Slavery is a vice associated with the transatlantic trade, which sold Africans to the West for use as a source of the highly needed labor in the North and South American plantations. However, since its abandonment, this vice has ceased to exist. Consequently, mounting evidence shows the emergence of another form of human slavery in varied sections of the globe. Media reports, the National Geographic in particular, has tabled substantive evidence showing cases of slavery, especially in South Asia and sections of Africa. An example is the Trokosi religious practices across West Africa which has exposed countless women to incidences of rape and  labor. This work examines these allegations and tries to establish the extent of contemporary slavery amid the Trokosi religious practices. The write up investigates the evident women mistreatment amid the Trokosi sect and the mixture of slavery. Furthermore, it establishes the discriminatory treatment of women in the context of modern slavery.

Conceptualization of the Trokosi's Pious Beliefs

According to Gillard (2010), Trokosi is a pious practice amid sections of the West African inhabitants, especially in sections of the contemporary Ghana and Togo. Reportedly, this devout group enslaves girls as young as five year olds and exposes them to acts of hard labor for countless subsequent years. Gillard (2010) observes that the pious beliefs of this grouping expect the girls to serve the fetish priests in kinds of ways including sexual acts. These young ones come from the surrounding villages where parents are compelled to donate their daughters as a form of retribution for crimes committed by such families. Gillard (2010) reports that the devout leaderships predict the occurrence of misfortunes amid family groupings which fails to adhere to these beliefs. Additionally, the fetish priests demand for virgins claiming that the spirits would refuse a tainted offering.

Gillard (2010) denotes that this discriminatory pious belief has existed in the West African region for over three centuries. Despite the enactment of provisions outlawing these acts, the West African governments persist to ignore the full implementation of the edicts. Mounting evidence shows the reluctance of the state institutions to interfere to the devout practices of its people. Evidently, this explains the dismal actions taken in relation to numerous discoveries of shrines containing dozens of Trokosi slaves. Gillard (2010) observes that the sluggish nature of the governments towards these inhuman practices in the past had acted to promote the widespread acceptance of the practices. However, presently there are increased pressures from human rights activists and international media organizations that have increasingly focused their attention on these developments around the voltaic sections.

Cummings & Parrot (2008) observe that the reported events around the voltaic sections have conjured mixed reaction around the scholarly world with a particular school of thought refuting the classification of these events as human slavery. This school f thought views these events of the Trokosi practices as discriminatory acts against women, other than slavery. However, proponents of contemporary slavery observe that it’s a mild form of slavery, dissimilar to the sixteenth century slavery of Africans. To highlight this agreement, they propose that slavery takes varied shapes, but the common trend among most of them is that it brings together strangers to a common place. Additionally, slavery encompasses the acquisition of others an individual or a group of individuals for total unilateral use and control to achieve certain objectives. Furthermore, these individuals forcefully serve their masters and may take such shapes as forceful marriage and or adoption and cuts across all races.

In relation to Trokosi, Cummings & Parrot (2008) observe that the classification of the Trokosi practices as contemporary slavery has a basis on the fact of the arrival of the victims to a new ecological setup. In this set up, they are exposed to novel roles, dissimilar to their normal every day practices. These include the forceful exposure to the services and control by the fetish priests. The act of assemblage of strangers and the subsequent exposure to forceful treatment, as well as the curtailed human freedoms qualifies it as a form of slavery. Consequently, the exposure of the women to hard labor and subsequent sexual abuses points at a derogatory treatment of women. Furthermore, Cummings & Parrot (2008) observe that the society consider these girls as outcasts. This discriminatory treatment persists even upon their release from the pious services. The lack of social acceptance by the society in the aftermath of their release disapproves the concept of priestess, assumed by a few proponents of the vice (Cummings & Parrot, 2008).

Apart from the aspect of hard labor, these acts amid the Trokosis take a form of sexual slavery. Cummings & Parrot (2008) observe that the inability of these captives to change the situation of their existence, coupled by perceived sexual mistreatment and substantial abuse, supports this line of thought. Additionally, the view furthered by the fetish priests who classifies the Trokosis as the properties of the shrine accentuates the popular slavery attribute. However, despite the stand taken by dissimilar points of views, the presence of extensive physical and sexual mistreatment amid this pious organization points at an extensive disregard to human rights. The lack of acceptance of these victims in their respective societies expounds their psychological sufferings. Cummings & Parrot (2008) observe that despite the lack of an appropriate scholastic definition of the Trokosis activities, it is evidently an example of a contemporary form of slavery and discriminative treatment of women.

The History of Trokosi

Rinaudo (2003) traces the origin of the Trokosi back to the sixteenth century when it was conceived as a war ritual amid the West African communities, Togo and Benin in particular. Warriors would visit shrines where they delivered virgins in exchange for triumphs in the battle fields. Amid the West African enthusiasts, a Trokosi is a wife of the gods, a priestess who serves the gods alongside the priests. Rinaudo (2003) observes that society considers the Trokosis as wives of their masters, the priests who own them.   

