An ancient cult is alive and well in Ghana, taking girls as young as two and offering them as wives to appease their deities
Until he was 13 years old, Vananua, the shrine priest of Kebanu village, a small rural community in south-eastern Ghana, was, he says, just an ordinary child.
He got up early every day, helping his brothers fetch water before going to school at 7.30am. But, one night, he had a visitation. Mama Vananua, a god worshipped by the inhabitants of Kebanu, entered his body. She informed him he would take on her spirit and lead his village as the next "trokosi" priest. From then on, her name would be his name.
Trokosi is a traditional practice of slavery still seen as normal in parts of Ghana, Togo and Benin. Girls as young as two are offered to a fetish shrine priest as a way of appeasing the gods for a relative's transgression, past or present. The word trokosi comes from the Ewe words "tro", meaning deity, and "kosi" meaning female slave. The tradition, which has been part of the Ewe culture for centuries, requires a girl to spend the rest of her life as a "wife of the gods".
Vananua sits, deep in concentration, in front of the Kebanu shrine - a small ochre-red hut, surrounded by high walls on the outskirts of the village. There is no door to the shrine, and the unremitting darkness within makes it impossible to see inside. "Troxovi", a small spiky wooden carving, or fetish, stands at the entrance. Vananua is dressed in long flowing white calico robes and a conical shaped hat. He says the customary prayers to welcome a visitor to the community and then pours libation.
"Mama Vananua is a god who takes children," he says. "She looks for people who do wrong but who pretend they've done nothing. When you're brought before her, she will consult the higher gods and then will bring these crimes to light.
"For this, Mama Vananua takes a girl, or a lady, to pacify her for the work done."
Trokosi originates from the same belief system as voodoo. From the 1500s on, the Ewe were driven from the Niger River delta westwards. During this violent period their war-gods took on great importance and the fetish priests were more important than the chiefs. Before entering combat, warriors would visit religious shrines where they offered women to the war gods in exchange for victory and a safe homecoming. Today, trokosi priests are the most revered figures in many rural areas. Families believe that if they refuse to give a girl to the fetish shrine, it will bring bad luck to the community, ranging from poverty, disease and death.
Trokosi: Indentured Servant Tells About Her Experience in the Traditional System
TROKOSI: Human Rights Activists Complain Laws Fail to End Indentured Servitude
Liberating girls from ‘trokosi’
Australia helping to liberate Trokosi slaves in Ghana