosi system, one has to trace it back to its inception and study the current state of affairs to comprehend it better and avoid ignorance. If a girl is born in Ghana, her destiny is determined at once and her future life will be full of hardships and terrible events. When she reaches the most beautiful part of her life, when others go to school, make friends and get familiar with the interesting dimensions of the world, she is sold to a merciless master. She toils for him like a slave and fulfills his physical, sexual and all other demands in a way that she loses her originality, recognition and status. The drastic impression of Trokosi system brings her into a hell where she gravely exists and remains there till her last breath. This modern-day slavery steals her life, beauty, virginity, emotions, desires and innocent wishes. Even if she is chosen to be set free in her later life, she is left bare-footed, unskilled, illiterate and ignorant. In the 21st century, where the rest of the world is planning to settle on other planets, a girl in Ghana is living a drastic life under the Trokosi system.
Looking at this old practice from a sociological viewpoint, one may state that denying access to proper education and spiritual and intellectual development drastically influences the social needs of women and children (Wiafe, 2000). This sexual, physical and mental abuse, aimed at appeasing God, is a ritual belief incorporated over uneducated people. But the truth is that the masters gain next to free slaves and keep the God’s revenge at stake of these people. The philanthropic act of presenting girls to Gods has been a part of many ancient religions. Specifically in Africa, these practices have been tenacious for centuries. Due to its historical existence, even after its outlaw in 1998, the contemporary times have not witnessed any change in this form of modern slavery. The convicted belief is so strong that the relatives of these female victims repeatedly send the released Trokosi slaves back to the shrines by force, believing that they will bring misfortune to their family and community if they escape from there. There is also a custom that, if the girl runs away or dies, the family has to provide another member to replace the loss. These girls are kept as slaves for 10 years as a usual timeframe and, on demand of the priests, they may be kept for their entire life.
Geographical Roots of Trokosi system
From a geographic perspective, this system exists not only in Ghana, but also in Benie, Togo, and parts of Yorubaland in Nigeria. The reasons behind these differences are the patriarchal superstitious beliefs and the mental backwardness of the uncivilized cultured people in these undeveloped regions. Since this system is based solely on a traditional belief, historical and cultural reasons have made a relatively large impact on its existence.
It is evident that the Trokosi slave is punished for the acts performed by her ancestors and she is forced to remain enslaved, which also includes involuntary sex with her master (shrine’s priests) just for ensuring the attainment and protection of her people and their properties.
According to the domestic law of Ghana, it is illegal to keep people as slaves, or to force anyone to perform any kind of labor and, furthermore, the law pronounces that every person has the right of personal liberty (Article 14 & 16). But, in spite of Ghanaian Constitution and Slavery Convention, the priests put forth full possession rights of the virgin girls by beating and controlling them. Besides, they demand labor and sex while denying food, education and basic health necessities for their survival (Mama, 1995). This modern slavery practice cannot be completely eroded because these girls’ families are themselves willing to give away their virgin daughters in exchange for God’s forgiveness. They believe that if they do not accomplish such actions they will suffer from misfortunate life and drastic consequences (Tsikata, 2008). Thus, in order to have God’s appeasement for their families as well as for their better fortune, this illegal practice still functions.
Looking at this modern-day slavery from an economic standpoint, it is evident that the Trokosi system has been converted into a kind of business where monetary and material benefits have become dominantly important. Shrine owners claim the priests to be responsible for the Trokosi slavery acts but, on the other hand, they are among those who basically reap benefits from this slavery in terms of financial reimbursement. Slaves are enforced to work more than 12 hours a day under scorching sun, without any compensation and the major part of their earnings goes to the priests (Dzirasa, 1997). Moreover, they receive no financial support from their alleged masters and they are dependent solely on their families for adequate food and clothing (Sarah, n.d.). This also proves that these shrines reap all the economic benefits by using these girls not merely for the purpose of enjoyment, but also for financial gain. This is the reason why this practice is sustained in the modern era.
The survival of Trokosi practice in Africa can also be explained by a psychological standpoint both of the slaves and their masters. As far as the enslaved girl is concerned, this is seen in her family’s psychological belief that she will bring luck and health to their community (Quashigah, 1999). This belief has passed through generations; today it has taken an emotional position, which is the reason behind its continued actuality (GNA, 2005). On the other side, the priests make families believe that their wrongdoings and depravities will be amended by sending these young girls to shrines and, in turn, they enjoy the luxury of having sexual relations with many girls without giving them the status of wives and keeping them financially deprived (University-Community, 2010). African people are psychologically influenced by the priests to believe that Trokosi slaves act as a link between the God and the family, and they make this belief well-founded and stronger on a religious platform by making it look like a reminder for family members to lead moral, ethical and sin-free lives, thus securing people from breaking community norms (Apollo, 2001, p.93). Yet another opinion of why this practice still persists in this modern world requires in depth research of different societal attitude’s dimensions (Sandra, 2009, p.1).
My Learning Perspective
Having conducted this research, I have learned that Ghana (one of the main Trokosi system practitioners) is still a developing country and the economy of the region is poorly managed. Most of its citizens live below poverty line. Finding clean water, proper food and clothing are the principal tasks for the people of Ghana. Many of them are starving, live in terrible conditions and do not have the modern standard living environment. Furthermore, it is also evidently understood that the Trokosi system has a long history that has created a deep sentimental impact on the local people’s minds. These people are non-civilized and uneducated; and they, instead of bearing the burdens of their daughters, come under these contemptuous and disparaging unethical beliefs provided by the priests and fail to comprehend the evil motives of these fetish shamans. Even if they say that the practice brings morality and ethics in the lives of these African people, still it does not mean that it is necessary to use young girls as leverage to manage their problems.
After a critical insight on all the perspectives and examining them individually, I can clearly state that all of these perspectives, including sociological, psychological, historical, legal, economical and geographical elements, have disparity in their system and functioning, which is the major reason behind the endurance of Trokosi system. The system even continues to develop and evolve in this modern era. The human rights activists and the laws of Ghana are all trying to overcome this inhumane and humiliating treatment of young girls, but still it continues its existence simply due to the historical premises and traditional beliefs. All of the perspectives investigated have explained individually that Trokosi system leads to increase in non-civilization and illiteracy among African girls. Correspondingly, many of these slaves die of starvation, leaving behind many illegitimate children who are also treated as slaves throughout their lives, and do not receive proper education and guidance. They are left alone to fight against the engulfing facts of their miserable lives. Existence of Trokosi system also gives birth to many diseases, as the enslaved girls are desisted from proper health services.