My stolen childhood: understanding the trokosi system – BBC Africa Eye documentary

My stolen childhood: understanding the trokosi system – BBC Africa Eye documentary


This is Ghana, West Africa. When I was 7, I was brought to this country
and forced into a system I knew nothing about. This is me.
I was held as a slave in a religious shrine. What crime is this child paying for? Her uncle committed adultery. Thousands of women across West Africa
have lost their freedom because of a practice called trokosi. And it’s still happening. Now I’m on a journey to try and understand
what happened. To find answers to questions
I’ve had on my mind for years. What is trokosi? And why did my family give me away? Hey, this is Brigitte – you’re my uber. My name is Brigitte Sossou Perenyi. I live and work in Accra, the capital of Ghana. It’s the city where I feel most free. But my first memories in this country are among my darkest. I was trafficked here from my home
in neighbouring Togo and held in captivity as part of a practice called trokosi. Trokosi is illegal and it’s not often talked
about in Accra. But to my suprise,
Richard tells me his own grandmother is living as a trokosi. This same system robbed me of my childhood. Twenty years later, I’m on a journey to understand what really happened. I was told I had to leave home. To go and live with my uncle. I was placed on the back of a motorbike. I
didn’t even know the driver. I thought it was the strong wind causing my
tears but I think I was actually crying. Because I was being taken away from my family. And then I was left at a place I had never
been before. I didn’t even understand the language. They took away my clothes and wrapped me in a purple cloth. They even took away my name. How old is this little girl? 7 years old? Do you know why you’re here? No. In 1997, I was filmed by an American news crew at the place I was being held – a shrine
run by a priest dedicated to the worship of deities. I was labelled a trokosi, a wife of the gods,
paying for a crime committed by a family member. Do you miss your parents? Yes. I remember feeling a range of emotions. Neglect, rejection, isolation. Adding to that, the idea of – that could have been life, that
could have been my life, that could have been my life. And that’s why I feel like I don’t
watch it much. But this report changed everything. With the help of a charity called International Needs, an American viewer flew to Ghana to negotiate my release. His name was Kenneth Perenyi, and he would
become my adoptive father. He took me to the US, where
I spent the next 13 years. I was relieved to be out after about a year
in the shrine. But there was a huge emptiness that could
never be filled. I was still thinking about my Togolese family,
my birth family. It was in my heart, in my mind. I never stopped thinking about them. A few years later, my American dad and I agreed I should go and look for them. The charity that freed me, helped me find my village
and filmed my return. My family had no idea I was coming. I didn’t even know if I’d find all of
them alive. I hadn’t seen my mother since I was 7 years
old. I found out I even had a little brother
who I’d never met. That day was so surreal,
almost like a dream. Now that I’m older, I feel ready to explore
the cultural background of trokosi. It’s practiced in parts of Ghana, Togo and
Benin by various ethnic groups, one of which is the Ewe. I’m driving into Ghana’s Volta region,
a lush area of lakes and rivers, where trokosi is most prevalent. So right now we are following Richard whom I met on the first day of the journey. After our chat in the uber taxi, Richard invited
us into his community to speak with a group of Ewe elders. To mark our arrival, they were saying prayers
and pouring libation to their gods. But they believe if you offend the gods,
they can bring misfortune. I would like to know if there has ever been
human sacrifice. He’s talking about trokosi where you’re
banished from the community to pay for the crimes of your family. Another elder tells me that two of her relatives
were sent to the shrine. Given this fear of punishment from the gods,
I can understand why the trokosi practice has survived for over 300 years. But for me, life in the shrine meant no life
at all. Each day, I was woken at 5am and sent to fetch water. I had to carry heavy buckets on my head. It was hard physical work for a child. I was made to sweep the compound and work
long hours on the farm. I wasn’t allowed to play. Or even go to school. I was in total isolation. On the campus of the university of Ghana,
I am meeting up with Dr Robert Ame and Reverend Walter Pimpong. They are both experts on the trokosi practice. They’ve spent their lives raising awareness
of the abuses that go on in the shrines. Sexual servitude was common.
And many women would bear the children of the priests. I was liberated before puberty,
so I didn’t have to go through this. But I wanted to know why someone would serve
time for another person’s crime? Ewes believe that they have a right to select
any member of their family to serve in the shrine whether that person committed a crime or not. By the collective principles, they believe
they are doing the right thing. But it’s one or two men within the family
that get to decide for the family? Because those are their values. We are one. When I left the shrine in 1997, there were about 5,000 trokosi women and children in
Ghana alone. Thousands were liberated and trokosi was made
illegal in 1998. But no priest has ever been prosecuted and
the practice still goes on. I meet back up with Richard the uber driver
whose grandmother is still living as a trokosi. Shortly we’ll be going to see your grandmother.
