Ewes and the practice of trokosi

Tue, 4 May 2010 Source: Amenyo, Kofi

To say that Ewes practise trokosi is like saying that Ghanaians practise female genital mutilation (FGM). That may be true but a more careful examination will reveal that it is a careless statement. Only a very small fraction of Ghanaians practise FGM. The same can be said of the number of Ewes who practise trokosi. But when the practice is a bad one, no fraction can be too small and even a single case is one too many. I do not condone either of the practices in any way but I believe that proper knowledge of what really happens should be the first step in doing something towards eliminating them.

When the fight against FGM went on high gear in Europe and the US in the early 90s with governments giving funds to NGOs and activists becoming even militant, I was glad that an evil practice was being finally tackled head on. There were no lectures or demonstrations I failed to attend on the issue. That was when I learned that FGM is practised even among indigenous Ghanaians. Later, I started wondering why there is such an excessive interest in this African practice even by white European men. Is it because it has to do with the private parts of little girls? This is kinky stuff that titillates our (especially male) libidinous instincts. The discussion of trokosi has a tinge of the same effect about it even though, on ghanaweb, the ethnic dimension has taken the better part of the argument.

As an African, I became a bit defensive and started arguing that this is our African culture and we shall take our own time and volition to do away with the bad aspects. I started looking askance at those African organisations or individuals applying for funds from European governments and bodies to fight FGM in Africa. But my people do not practise FGM! I feel the same way about trokosi too. As an Ewe, I feel compelled to be defensive of my whole tribe even though my own people do not practise trokosi.

It is with FGM as it is with trokosi. FGM occurs in the three northern regions of Ghana among the Kusasis, Frafras, Kassenas, Busangas, Wallas, Dagarbas, Builsas and Sisalas as well as some tribes in BA and VR. That is what the official statistics say. Trokosi, on the other hand, is practised in a small area in the southern parts of the Volta Region mostly among the Tongu people living in villages like Klikor, Mafi, Agave, or Afife. Not all the “real” Anlos – those from Anloga, Keta, Afiadenyigba, Anyako, etc. practise trokosi. Of course, they, too, have other forms of fetish worship and idols (legba) are common in many houses in these areas. But, like the rest of Ghana, Christianity is strong in these areas with the E. P. and Roman Catholic churches being dominant there for ages. And then, there is this drove of new churches of a charismatic nature all over the place – just like the rest of Ghana.

I will stick out my neck to state that the great majority of Ewes do not practise trokosi. All the Ewes from Kpetoe, through Ho, Kpandu, to Hohoe, DO NOT do trokosi. In fact, many Ewes had not even heard of trokosi before it was made popular in the media. At least 80 per cent of Ewes, and an even greater percentage of the people of the Volta Region, DO NOT know a thing about trokosi. Even in the villages where it is practised, it is not all the people there who adhere to it. That is why my stomach churns when I read such ill-informed statements on ghanaweb like trokosi is "widely practiced in the Volta Region". How does one feel when one is told that “FGM is widely practised in Ghana”? What is all this about using the transgressions of the few to condemn the lot? And this, even by professors of Sociology, who, more than anyone else, should know better about such things. I am as Ewe as they come, an adult, but I have never seen a trokosi girl before except on foreign television. The idea of depriving little girls of formal education and giving them to much older men is as abhorrent to most Ewes as it is to other Ghanaians.

Even those Ewes on ghanaweb who try to explain the practice of trokosi never argue that it is right to enslave innocent little girls and have older men do things to them. They never argue that any form of the practice should still be maintained. The time of trokosi is gone forever as there are now new structures in place to take care of whatever social order it might have brought in the past.

As our nation plods its way through the turmoil of modernity, this can only proceed in fits and starts. Many of the old ways will surely wither on the vine. Didn’t we, in History, read about practices like panyaring among the Fantes where a creditor seized persons from the debtor’s family and sold them into slavery (a practice that was often abused), or chiefs who were buried with their wives and the activities of head hunters (not corporate heads, mind you)? Today, one hardly hears of such things. Even so, some practices die hard and there are ignorant people still hanging on to the trokosi system. They, too, will disappear one day and soon. And which ethnic group in Ghana doesn’t have any skeletons in its cultural closet? Let members of that group come forward and throw the first stones at the others...

Kofi Amenyo (kofi.amenyo@yahoo.com)

Columnist: Amenyo, Kofi