Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

Ghana: Voodoo practices within the Ewe tribe and whether a woman in her thirties could be abducted, initiated and married to a high priest; whether initiation into the voodoo cult includes the shaving of the head and cutting of the face and body; and, whether status is permanent once initiated

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Citation / Document Symbol GHA30814.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ghana: Voodoo practices within the Ewe tribe and whether a woman in her thirties could be abducted, initiated and married to a high priest; whether initiation into the voodoo cult includes the shaving of the head and cutting of the face and body; and, whether status is permanent once initiated, 1 January 1999, GHA30814.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6acc04.html [accessed 20 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

 

The following information was provided during a 19 January 1999 telephone interview with a Professor of Music and Culture at Ohio State University who published a paper on Ewe cults in the South African journal African Music. The professor described the initiation rituals of Ewe cults as "elaborate and painful." He said that the minimum period is two months but that they can last up to nine months. The person is isolated from the community "physically, emotionally and psychologically." They stay in the cult house and are not allowed to speak to outsiders. They learn the culture of the cult including its songs and dances while speaking only the language of the cult. He said that scarification does occur during the initiation, with detailed cuts made on the initiate's back, three cuts on the forehead and three cuts on each cheek.

He stated that there are primarily three reasons why a person would be abducted into an Ewe cult. One basis for abduction is if the person is believed to be an incarnation of a deceased member of the cult. This view of the person as a reincarnate usually occurs when the person is very young and often leads to the parents giving them as a child to the cult. However, it is possible, although not common, that the move into the cult could be delayed until much later in life. The professor stated that if the person is unwilling to go into the cult they or their family could be physically harmed.

Another basis for abduction is as a result of perceived "transgressions against the cult" that could involve actions by the abductee such as breaking into a cult house or "seriously insulting a cult member." Often these cases are resolved through the payment of a fine, but if the person is unable to pay the fine the cult will sometimes forcibly take the person into the cult.

A third basis for being taken into the cult would be if a person were sick and was then diagnosed as "wanted by the cult." In order to cure the sickness, the person would have to submit themselves to the cult. If they did not, they would risk their sickness following its course or having it worsened by the cult.

He also stated that in all instances, as the level of education of the person increases, as well as the degree of their exposure to life outside their community, the less likely it is that the cult will abduct them. The other professors consulted corroborated this statement.

A Professor of History at Bowling Green State University in Ohio who specializes in African traditional religions, corraborated much of this information during telephone interviews on 19 and 22 January 1999. She agreed that the abduction of women into Ewe cults does still occur and added that there are "definitely instances where a woman can be declared as a wife of a priest as the result of a divination of a cult member." She stated that "divinations could identify women or children as the incarnates of ancestors." She confirmed that persons could be taken into the cult as a result of a diagnosis of a sickness or as a result of a transgression against the cult by the abductee, or the abductee's family. She said there is good documentation, such as films, of women being taken unwillingly and that escape would be difficult since the person would be closely watched once taken. She stated that if a woman is perceived as unwilling to enter the cult it would be difficult for her to avoid an abduction since it would be done quickly and secretively. Those persons who have escaped once abducted often do so with the help of an "enlightened family member." She also explained that a woman who has had some formal education or exposure to life outside of the community often comes from a family where other members have had a similar exposure. This condition would make it less likely that the woman would be abducted since the family would be less likely to be active or passive participants in her abduction. The professor agreed that the initiation rituals include the shaving of the head and the 'scarification' of both the face and body and that this "definitely does continue to occur."

The professor said that whether or not the abduction would be permanent relates to the cult's conception of destiny. As such, if the gods of the cult are understood to have directed a certain destiny for a person, that will be the person's destiny until the gods are seen to have directed otherwise. The professor said that there is "always a little room for changing one's destiny," but that is more theoretical than real since "history has shown [an abduction] is most likely a permanent situation." She also stated that the paying of some form of ransom to the gods through the cult could secure the release of someone who had been abducted.

The professor also stated that if a person were able to escape from the community and flee to an urban centre, the cult's "arm could reach into that centre." She said that it was not uncommon for cult members to go to urban centres to perform rituals and that it was "quite likely" they would use their urban contacts to pursue someone who had escaped. However, she said if the woman were educated then she could have contacts, or an understanding of the urban setting, that would help her evade recapture.

The following information was provided during a 19 January 1999 telephone interview with a Professor of English at Central Michigan University who specializes in West African cultures. She stated that it is possible in traditional Ewe practices for females to be abducted in order to be married to priests. However, she said that it would be unlikely if the abduction involved a woman in her thirties with "any exposure to education" or travels outside of the local community. For the abduction to be successful the "whole community would have to approve" and the woman would have to be willing, convinced, or unwilling/unable to flee. She said that if a woman possessed some education, or some exposure to life beyond the local community, she would be aware of the possibility of flight that would make a successful abduction unlikely. Nevertheless, the professor did say that if those persons involved in the abduction had 'political power,' locally or otherwise, the woman might have reason to fear the consequences her flight would have on her family. This could involve "the power to threaten her family and their lives."

The professor also stated that initiation rituals in many African cultures do involve 'scarification' or the cutting of the body and/or face. It often represents the introduction of the initiate to their new culture. The shaving of the head is also not unusual in ceremonies of a religious nature, often representing the cleansing of the initiate. However, the professor added that a reluctance to undergo these rituals on the part of an initiate would indicate a level of education, or an awareness of outside practices, that would make a successful initiation and/or related abduction unlikely.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

References

Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green Ohio. 19 and 22 January 1999. Telephone interview with a Professor of History.

Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant. 19 January 1999. Telephone interview with a Professor of English.

Ohio State University, Columbus. 19 January 1999. Telephone interview with a Professor of Music and Culture.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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