Could you tell me a bit more about how you feel about her being a trokosi? So does that make you believe? Like me Richard’s grandmother was given
to a shrine to atone for a relative’s sin. Even if you’re from the community, if someone
believes in something for so many years and decades, it’s difficult to go to that person
today and say what you’re doing, your belief systems are wrong, and expect that person
to give up or to change their ways. We drive to the town where Richard’s grandmother
is serving in a shrine. Alugba is one of the few who became a trokosi
after she married and had children. Speaking to her, it seemed she’s happy to
be serving as a trokosi because she believes it protects her family. As night fell, a young trokosi girl wearing
a blue cloth came to speak to me. I felt sad because she misses her mum and
I know how that feels. She came here two years ago, at the age of
12, so she misses her mum and I don’t see how we can justify that. That’s what it is. She misses home and she
wants to go home, she wants to be home. For me, growing up without a mother was devastating. But what kept me going was a few cherished
memories of my early childhood. I remember my mum and dad and four siblings, all girls. I’m the second. I was closer to my dad, I think I was a daddy’s
girl. For dinner he would build this big fire. He would dig the ground around it and roast
corn, peanuts, sweet potatoes and yam. It was so good. It was really good. I remember at night we’d lay under the stars
and the moon. Life was simple. I’m going to visit my family in Ahassome, the village in Togo where I was born. It’s at least a day’s journey from the
Volta region in Ghana. I haven’t been back for a few years. I felt apprehensive. I’ve spent my whole life wondering
why they gave me away. But I’ve never had the courage to ask. This time I feel ready to find out the truth. This is it. This is it, on the right.
It’s right here, on the right. Since I left at the age of seven,
I’ve lost my mother tongue. I’ve visited a handful of times but I have
to use a translator. My younger sister…
…and her baby, my niece. I wanted to speak to my father. All I knew was that one of my uncles had sent
for me. But I’d never known what my father had agreed
to. My uncle’s house was in the capital, Lome,
a long way from my village. To find some answers my father went to a soothsayer. Are you aware, now, where I was taken? No. He took me to Ghana, Volta region of Ghana,
and I was placed in a shrine. He left me. I was supposed to be there for the rest of
my life. You not understanding me, I don’t want to
use the word blame. For many years I was sad because I was not
with my family, but now I’m ready to put that behind me. If I was angry at my family,
if I wanted to blame, I wouldn’t be here. I won’t. Sometimes it’s easier just to carry on with
your life. Accept the way things are. Wanting to discover who you are, when things don’t
make sense, tracing your roots and asking questions, it’s too much, the emotions are
too much and the weight is too much. Right now my head hurts. I have a headache. Last night’s conversations with my dad was really difficult but I needed to know the
truth. I was dwelling on the fact that I couldn’t
communicate with them and that I was taken away and that’s why I can’t speak French,
that’s why I can’t speak Ewe. I was taken away. So I was sort of dwelling on the negative. My parents were lied to. They thought they sent me to live with my
uncle to get a better education. They didn’t choose to send me to the shrine. And that was a huge weight off my mind. From this point forward, we can only build. And the last few days is a start to building that bridge, it is a start to building that
relationship, that connection. I’m back in the Volta region of Ghana, close to the village where I was held captive
in the shrine. Being here is not easy for me
but feeling the love of my family has given me strength to return. There was a young girl that I was doing the
chores with. Her name was Christiana. She’s the only one I remember. We parked up near the shrine.
I was paralyzed with fear. What I remember about this place is pain and
loneliness and sadness and isolation, getting and getting out and walking about
doesn’t feel natural to me. I wanted to see if Christiana was still here. I found her, still living in the town, 20
years after we were both freed. We recognised each other right away. Do you know who I am? Yes. Who am I? Thank God for your life! We haven’t seen
each other in so long. I miss you. Thank you, I missed you too, I’ve always
thought of you. After spending 5 years in the shrine, Christiana
was also freed after appearing in the 1997 news report. She had never seen it before. Are you happy here? Do you want to run away? And why don’t you run away? Where are your parents? They died? When my father died I stopped going to school,
even though I had wanted to become a doctor. I feel very sad because by staying here, I
have lost my chance at an education. Why are you crying? What’s wrong? Yes, we were not supposed to be in there but
we are out now. We are out now. It was amazing to hear about Christiana’s
life outside of the shrine. I’m free, I can decide to go anywhere, today
I can eat, if I say today I eat then I can eat, if only I have money. I can wear anything at all. She showed me her tattoo celebrating her reclaimed
name. How does it make you feel when you look at
that? I feel happy. Why? Because I am that I am. That’s my name. It’s the name my parents gave to me. Sometimes, your past is worth getting back to – not to hold you back, but to strengthen
your future. My deep faith in God and the love of my family
and friends have allowed me to grow into the person I was born to be. Somebody decided that was supposed to be our lives. It’s incredible that we’ve been given a second chance to have life.

