Trokosi

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Among the Ewe and Dangme people of Ghana (and to a lesser extent, in Benin, Nigeria and Togo), traditional religious beliefs have given rise to the practice of trokosi, literally "slave of the gods," a type of oblate.

It is believed that if a man commits a grave sin that the gods will take revenge by killing members of his family. To avoid this, the ritual shrine priest may prescribe that the family give a young virgin girl (rarely, a boy) to the shrine as the god's slave. This may be for a few years or permanent, although the is possible for the family to ransom the girl at the end of a stated term.

Formerly the family could pay a fine in cattle or other goods, but in the 18th century this was apparently changed to the gift of a girl, possibly because they were more useful to the shrine priests. (An alternative explanation of the origin says that the practice arose as a form of payment for favors granted by the gods, such as returning safe from war.) If the girl dies during her service, the family must replace her; if the priest dies, she becomes the property of his successor.

Ritually, the girls are considered brides of the shrine god; in practice they are the concubines and domestic slaves of the priest. The trokosi and their birth families are responsible for their maintenance and that of any children they bear, not the priest. They usually are allowed occasional contact with their families. They also carry out religious duties at the shrine.

There are elements of Ghanaian society that defend the practice and deny that trokosi are mistreated, but the practice was outlawed in Ghana in 1998 and is declining. There are now probably only one or two thousand left in Ghana. See also the Devadasi of India.

References

South Africa Broadcasting Corporation. "Ghana's 'Divine Slaves' Still under Bondage." Available at: http://www.sabcnews.com/africa/west_africa/0,1009,19827,00.html
Amponsah, Obenewa. "The Trokosi: Religious Slavery in Ghana." Available at: http://www.anti-slavery.org/global/ghana/
Equality Now. "Slavery in Ghana: The Trokosi Tradition." Available at: http://www.equalitynow.org/action_eng_14_1.html
Niaga, Santuah. "Children Forced to Atone for the Sins of Parents," Dispatch [East London], 16 March 2000. Available at: http://www.dispatch.co.za/2000/03/16/features/KIDS.HTM

Indexes

Benin
Ghana
Nigeria
Togo
Tonga
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century
21st Century
Domestic Service
Other Religions
Poor Educational Opportunities, Self-taught
Oblates, Dedicated to God
Slaves
Temporary Care
Customary or Traditional Adoption, Informal and Extra-Legal Care
Always in Contact or Knew Identities
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