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SLAVERY AND SPIRITUAL REPARATION
The case of the Krachi Dente Worship (1999)
THE TRADITIONAL SYSTEM OF SLAVERY
Like you travelled on muddy marshes
And beyond another rot of black slaves
Where broken huts fell to the ground,
You'd find a wailing woman deranged
Travelling in a slaver's chariot
Driven by the whips of race-spite...
Dale Massiasta, Peace of My Rivers, Beyond God.
We have indicated in the previous chapter that the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was a crucial factor in changing the nature and conduct of the traditional system and institution of slavery in Africa. In our attempt to present an overview of this system, that is, present the world of the slave in African society, we will frequently be confronted with this influence of the Trans-Atlantic trade. On the other hand, we will also discuss those negative features of the traditional practice of slavery which were not the direct consequences of this triangular trade. If anything, our study deals specifically with the religious sanctions and reparations that govern abuses of the tradtional practice. It would, therefore, be necessary to examine briefly the original character of the traditional system and its practices, the dramatic changes which this system had undergone, and the repercussions of these changes. The latter point will, however, be elaborated later in this study.
THE TRADITIONAL PRACTICE
In L' Afrique Noire avant la Colonisation,, Donald L. Wiedner explains the original motives behind the practice of owning slaves in Africa as follows:
L'esclave - c'est-¦-dire la possession d'Ítres
humains en propriÈtÈ personnelle - a existÈ
en Afrique comme dans d'autres parties du monde, depuis les temps
prÈhistoriques. ¿ ses premiers stades, c'etait un
phÈnomËne relativement mineur, limite et logique.
La mise en esclavage etait en moyen d'employer de faÁon
productive des criminels, des rebelles ou des prisonniers de guerre
dans une sociÈtÈ nomade ou n'existaient ni administration,
ni prisons permanentes pour faire respecter la loi. Toutefois,,
pour differentes raisons l'individu reduit ¦ cette condition
ne pardait pas totalement sa qualitÈ d'Ítre humain
ni sa personnalitÈ, alors que, de nos jours, ces alienations
caracterisent gÈnÈralement la notion mÍme
Simply put, slavery in Africa was originally a relatively mild, controlled and logical practice employed to rehabilitate or reform criminals, rebellious people and prisoners of war, especially in a nomadic society where there were no administrative and permanent penal mechanisms to enforce law and order. Unlike the modern form of slavery characterised by indignities and deprivations, in the original African system of slavery, the slave did not completely lose his personal freedoms. Slavery, as it was known in modern times, was to promote the property interests of the slaver. In this, the slave was virtually an economic tool to be used anyhow. But in the original African system of slavery, society devised safeguards of customs and social guarantees to protect the slave from being used as such. In this African society which did not place much value on the acquisition of personal property, the slave could be freed later on account of the nature of his crime or his conduct as a slave. The slave, therefore, was not a commodity or a means of exchange to be traded on end or held permanently. In short, the slaver in the African system protected, cared for and even resettled the slave in return for his services and not for his labours.
We have mentioned customs and social guarantees that protected the life of the slave. Among the Ewe, for example, "the treatment of slaves in the house for instance was governed by spiritual rules. These rules were coded and attached to shrines and other religious institutions. Kindness to slaves, the fundamental of these rules, was believed to bring blessings to the slaver or the household in which the slave lived. Such kindness, it was believed, saved the household from misfortunes. This belief was so strong in the past that slaves were actually given preferential treatment in matters of rights and privileges. Some slaves owned property and enjoyed liberties which free people did not have."2
However, certain religious beliefs were to deprive the slave of his rights and liberties in the traditional African society, especially after Europeans and Arabs introduced their brand of slavery into the continent. For example, the Arabs, in their own society, subjected the non-Moslem to all forms of atrocities - castration and maiming, for example - although the Koran requires Moslems to treat their slaves well.3 With the introduction of Islam into the continent, the Arab form of slavery began to influence the traditional practice. The status of the slave was reduced to something worse than that of a domestic animal. But Africans also had their dark days of infringing old customs and rules.
Certainly there had been spates of human sacrifice in many parts of Africa in which the slave was the common victim. At first, these sacrifices were made in good faith and consideration of the spiritual repercussions and reparations to be paid. "In some tribes, the slave was a sacrificial ram. In times of pestilence, epidemics, war or any other disaster, the slave became the scapegoat to save others. He was chosen to remove the evil or disaster that befell the community. In this case, he might be subjected to torture as a sacrificial ordeal or to actual execution."4
In this particular case of human sacrifice, there had been
occasions when the slave was even sacrificed to protect the village
from the raids of slave traders! These sacrifices of desperation
were to be extended to cover other areas of belief, to even defile
those religious institutions established to protect the slave.