Author:

100 thoughts on “My stolen childhood: understanding the trokosi system – BBC Africa Eye documentary”

  • BBC News Africa says:

    For full subtitles, please make sure you have subtitles/CC turned on in the video settings. Thanks for watching!

  • Senita English says:

    They are talking about all these made up traditions and the kids and women are the one sacrificed just disgusting

  • Miss Isabella Nicholas says:

    what I hate with Africa they do things elder and know that they are going to sacrifice with women and hide with culture while culture don't talk about it it satanic please stop that is killing our pride as Africa

  • The problem is that there many africans that are superstitious…this from ignorance…..and this needs to stop! Jesus Christ is the way! www.goldkc.org

  • The government need to abolish this kind of tradition to protect the women and girl children. I feel pity for them that if you were born as a girl you cannot against over the man's decision.

  • But if you were raised in US why do you have an African accent? Or did they replace your voice by someone there. And since the family deny spending her there. How did the government let this white man take her ? And not check the family?

  • There are some scars that not even time can heal.at least jesus and other people who are scarred have something in common.our combined scars are never gonna go away,but at least god knows how it feels to be eternally scarred.

  • Hrundi Bakshi says:

    Reporter: “Champ, what did you think of Africa?”

    Muhammad Ali: “Thank God my Granddaddy got on that boat!”

  • What a beautiful soul this woman has, after everything she went through, and of those young girls and women just like her, some of whom suffered much more. Terrible but amazing stories.

  • Africans have enslaved each other long before slavery started. They are the ones who began to sell their own people to the slave traders.

  • So African men abuse African women, then they go to live the European life by forcing their way into Europe and leave them behind.

  • So there family fucks up and they get sent off children to some sick fuck who leads people will beforgive if there kids are givin up to him an his suck pervert fantasy of sleeoung wiyh kids is justified becsuer of this no its so fucking sick thease children are being taffiecked to a priest who is what we call in america a pedophile and we kill those son of bitches

  • Hill Makkinje says:

    I feel such a devestation looking at this… how..? how is it possible that this sort of practices are still around…. I'm so so sorry for all women in this situation, I love you, please forgive me I didn;t know about this before, please forgive me, thank you… <3 #iamfromthetribeofmanycolors <3

  • Hill Makkinje says:

    No one, no body is aware where they're born, you're not aware of your color, you country or whatever will make a chapter in your life…. I didn;t choose to be born where and how I was, neither did any of you, though I do feel very grateful to where and how I was born… This should not be part of any human today, nowadays, like now… I'm so sorry, I love you, please forgive me, thank you.. <3 with all the love in my heart, I hope you all have the strength to overcome all of this shitty stuff… <3

  • Aunt Kitty Hashtag says:

    To the idiot who posted that the white man taught different cultures how to rob rape kill ect. Get a damn life idiot. This has been going on forever as well as female genital mutilation. Africa has always had their brutal savage sectors and cultures, to think otherwise is pathetic.Loik at some of their leaders Idi Amin for example. Get off that shit you retarded idiot Africa's hands are by no means clean. To me this woman is the true definition of a Black Queen such elegance and grace, unlike the ghetto sheboons in America.

