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SLAVERY AND SPIRITUAL REPARATION
The case of the Krachi Dente Worship (1999)
The focus of this study, the KRACHI DENTE religion, historically, is synonymous with Kete Krachi. It is also synonymous with the Krachi, the ethnic group inhabiting the district which lies in the north of what is geographically eastern Ghana, the Volta Region. A brief background history of the Krachi, therefore, is our starting point in our attempt to explain the circumstances in which the beliefs of these people find renditions among other ethnic groups. Firstly, where exactly is Kete Krachi?
Kete Krachi, the name of the district and its capital, lies between latitudes 7.5 degrees and 8 degrees on the map. The meridian of Greenwich passes through this district which falls within the deciduous forest zone of central Ghana. Kete Krachi is virtually waterlogged, washed by the artificial Volta lake and its streams. The Krachi, therefore, are fishermen and farmers.
The Krachi share traditional boundaries with the Asante in the south and west, the Nghumuru and the Gonja in the north, and the Adele, the Ntrubu and the Buem in the east. In 1931, for example, the population of the Kete Krachi District was 20,521.1 Kete Krachi then covered an area of 3,949 square miles. Compared to the then Ada-Keta District of 243,671 people in an area of 2,146 square miles, Kete Krachi could be described as thinly populated.2 There was less than 5 persons to the square mile.
Before the advent of European colonialism in Africa, the Krachi fell prey to Asante conquests. They reasserted their independence only after 1874, when the Asante state was weakened by wars. However, Krachi culture is greatly influenced by that of the Asante. After 1874, the Krachi shuffled in the hands of the British and the Germans until the 1890s, when they were brought under the German colonial administration of Togoland. But, in 1914, this administration was sacked by the British and French at the outset of World War I. Kete Krachi thus became part of the British Mandated Togoland under the League of Nations. After 1945, however, the British Mandated Togoland became a trusteeship under the United Nations. In May 1956, the territory was incorporated into the Gold Coast (Ghana) as a result of the UN-sponsored plesbicite of that month. Indeed the KeteKrachi-Buem District cast 28,178 votes in favour of incorporation as against 18,775 votes for separation.
Like in other traditional African societies, the political authority of Kete Krachi was, for centuries, wielded by a religious head - the priest of the KRACHI DENTE shrine. This authority was later devolved to the KRACHIWURA, who becomes the secular ruler of the Kete Krachi state. But in a society of overwhelming religious presence, the role of the KRACHI DENTE priest influences both cultural and political issues. The KRACHI DENTE shrine is still an important instrument for dispensing social justice.
No doubt, the KRACHI DENTE shrine is one of the oldest religious institutions in Africa. A powerful ancestral worship, the religion promotes good neighbourliness and peace. It prohibits bloodshed of all forms and violence of all forms. In the recent past, murders, stealing and other felonies were unknown in Kete Krachi. The Krachi then slept with their doors open. The oracle of KRACHI DENTE, located in a cave in the forest, was famous all over West Africa. People came from Togo, Benin, Nigeria, La Còte d"Ivoire, Burkina Faso and many other countries to consult the oracle or supplicate. The shrine was also a place where the aggrieved sought redress.*
The KRACHI DENTE worship, therefore, has thousands of followers. It has also, in one form or the other, spread to many parts of West Africa, especially to Togo, Benin and La Còte d'Ivoire. How it came to be firmly established in the coastal districts of Togo and eastern Ghana is an interesting historical and religious phenomenon which this study attempts to explain.
1ST JANUARY 1999
1. T. D. ADAMS, An Elementary Geography of the Gold Coast, University Press Ltd, London, 1940, p. 186.
2. Ibidem, p. 185.
* The KRACHI DENTE shrine in Kete Krachi, because of its historical and religious importance, is a tourist destination on the Tourist Map of Ghana.