There had been in parts of West Africa, especially in Asante and
Oyo, the practice of highlighting religious ceremonies with the
death of a slave. In Asante in particular, this formed an essential
part of the religious complex of royalty. In this, hundreds of
people could be sacrificed. In the installation of Nana Prempeh
I (Kwaku Dua III) on 26th March 1888, for example, four hundred
people were believed to be slaughtered as customary sacrifice.5
Slaves and prisoners of war usually formed the majority of such
On 4th October 1886, many years after the abolition of the slave trade, another such sacrifice was reported to the then Volta River District Commissioner, C.R. Williams, by one Assuman Katto. According to the report, a wealthy man had died at Daingba, Kpandu, in what is today the Volta Region of Ghana. "To lead the deceased in to the tombs," two slaves were slaughtered.6 The fact that these slaves were killed in public at day time confirms that the ceremony was an established practice. But the spiritual consequences of these practices were also established. This will be discussed later in this study.
INFLUENCE OF THE TRIANGULAR TRADE
Indeed by the time the European and Arab slave traders appeared on the African slave market, the slave had almost lost the protection offered by the African society and its belief systems. The competition and rivalry among Europeans in particular for the right of acquiring slaves from their African and Arab agents introduced the new codes of trading in slaves. These codes were largely based on the racist attitudes of Europeans and Arabs, and the high value placed on European goods by Africans. The Europeans in particular, who had long established trading posts on the coast, had their rules for monopolizing the slave trade in their spheres of influence. They were the harsher rules of the now less important trade in gold and ivory with the local people. In the latter, an European could put to death a fellow European trader and his African collaborator for bartering a single nail for a single piece of ivory in his area of influence.7 These acts of vandalism, introduced into the slave trade by Europeans and Arabs, were soon adopted by Africans in their quest for European goods. And what did the African want for selling himself?
In the numerous slave markets on the coast and in the interior of the continent, slaves were exchanged for copper, brass, glass beads, salt, coral, waxprints, ammunition and others. At a stage, these articles were more valued than human beings by Africans. To the Asante of western Africa, for instance, a BODOM bead, made of powdered glass, was a highly valued object of adornment worth its weight in gold, and was exchanged for seven slaves.8 The value of slaves was also reduced to that of ordinary amulets and cowries, which nevertheless became mediums of exchange. For example, a GRIGRI amulet worn by the people of the West African savannah regions, was worth two or three slaves.9
The fact that African slave traders met the demand of the great volume and value of European goods traded in slaves indicates the great number of Africans sold into slavery. It also indicates the importance of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to the economy of pre-colonial African states. The slave trade was certainly the economic bedrock of African states like Oyo, Dahome, Benin, Asante and Zanzibar, the last being an important slave centre for the Arabs.* Slave markets sprang all over the greater part of what became the Slave Coast - the area covering West Africa and parts of the Cameroon and the Congo - in response to the great demand for slave labour in the sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations of the Americas and the Caribbeans. The traditional institution of slavery in Africa was, in this way, overshadowed and changed.
Most of the slaves sent across the Atlantic Ocean were obtained
from three main sources: the stock of African slaveholders, the
so-called convicted criminals and prisoners of war, and those
captured in organized raids. But as the demand for slaves rose,
tribal wars and raids became the main source of supply. No doubt
that most of these tribal wars and raids were fomented by European
and Arab slave traders. Their role, in this regard, is to supply
their agents on the coast with superior arms which tribal heads
would use to attack other tribes.
For the gang raids, they were as sporadic as they were widespread. Captain John Hall, who travelled in Africa between 1772 and 1776, reported how the appearance of a slave ship at Old Calabar port in Nigeria was the signal for the African slave gangs to jump into their war canoes and return two or three weeks later with canoes full of slaves.10 Such raids on innocent farming settlements and market centres were so rampant that they created total insecurity, misery and fear in the land. And these were so well executed by hardened and merciless raiders who ambushed, waylaid and attacked individuals and groups in the interior. For example, the Tuaregs, operating in the savannah regions of Mali and Niger, "would suddenly appear out of the sands; cracking their whips through the savannah markets, they would chase the traders, steal their corn and take men, women and children as slaves."11
Corruption of Traditional Institutions
Besides wars and gang raids, almost every traditional penal system was exploited to obtain slaves. The customary court of traditional rulers devised proceedings that eventually enslaved debtors, delinquents, those who infringed social rules like taboos, and other such minor offenders.12 Domestic servants became domestic slaves and were later sold to European and Arab slave traders. Shrines which originally served as citadels for reformed criminals, war prisoners and permanently indebted poor people, shrines which served as reformatories, institutions for assimilating and integrating foreigners, turned into underground slave markets. Novices under initiation ended up in slave ships.
