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‘Wives of the Gods’: debating Fiasidi and the politics of meaning

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posted on 2023-06-08, 14:01 authored by Julie A Jenkins
In the south-eastern Volta Region of Ghana, a form of female religious affiliation to local shrines commonly known as trokosi, has been the subject of a campaign consisting of Christian-based NGOs and various government agencies that has successfully criminalised the practice and organised ‘liberations’ and rehabilitations of the initiates. Protagonists of the abolition campaign argue that trokosiwo are illegitimately initiated to specific shrines based on an offence committed by another lineage member, acting as a perpetual figure of restitution. They also argue that the practice constitutes a form of ‘female ritual slavery’ by translating the term trokosi as “slave of the gods” and arguing that the socio-economic status and social relations of the trokosiwo indicate their ‘slavery’. The highly publicised abolition campaign stimulated a counter-campaign, led by a neo-traditional organisation, that argued that the female shrine initiates are Queen-Mothers (rather than slaves), role-models to their lineage (rather than figures of restitution), and are socially privileged. Central to these contestations has been the figure of the fiasidi, particularly those initiated to shrines in one locality, Klikor. Abolitionists define fiasidiwo as being a variant of trokosi, despite some key differences. Those that contest this representation justified their position by highlighting the socio-economic position of fiasidiwo in Klikor's three shrines and pointing out the critical ways it differed from the representation of the Trokosi Slave. Members of the Klikor shrines also became political actors in the debates that ensued, by developing a close alliance to the neo-traditionalist organisation and creating their own organisation to network with similar shrines. This thesis considers the debates around trokosi and fiasidi at the national level and explores in detail the meaning attached to fiasidi and her position in the Klikor shrines and community. At its core, is an ethnography of the three shrines, their ritual specialists and initiates. I explore the way in which meaning is ascribed to the fiasidi, through narratives of the past, through the symbolism of key rituals and through the structured interactions between petitioners and ritual specialists. A concluding section then considers the intersection between these meanings and the contested terrains of religion in the debates about the Trokosi Slaves.


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