The following message came to me in an email a few days ago. “I am currently working on a film that deals with the little known system of bondage in Ghana, called Trokosi,” Christene Browne wrote to me. “Trokosi is a religious practice whereby young virgin girls are made slaves to shrines for offenses committed by a member of their family. To appease local gods, the girls are bonded to the priest of the shrine for life and become their domestic and sexual servants.”
Christene, via Syncopated Productions, is still seeking funds to finish Sena – A Film About Slavery. The film is based on the stories she was told during visits to Ghana. The film takes its name from the main character, Sena, whose dreams of being a nun are shattered when she is secretly sent off to a shrine to atone for a crime that she did not submit. The film tells the story of how she endures through numerous atrocities and inhumanities.
A short interview. I asked Christene if I could ask her a few questions to learn more about how she came to make the film, and what she hoped it would accomplish.
How did you first become aware of child slavery?
I first became aware of Trokosi practice ( a form of child slavery) back in 2000 while I was visiting Ghana for the first time. There was a news report about the practice on a local TV station one night.
What surprised you most about your experience with child slavery?
What surprised me most about the practice was that it could still exist in the present day even in the face of some serious opposition/ legislation (It existed for centuries but had been criminalized in 1998.) The fact that the practice was/is sanctioned by many of the traditional religious practitioners was also very surprising. According to them the young girls were/are being sent to the shrines for educational purposes.
How did you first come into contact with a former Trokosi?
After my first trip to Ghana – I returned home and applied for some research funding with CIDA ( Canadian International Development Agency). Before returning to Ghana I contacted a number of organizations and individuals who were doing work with the Trokosi. ( I had friend in Ghana helping) My main contact was a man by the name of Elvis Adikah – who was in the midst of doing research on the practise. He was the one who put me in direct direct contact with former Trokosi – he also acted as my interpreter.
We travelled for about five weeks in the Volta region of Ghana to remote hard to reach villages- meeting young and older former Trokosi – and collecting testimonies. During this trip I was also able to visit some active shrines, meet with some of the priests of the shrines, some government officials, a number of NGO groups and some leaders in the African traditional religion movement. In one of the active shrines, I met an older woman whose job was to oversee the Trokosi – she had been in the shrine for over 60 years. (She is featured in the research interview clip below)
My meetings with the former Trokosi took place in their homes and at so called rehabilitation centers. The majority of the younger former Trokosi were at these rehabilitation centers where they were learning skills, like sewing, to help them better reintegrate into society.
There is a great stigma associated with former Trokosi – many people believe that they bring misfortunes - so reintegration is very difficult.
Why did you decide to make your film?
Ever since I had the opportunity to meet and interview a number of former Trokosi , I felt compelled to tell their story. The stories that I heard were devastating and touched me greatly.
What do you hope people will do as a result of watching the film?
I hope the film will spark a new debate about the practice and bring the silent suffering of the Trokosi to the forefront. Giving a voice to the voiceless is something that I have done in many of my past projects. Ultimately I hope to inspire people to take decisive actions towards stopping this archaic system of bondage.
If you’ve read this far, I hope that you will help me in spreading the word about Christene’s film, Sena – A Story Of Slavery, or prehaps, even contributing to the completion of the film.