  • aww christina wish she had the opportunity as you been adopted those words if want to eat i can only if i have money breaks my heart

  • I don’t want to be negative but I always feel like past hardships in an African community – even in my home Zimbabwe- are always not talked about and you’re always manipulated into feeling like you are the one still blaming others for what happened a long time ago when things happened to you. It saddens me so much because ecspecially to your elders, you can never speak out or get the truth.

  • Im sorry … I understand africa is beautiful and the woman are so gorgeous. But they need to stand up and stop letting men abuse and take advantage of these poor girls. So the adult men can be foul shameful disgusting beings and the women pay for it????? Fucking disgusting behavior this is not a system to believe in this is a failure

  • No matter which color, race or religion. All of us deserve extinction. We are worse than the most dangerous virus or animal. And I’m really saying ALL OF US!

  • OLIVIA GABRIEL says:

    This practice been going on for Centuries.
    The Jesus, being sacrifice for sins of the people.
    The Scape. Goat of Old Testament. Placing sins on a Goat.
    Then set free to wonder.
    It just now we have an African name, to it.
    One in family must be sacrifice to house of God. To serve for the Family to be bless. And no sickness. Come upon them.
    Remember the bible, woman.
    Who could not have children.
    She was given. A child, and promise or knew.
    When the child of Age. She will bring him, to priest house. To serve.
    Eli, sons were miss using.
    Their place of office.
    The Lord, already. Had a replacement.
    Lord, told Eli, the widow son.
    Will be the Priest of Lords Mantel.
    It still goes on today.
    The Priest are robbing in tithes and offering. Lord, has given.
    The Victory, and Mantel.
    To the Children of Men.
    The Men and Women.
    Can not be trusted. To care for priests. (Black/Natives/Yellow/White).
    The Money, offerings. Has changed. The Laws to Wanting.
    The Land, will be given.
    To the Children, after cleaned.

  • OLIVIA GABRIEL says:

    Roman bishop knows about this.
    Have their Children, called Friars.
    Are in hermit. Priest hood.
    Another part of their sons and daughters. Live in Forrest. Living off the land. No machines.
    You see them, all the time.
    As Homeless, their not,
    They are their, to sacrifice.
    Their lives. So their brothers, sisters.
    Can live in luxury.
    And protect their family.
    From the street : Outside.
    From the Inside : Out ?

  • Mieke Bogaard says:

    To er Aarts

    Kindermisbruik door wie dan ook mag nooit worden getolloreerd,en zeker niet in GODS naam! Kinderen moeten altijd worden bescherm,en geloof niet in tovernaars of gebedsgenesers.allemaal kwakzalvers! Kinderen kunnen zichzelf niet beschermen,dus Moet hier de gemeenschap tegen optreden! CHRIST.

  • agoddessadiva says:

    Just another way to get sex from young girls through the ignorance of the foolish and unlearned! Nothing but a bunch of heathens.

  • Please forgive my cynicism, but I don’t believe her father. Why is HE so defensive and seem offended she’s asking questions? I get the father may feel guilty, but his father is owed some answers.

  • Bushra Abdulle says:

    I know for sure we Africans are not All, like that at least Somali people don't do that to their children either poor or rich
    Also, Muslims in Africa don't do that she was lucky Allah gave her peace and caring Father thanks for addabting her

  • Bushra Abdulle says:

    there is no GODS Only Allah One God and no matter what they believe there is no God who tells them what they doing the Christians believers say don't hurt the weak the children the orphans the prissiner No Religion would do what they are doing in Muslim it's more respect our prophet Mohamed SCW said again and again don't hurt the weak and children and orphan don't waste your time these people don't have no Religion they believe black magic an only more people used that the more they become Hygiene less than the Animals if I was you I would run away they might eat human be careful

  • Yasmin Styles says:

    Did these so called gods they talk about come and tell them that trokosi is what has to be done? Bloody idiots 🙄.

  • Ebenezer Appiah says:

    SOO SAD THERE SHOULD BE A LAW TO ABOLISH THIS SORRY ASS EXCUSES.VERY SAD THERE SHOULD BE A LAW BRINGING AN END TO THIS.I’M A GHANAIAN BUT HAVE NEVER HEARD OF THIS UNTIL NOW.

  • Culture,traditions and family put such pressure on you on mentally and sometimes it’s impossible to escape this. I wish people would just fucking have common sense 😭

  • Karen Divertie says:

    This is horrific. But please tell me why the UN just voted (23Jul2019) that Israel is the world's ONLY violater of women rights? WTFlip???