One of our sins is slavery. Another was emancipation. It is a paradox. In theory, emancipation was one of the glories of our democracy - and it was. But the way it was done led to tragedy. Turning four million people loose with no jobs or trades or learning. And then, in 1877, for a few electoral votes, just abandoning them entirely. A huge amount of pain and trouble resulted. Everybody in America is still paying for it.1
Throughout slave history, there had been episodes of religious transformations across ethnic and political boundaries. Although slavery, as we know it in modern times, imposes the slaver's religion on the slave, as when Africans adopted the religions of their Christian and Moslem masters, there had been instances when the slave revived his original religion in his new environment. For example, many descendants of African slaves taken to the Americas and the Caribbeans still practise the religions of indigenous Africa in one form or the other. A case in point is Brazil, Haiti, San Domingo, Jamaica and Cuba.
In Haiti in particular, "the conscious use of African rites, customs and images in the New World is present in many ways and has been since the arrival of the first Africans to these shores."2 It should be noted that "the Haitian population of African descent came from those regions embracing the Kongo, Angola, Dahomey and Yorubaland..."3 So that "in the area of art," for example, "the survival of African inspired forms and images is a tribute to the spirit, vitality and strength of the culture of West and Central Africa."4
On the other hand, where original cultures or religions have been established by slaves, there could be found in these elements of fusions and modifications. We could again cite the case of Haiti, where European and African cultures exist side by side and mate. This phenomenon is described in the foreword to The Haitian Connection by Raymomd B. Price thus:
Surviving vestiges of African customs and beliefs, identifiable
as provenience, belie the anonymity wrought by the slave trade.
Religious beliefs especially play an important role in the African
determinism found in Haiti. For example, the sequined flags used
in the Voodoo5 religious ceremonies... demonstrates the phenomenon
of what occurred when European and African traditional cultures
met head-on in Haiti. There in religion, attributes of Catholic
Saints became matched to those of African deities. A prime example
is presented in our sequined flag depicting Saint Jacques with
sword in hand but which in actuality is a veneration to the African
god of iron known in Haiti as Ogou.6
In Africa itself, such fusions have been known of the invading and domineering colonial cultures and traditional African cultures. Ethnic cultures and their values, customs and belief systems have also been transmitted backward and forward to be assimilated by or integrated with the host cultures. There have been near total replacements when such transmissions are drastic, effected through conquests and other forms of suppression and domination. Islam, for example, was introduced into Africa in the 12th century through Arab invasions and conquests, and European colonialism of the 19th century was to consolidate Christianity in many parts of the continent after its futile penetration by way of Egypt in the 1st century.
However, in many of the religious transmissions that could be identified with slavery, only one presents the unique phenomenon of reparation. It is only in this that the religion of the slaver is determined by that of the slave. It is in this that slavery imposes certain moral and spiritual obligations on the slaver other than the free adoption of the slave's religion. This phenomenon, which exists among the Ewe of Ghana, Togo and Benin (Dahome), is discussed in the Origins of the Slave Stool in Klikor. This work in particular deals with the creation of SLAVE STOOLS (AMEFLEZI/HOZI/BAXE) as repositories for the spiritual following of the slave. What moral philosophy governs the creation of these stools?
The Ewe in particular believe that "religion is the main constituent of every person, poor or rich, free or bonded."7 Therefore, the spiritual origins of the "slave must be restored in the new environment he was brought. He had been forcibly torn away from his home, his roots. Wherever he went, wherever he was taken to, he was followed by the God he was introduced to in his old home... That he was tortured, maimed, abused or treated like an animal did not sever that link between him and his God. The place of that God could not be taken out of his life."8
In other words, "the slave was still a handiwork of God whom he had approached in the religious rites of his clan. One way to re-establish this original connection and value is to create a similar religious order into which he could fit, in which his spiritual guardianship could be pacified. In this regard, stools, basic spiritual constituents of the traditional society, were created as repositories of the slave's spiritual following. These serve as stabilizers and sources of appeasement to the 'displaced divinities.' They also form the integration and reconciliation of opposing forces, that of the master and the slave."9 The related ceremonies are performed by the slaver or his descendants.