The oracle at Arochuku in Aroland (Iboland), eastern Nigeria, was an interesting example of how Africans manipulated traditional institutions to enslave others. This oracle, called Long Juju, was believed by the Ibo to have possessed the attributes of CHUKWU, God. As was the practice in those days, the Aro rulers developed a system of administrative justice around this feared oracle. The same could be said of KRACHI DENTE and ADZIMA in the present day Volta Region of Ghana, customary courts which adjudicate matters of spirit or ordinary law. The shrine, in the case of Long Juju, soon became the court of appeal throughout Iboland. Those convicted of various offences were sent to the lonely cave, where the god was enshrined, for supposedly swift justice. What had been the justice of old was changed into something else. And what was it? The convicts, supposed to be eaten up by Long Juju, were actually sold into slavery on the coast.
To avoid the capital punishment of being eaten up by Long Juju, accused persons paid lrage sums of money and slaves to the gate-keepers at the shrine. This inhuman practice enriched many Aro. To perpetuate it, they resorted to Gestapo methods of witch -hunting. Some communities were plundered by hired slave gangs when they had only been suspected of showing direspect to the divinity. These frightened and discontented communities were only victims of the lucrative Trans- Atlantic Slave Trade.
However, in some parts of the continent, not every traditional institution was corrupted by the Trans- Atlantic Slave Trade. Certainly, the traditional instittution of government in Africa was largely blamed for the horrors of slavery. But not every traditionl ruler abandoned the original African value of respect for human dignity. Not every traditional ruler could exchange this cardinal value with European goods. In Ghana, for example, King Kaku Arkai of Nzima (1803 - 1858) could be noted as a traditional ruler who defended his people against the madness that caused villages to be wiped out, scores of families to be slaughtered, and thousands of beautiful women and girls to be ruthlessly captured.13 "It is to his credit that no foreigner ever dared to reach his Nzima kingdom to capture anybody to be sold as slaves..."14 How did he do it?
Apart from "a very strong and permanent army," which warded off slave traders, King Kaku Arkai instituted severe punishments for those caught indulging in slavery.15 Here is just one of such punishments:
He shaved the hairs off the heads of Europeans caught dealing in slaves, summoned them to his court, roasted corn for them to chew, ordered them to be whipped on their bare backs with strong canes, and then made them to dance to the tune of African traditional songs. 16
Nor did all the religious institutions abandon those human values they had been established to defend. In Eweland in particular, certain religious safeguards instituted to counteract such corruptions remained firm, at least, when corruptions were brought to their attention. Among the Ewe of the coastal regions of Togo and Ghana, the role of the shrine in upholding social norms and customs was never actually ignored, especially in apportioning justice for contravening the traditional rules on slavery. The shrine remained for a long time as reformatories for the disadvantaged, the deviant or the criminal. A person who committed manslaughter and faced execution, for instance, might seek refuge in the shrine, where spiritual education, rituals, ordeals and confinement were intended to reform or give him spiritual and moral rebirth. He then became an indemnified "slave" or servant of the divinity to be permanently replaced by his descendants - the origins of the FIASIDI (TROKOSI) system. But in the case of the slave, the rules are clear.17
In the Ewe shrine in question, a domestic slave who sought
redress in the shrine against his master for attempting to break
the rules - for example, attempting to resell the slave - could
either be initiated as the "slave" or the son/daughter
(KLU/KOSI) of the divinity or be retained by the master on oath.18
The oath obliged the master to respect the rights and privileges
of the slave. We could, at this point, cite such ritual arrangement
which was, however, broken by a slaveholder.
A slaveholder in Glidzi, Togo, decided to sell his slave to European slave traders at Anecho, a slave market a few kilometres from Glidzi. It was during the contraband years of the slave trade. Most slaveholders, conscious of the repercussions of keeping slaves permanently, had then decided to dispose off their slaves. The slave, in this case, got wind of his master's decision to sell him off. He therefore sneaked to Klikor in the then Gold Coast or Ghana to seek refuge in the ADZIMA shrine. This slave would have become a TROMEDOKLUI (one who sought refuge in the shrine) had he been left alone. Knowing well that Klikor was one of the many houses of refuge for slaves and other deprived persons, his master traced him there. And there in the ADZIMA shrine, the master and his slave struck the usual agreement. The master took an oath (TSO GBE), promising before the divinity not to sell his slave, the TROKLUVI/KLUVI. But this oath the former was to break soon after reaching Glidzi.
