20 years later, Brigitte Sossou Perenyi is on her way to finding out why her childhood was stolen from her by paying for a crime she didn’t commit.
In 1997, Brigitte Sossou Perenyi’s uncle had approached her father that he wanted her to come live with him so that she could run some chores for him. Without thinking twice, her father placed her on a motorcycle to her uncle’s house.
Brigitte and her family lived in Togo while her uncle lived in Ghana.
Unknown to her father, Brigitte was going to be a Trokosi – a culture where a member of a family (female) is chosen to pay for the crime of another family member.
Trokosis are called wives of the gods and they are held in a shrine run by a priest dedicated to the worship of deities.
At the time, Brigitte was only 7 years old. She had never been to Ghana before that time; neither did she understand their language. She was just told to go and live with her uncle.
Brigitte’s uncle had committed adultery and she had to be a Trokosi, so that evil does not befall her family as it is popularly believed in the communities where it is practiced.
“The community leaders of where Trokosi is practiced believe that when there is sickness in the community, someone has sinned and there is a need to appease the gods of the land. Sometimes, the gods demand a human being, not to be killed but to be isolated.”
The Trokosi practice has survived for over 300 years and is still in practice even though it was banished since 1998.
Life as a Trokosi was a hard and difficult one especially as a child who did not know why she was dumped at a shrine.
“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,” Brigitte said.
Luck smiled on Brigitte when an American news crew visited the shrine to cover what was going on there. The report gave her freedom, as an American viewer flew to Ghana to negotiate her release. His name was Kenneth Perenyi and he became her adoptive father. He took her to the US where she spent the next 13 years.
Unfortunately, these girls are left wondering why they are in the shrine as they are not familiar about the practice.
Meanwhile, for the practice to be completed, there was a need for the traditional priest to sleep with the virgin girl who comes in and the girls often bare the children of the priest.
Brigitte didn’t have to go through that because she got her freedom even as a child.
“I was liberated before purity so I didn’t go through it. When I left the shrine in 1997, there were about 5000 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,” she explained.
The practice is so age-long that when a Trokosi dies, another girl is brought to replace the deceased.