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Contemporary societies around the voltaic region embrace this belief and often offer their virgin daughters to the shrine to make amends for anti social acts by family members. Rinaudo (2003) observes that the crimes committed varies and may include murder, rape or theft. Believers in this pious practice believe that a failure to honor the gods may result in consequences such as severe diseases and possible death. Additionally, the number of virgins sent to the shrine depends on the severity of the committed crime. Rinaudo (2003) denotes that incidences of homicides may compel the offenders to periodically send virgins to the shrine. Furthermore, depending on the severity of the crime, a Trokosi may stay in the shrine for her entire life.

According to Rinaudo (2003), life in the shrine comprises of series of hard labor, including cleaning, food preparation, fetching water and tilling the lands. The priests enjoy the earnings from their hard labor and are not liable to any form of compensation. Rinaudo (2003) observes that the present Trokosi systems are synonymous to business enterprises with reported fiscal and material benefits. Furthermore, the upkeep of the Trokosis is the responsibility of their families. Rinaudo (2003) observes that a bulk o the Trokosi families live in abject poverty and have enough food to spare for the Trokosis. Additionally, most believers live in fear of the Shrine and can hardly reach their daughters to provide them with the required upkeep.  The result is massive malnutrition and severe station coupled with hard labor, which has led to the demise of countless Trokosis. Rinaudo (2003) observes that the death of any Trokosi prior to the completion of her service duration compels her family to provide a supplementary virgin to serve the outstanding days. Reportedly, a failure to serve duration fully fails to avert the perceived misfortunes that may befall the family. 

Rinaudo (2003) observes that the Trokosi suffers counts of sexual abuse immediately after the maiden menstrual cycle. Furthermore, in the event of pregnancy, there are prohibitions from access to any medical assistance while there is deficient guidance on pregnancy. Rinaudo (2003) reports that children born within the shrine automatically become Trokosis; in such way, some priests have as many as 300 children and sixty four wives. Evidently, the number of children that priests have is a determinant factor of the position they hold within the society. Rinaudo (2003) observes that the need for more recognition and respect by priests within the societies has led to wide spread voluntary attempts by the priests to impregnate the Trokosis. This has led to large families with modest access to education.

Rinaudo (2003) reports that despite the suffering, numerous Trokosis serve out their terms. Furthermore, both family and society prohibit them from escaping the shrines. Rinaudo (2003) observes that a Trokosi has nowhere to run to. The family would reject her, while her community would return her to the shrine. Consequently, Trokosis feel a sense of responsibility to their families and would not attempt to escape, as this could bring a variety of misfortunes to their families. Additionally, handfuls of the Trokosis are scared and may not contemplate escaping the shrine. Rinaudo (2003) observes that the communities have championed the practice, as societal members view the Trokosis as a source of misfortunes.

Gillard (2010) observes that a good number of Trokosi are females and that they believe that the priests' preference of females is attributable to perception that girls are less rebellious as compared to males. The females are less likely to escape from the shrines. Additionally, females have an obedient attribute preferred by the priests. Gillard (2010) similarly relates the priests’ female preference to the capacity to transform them into a set of obedient servants, right from the time they come to the shrine.  Additionally, they provide a source of productive and reproductive labor which is considerably vital to the shrine. Moreover, the preference of females is equally attributable to the priests’ sexual orientations, (Gillard, 2010).

The varied counts of cruelties experienced by the Trokosis have long term physiological and psychological effects. First, owing to the tender age at which they are surrendered to the shrine, the Trokosis grow up into illiterate and unskilled individuals. In the aftermath of their shrine service, they face rejection from both families and communities. Gillard (2010) blames this on the perception that retired Trokosis carry their family's curse and may pass it to a subsequent family that they ultimately join. This form of rejection renders them unmarriageable outcasts who bear misfortunes. Gillard (2010) observes that this rejection has exposed countless ex-Trokosis to crime, drugs and prostitution. Observably, this lifestyle result from their scanty education and deficient social and educational skills.


Presently, numerous human rights activists, both local and international, are mounting pressure on the West African regional governments to end this form of human slavery. Despite provisions made by the Ghanaian government to outlaw such practices, the events are still predominant.  Trokosis priests continue to practice the form of devout belief in deterrent to the laws. Surprisingly, there is no recorded arrest, despite the mounting pressures and the enactment of the laws. This is, possibly, due to the inadequate willingness of the people to abolish such uncivilized practices, coupled by the government's unwillingness to infringe in people's religious and cultural practices. However, the activists and international organizations should adopt fresh approaches to this predicament. The factor that perpetuates this practices is the belief such communities have in the pious system. Evidently, the elimination of these societal vices is dependant on the drastic change amid cultural beliefs of these people.

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