Several years after the death of the slaveholder in question, his descendants faced the consequences of his actions. His oath before the divinity made the slave a liberated man under spiritual protection of the divinity. By selling him, his master had deprived him of life; he had murdered him. And his descendants had to pay reparation of a FIASIDI, who should replace the slave, to the ADZIMA shrine. Their first FIASIDI, called POHVEE HOTONOU HOUSIAGAMA, was initiated into the ADZIMA shrine by KATAKO AGLA, the Priest of the shrine, in 1930. Pohvee Hotonou Housiagama died a very old woman on 21st February 1998, and was buried at Klikor.*
This episode of reparation should necessarily introduce us
to the phenomenon of how the KRACHI DENTE worship was introduced
into the southern districts of the Volta Region and Togo through
the slave trade, how slaveholders pay reparation in respect of
slaves they bought from Kete Krachi, home of the KRACHI DENTE
worship. But before we elaborate the beliefs and religious philosophy
behind this phenomenon, how were slaves from Kete Krachi brought
to these coastal areas? Let's devote the next chapter to answering
this important question.
1. Donald L. wiedner, L" Afrique Noire avant la Colonisation, Edition AbrÈgÈ, Nouveaux Horisons, 1962, p. 59.
2. Dale Massiasta, Origins of the Slave Stool in Klikor, p.2.
3. Donald L. Wiedner, op. cit. pp. 60-61.
4. Dale Massiasta, op. cit. p. 5.
5. Dr Isaac Ephson, op. cit. p. 5.
6. Enclosure in the Gold Coast No of November 1886. Copy Asuman to the Governor, National Archives, Accra.
7. Dr Isaac Ephson, op. cit. p. 1.
8. Angela Fisher, Africa Adorned, Harry Abrams, Inc. (1984) 1996, pp. 70-71.
9. Ibidem, p. 107.
* King Tegbesu of Dahome (1732-1774) was said to have earned £250,000 in a year from selling slaves. This was far more than the income of an English duke. ( Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade, A Touchstone Bk, New York, 1997, p. 254.)
10. Adu Boahen, Topics in West African History, Longmans Green & Co Ltd, London (1966) 1968, p. 110.
11. Angela Fisher, op. cit. pp. 191-192.
12. A form of this slavery was practised in ancient Greece.
In the long term, many Greek citizens lost their property pledged
for debts owed and their liberty as citizens. The creditors' final
action was to impound those who failed to redeem property pledged
and their families as slaves. (A. R. Burn, op. cit. p. 119).
On the other hand, Africans were probably taking their cues from Europeans. For example, as the terms of peace signed by the Danes with the Anlo on 18th June 1784, after the Danes had burnt Anlo settlements like Atokor, Whuti, Alakple, Anloga, Woe and Tegbee, the Danes inserted a provision which required the Anlo "to deliver up to ten sons of their principal people as hostages to assure the carrying out of the the terms, the hostages to be sent out of the country as slaves in the evenf of the breach of the treaty." (H.B. Newlands, Some Dates in the History of the Awunas, Koforidua, 18th January 1922, p.3). (See also page 129, C.C. Reindorf, The History of the Gold Coast and Asante, 2nd Edition, Basel Mission Depot, Basel, 1889, for other terms of the treaty).
13. Dr Isaac Ephson, op. cit. pp. 38-39.
King Agaja of Dahome (1708 - 1732) was another opponent of European and Arab slave traders. It was he "who seemed determined to stop the slave raids into his country and terminate the export of slaves abroad." (Joseph E. Harris, Africans and Their History, A Mentor Book, 1972, p. 99).
In his determination to stop the slave trade, King Agaja was said to have "looted and burnt their slave camps, set the slaves free and fought to stop the disgraceful trade." (Lotto Jackpot, Vol 4 No 228, Mikeland, Accra, 3rd October 1998, p. 1).
14. Dr Isaac Ephson, op. cit. p. 39.
15. Ibidem, p. 39.
16. Ibidem, p. 39.
17. See also Dale Massiasta, Origins of the Slave Stool In Klikor, pp. 12-13.
18. Ibidem, pp. 11- 12.
* Adzo Humali, another Fiasidi in Klikor, is also a product
of slave history. According to her, her woman ancestor bought
a male slave who impregnated another slave, a deafmute. In those
days, the defiling slave probably faced the ordeals of not following
proper marriage procedures. At the identification meeting held
to let the slave pinpoint her secret lover, the unbelievable happened.
She was stabbed to death by her slave lover. The mistress of the
deafmute cried for redress for the murder of her slave and child,
her two children. But Adzo Humali's ancestor shirked responsibility,
leaving the deafmute's mistress with the choice of seeking redress
in the ADZIMA SHRINE in Klikor. Adzo Humali is the second student
of the ADZIMA spiritual school. And how is explained in Chapter
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RESEARCHES IN BLACK AFRICAN CULTURE AND CIVILISATION
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