The aforementioned phenomenon transmitted the KRACHI DENTE (FOFUI/DENTE/KOFI) worship of the people of Kete Krachi, the Krachi, to the coastal districts of Togo and eastern Ghana. Indeed slaves from Kete Krachi were marched to the coastal slave markets, where they were bought by slaveholders on the coast or by Europeans and Arab slave traders. This historical experience is outlined in the work cited before.
In the present study, however, we are introduced to the mechanisms of transmission and the rituals of worship that give practical evidence of reparation for slavery. We will, as a result, examine the basic ideas or this moral philosophy of the Ewe in formulating the principles of spiritual reparation, and other areas of beliefs and practices in which this philosophy operates. We will also examine briefly the processes through which slaves were brought from the interior to the coast, some slave markets and the operations of slave traders and raiders. In passing, we will also compare the systems of slavery in and outside Africa in respect of the influence of the triangular trade.
Our study is therefore divided into seven chapters. Chapter
One discusses the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the African-American
experience - an overview of the experiences of plantation slavery.
This reflection would necessarily introduce us to the influence
of the triangular trade on the original African system and institution
of slavery. This question is taken up by Chapter Two, which also
recaptures the adverse facets of slavery in Africa and the defence
systems against such adverses.
Chapter Three is devoted to the conduct of the slave trade between the districts of Kete Krachi and the coast, the activities of local slave traders, slave raiders and slaveholders in relationship with Arab and European slave traders. This chapter also gives glimpses of slave routes and markets linking the interior to the coast, and of how these routes and markets were contended for. Our focal point is how slaves from Kete Krachi reached the coastal homes.
In Chapter Four, we trace the origins of the Ewe philosophy of spiritual reparation, why injury is compensated for in the performance of prescribed rites, in observing spiritual rules and in meeting the cost of justice. In this, we are introduced to the position of the slave as a disadvantaged, exploited and physically abused person, and how reparation affects this position.
The question of spiritual reparation leads us to Chapter Five and Chapter Six. These discuss the rites for restoring the slave's religion and his dignity as a free person entitled to his name, home and culture. A significant stage of the rites is the reburial of the slave who had probably been assaulted and denied a decent burial. The slaver adopts the culture of the slave, a compensation for neglecting it.
Chapter Seven, the conclusion, is a reflection on what this study attempts to achieve: to establish that the traditional African society has rules which recognize and respect the human rights of the slave. That the infringement of these rules carry spiritual sanctions which are inheritable. In short, crimes committed against the slave are compensated for.
1. Shelby Foote, The Smithsonian Time Machine, Smithsonian Volume 27 No 5, August 1996, p.27.
2. Ausby Ford, A Note on Funerary Art, The Haitian Connection (The DuSable Museum Exhibition) Catalogue, p.6.
3. Ibidem, p. 6. "Slaves from Dahomey and Togo seem to have been sent mainly to Haiti and San Domingo, and those from the ancient Gold Coast went to Jamaica and Cuba." (Geoffrey Parrinder, West African Religion, Epworth Press, London, (1949) 1973, p. 36.)
4. Ausby Ford, op cit. p. 6.
5. Parrinder links the Haitian term Voodoo to the Togolese or Ewe form Vudu (Vodu), probably affirming the origins of the Haitian religious rites in Togo. (See Geoffrey Parrinder, op. cit. p. 6.)
6. Ramon B. Price, Foreword, The Haitian Connection, p. 3.
7. Dale Massiasta, Origins of the Slave Stool in Klikor, Lissavi Print, Klikor, 1996, p. 14.
8. Ibidem, p. 11.
9. Dale Massiasta, Slavery In Klikor, Lissavi Print, Klikor,
1995, p. 4
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RESEARCHES IN BLACK AFRICAN CULTURE AND CIVILISATION
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