  • "Elders" not 'old people' or 'little old lady but "elders".
    Language shapes thought and we in the west need to take note.

  • Satanic that's the word for trokosi= SATANIC!!, Where are the feminist organizations???!!! We need your help and support for this girls and womens.

  • Somebody buy me a plane ticket, round trip, and I'll shoot every pedophile priests who practice this shit in the head. That's my id, ego and superego talking. And it's the first time all three of them came to an agreement.

  • Its not just in West Africa. This happens all over the world. I know in Turkey, at least in the Southeast, men who are found guilty of crimes can force their daughters, sisters, etc. to serve in brothels. It basically is prostitution to pay off the male relative's fines. Then, the girls/women are shunned by their families and disowned.

  • Shelly-Ann Rennie says:

    These ladies are free physically but not spiritually. Wait until they want to marry, the demon deities they married in the shrine will give them hell. This is only half their story. To be set free spiritually, give your life to Jesus Christ.

  • Women were being burnt as witches for three hundred years under Christianity in Europe .. y do men hate women worldwide throughout history up to today so much that they invent religions/ culture to torture/ destroy us ?

  • If you cannot break the trokos centuries old law, then it seems the only rational and legal common sense thing to do is for the U.N leaders take a unanimous vote change this ancient law and give females freedom to choose to live in a democratic society. There are other African states that they can choose to live without these laws;.This story proves that women are still enslaved TO MEN..God made man and women, male and female, martin Luther King Jr..an African American man bravely fought for freedom for all black brothers and sisters. Glory to God!!

  • Diana Mcgordon says:

    We she was released from the shrine was any girl sent there to replace her? And if not did sickness and death fall upon her family forever?

  • It was so sad and painful the whole time I was watching it.
    But at the same time I am so happy for those brave ladies and the video I could watch.Thank you.

  • Margot Hilaire says:

    I have black neighbors, on weekends cars full of Black girls show up and the drinking and drugging s of them starts. The screaming and running in hallways is unstoppable. That is why no one wants them living in our neighborhood, but theirs. We dont care if they kill them self flicking around or what ever. Just stay there.

  • Denis Mutabazi says:

    Africans facilitated the slave trade with this kind of behaviour and lack of respect for each other. The Arabs just capitalised on this kind of dehumanising attitude of black on black violence, and then introduced it to the Europeans.

    So the people blame for slavery is these kinds of Africans, the the Arabs, then the Europeans. The Europeans were not the worst, it was the Arabs and Africans mostly, who also carried out genocides, which is why there are almost no descendants of slaves in the Arab world, they were all killed and or castrated. But the true villains in this saga was the Africans who sold their own brothers and sisters. Those kinds deserve their own special place in hell!

  • Denis Mutabazi says:

    Africans facilitated the slave trade with this kind of behaviour and lack of respect for each other. The Arabs just capitalised on this kind of dehumanising attitude of black on black violence, and then introduced it to the Europeans.

    So the people blame for slavery is these kinds of Africans, the the Arabs, then the Europeans. The Europeans were not the worst, it was the Arabs and Africans mostly, who also carried out genocides, which is why there are almost no descendants of slaves in the Arab world, they were all killed and or castrated. But the true villains in this saga was the Africans who sold their own brothers and sisters. Those kinds deserve their own special place in hell!

  • Denis Mutabazi says:

    So she was sold to an American who adopted her. It took a foreigner to help her and end her plight. No one in Ghana is willing to help these girls?

  • Irmalinda Desiderio says:

    Sorry to be blunt, but if family members are strangely getting sick after a male family member commits a crime, it seems like the family members are getting poisoned in some way. This way, the man is off the hook, and another eoman (subservient and a slave) is forced to be held accountable for a man's crime. This also promotes pedophilia. One must wonder how the pattern seems to happen more often than not.

  • micah benjamin says:

    Like really wtf these government need to be in jail because the know of these things and did nothing about it this is slavery these people who do this things are full of bs

  • One of the most moving video's I have seen in a long time. My heart is with you my sister. I hope you have found peace.

  • For all Y’all motherfuckers in the comment sections is not in all part of Africa that they have such a weird tradition ok ? Cause y’all ugly asses think is every where in Africa I had to be clear y’all need to know y’all history man I’m black American

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