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Trokosi: Time To Slay The Dragon

human rights

Cindy AyivorTrokosi: Time To Slay The Dragon

THE STORY is told of a promising young woman who grew up in the Volta Region of Ghana. She was described by family and friends as an extremely intelligent person. A family member disclosed that before her birth, her parents had a problem with childbearing.

As a result of that they contacted a fetish priest for assistance.

In due course, her mother conceived and was subsequently delivered of a baby girl. However, her parents had a pact with the fetish priest who assisted them. This meant that the girl had to be returned to his shrine to serve as a “Trokosi” or “slavewife” for the rest of her life when she reached a particular age. The consequence of defaulting this condition included afflictions such as mysterious deaths and illnesses, including tuberculosis and leprosy, on the members of the family.

For this reason, this educated girl, according to a family source who wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, is being pursued by the family to honour the family’s pledge – IN THE YEAR 2014!

This is the story of Cindy Ayivor who is currently at large because her family members are scared-to-death of the calamity that would befall them if she does not come to their rescue. That is how enslaved we are, as Ghanaians, to cultural practices even in this day and age.

Trokosi System

Photo Reporting- Trokosi Fetish Priest

Trokosi is the practice of involuntary ritual servitude, especially the practice of demanding young girls as living sacrifices in an attempt to atone for the real or alleged misdeeds of relatives or to fulfil the promises of relatives or ancestors. The girlslave is therefore kept at the shrine of a fetish priest, as his “wife” even if it is against her wish.

In some cases, it is also common for the shrine to cast an illness on someone and then demand payment of a girl in order to cure the illness. Still others specialise in helping women conceive, and the children conceived become the property of the shrine. It is believed the child will die as soon as he or she stops serving the shrine.

The term ‘Trokosi’ is also used to refer to the young girl who has been enslaved under the Trokosi system.

Trokosi is practised in south-eastern Ghana, especially among the Ewes, where girls and young women are sent to fetish shrines to live and atone for the crimes of their family members, mostly men. The Volta, Eastern, and Greater Accra regions are the three regions in Ghana where the Trokosi system is practised most. Many communities in these regions have shrines where the Trokosi slaves are sent to spend the rest of their lives.

Children born to the Trokosi slaves also become slaves to the gods and are known as “Trokosiviwo”. When a priest dies, his successor inherits all the slaves in the shrine as well as their children.

However, the practice is not confined to Ghana, as it is said to be common in some communities in Togo and Benin as well.

In Ghana, the Trokosi system requires a young virgin to be enslaved by the local witch doctor for the atonement of the sins of the father.

The girls (named Trokosi) serve life sentences under horrific conditions. They serve in the fields under forced labour, provide sexual services on demand, and are terrifically abused for disobedience. They do not run away for fear the witch doctor will curse their families.


During the migration of the Ewe ethnic group, wars were rampant and warriors usually pledged women to their religious shrines in exchange for victory in battle.

This practice evolved into what has now become the Trokosi.

“Tro” in Ewe means deity and “kosi” means female slave.

After settling into their present communities, people began to indulge in socially unacceptable acts. They committed offences such as murder, rape, theft and adultery. There was a need to put in place measures to administer justice and maintain law and order. As a result, the Trokosi practice became entrenched in the religious and cultural practices of the people to serve the above purposes. As time went on, families began experiencing misfortunes.

These misfortunes were attributed to the wrath of the gods due to offences committed by members of the family. In order to appease the gods and stop these misfortunes, a young girl was sent to the shrine to be a Trokosi or “slave of the gods”.

Other Parts Of The World

Some scholars have described the Trokosi as a form of ritual servitude which has taken root, not only in West Africa, but in some other parts of the world. A form of it is practiced in India and Nepal as part of Hindu religion, and various forms of it were part of ancient religious traditions of devotion to various gods and goddesses.


As a ritual servitude, a girl is given to the shrine or to the gods as a kind of “living sacrifice” to atone for the real or alleged crimes of a family member, as discerned by the priest of the shrine. During a process of divination, he calls on the gods of the shrine to reveal this information.

Girls given in these circumstances, in a sense, are considered saviours; for as long as they remain in the shrine or under its control the anger of the god is believed to be averted from the rest of the family.

The second most frequent reason for the practice of ritual servitude is that the girl is given as a continuous repayment to the gods for services believed to have been obtained or favours believed to have been obtained from the shrine, as in the case of Cindy. Thus, a girl may be given into ritual servitude when someone believes a child has been conceived or a person has been healed through the intervention of the shrine.

Proponents of the practice claim that some victims choose a life of ritual servitude out of their own volition, but human rights organisations have claimed that whiles this may be theoretically possible, they haven’t found one yet.


According to Sandra Greene, in Ghana, the practice dates back to at least the late 18th century. At that time the Amlade clan became very powerful, and began to demand female slaves from those who sought its services. The practice, called “replacement”, also began in Ghana at that time. Under this practice, if a shrine slave died or ran away, the family was required to replace her with another girl. At the beginning of the 19th century, when Nyigbla became the chief Anlo deity, its shrines also began to demand slaves for its services.

Involuntary slavery, however, was not common at that time and in that place.

Even though Nyigbla instituted a practice called ‘foasi’, whereby two servants were recruited annually, it was done on a more or less voluntary basis. At that time, the slaves were often married to members of powerful priestly families.

Call To Action

The Ghana Police Service has been urged to live up to expectations in its responsibility to protect the citizenry against obnoxious cultural practices.

Even though some of these practices are unlawful, they are very much a part of the lives of people in some customary communities in southern Ghana, as evidenced by the story of Cindy Ayivor.

Practices such as ‘trokosi’ have no place in modern societies because they offend natural justice, and good conscience.

It is time our security agencies embarked on a crackdown on practitioners, in order to extinguish totally the cinders of this atrocious practice.

Despite this, a recent research finding revealed that the controversial ‘Trokosi’ system is still active in the country despite being outlawed in 1998. As at 2008, about 9 per cent of Ghanaians wanted Trokosi to be maintained.

Photo Reporting: Some Trokosi women


[Related Article- The Republic v Trokosi, Ex parte The Child-Girls]

Source: By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri



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