A young man has gone into hiding for fear of being kidnapped and forced into the fetish priesthood.
29-year-old Yohane Ashietey, who works with Ghana Telecom, has been running from the traditional authorities for the past four months. He fears undergoing rituals to become the next chief priest of the Ga Sakumor Shrine in Tema New Town.
The Chief Fetish Priest died a few months ago and it is the turn of Yohane's family to present a candidate for the post. They said he should conform to tradition, but human rights advocates said customs should not violate one's right to choose his path in life.
Mr Ashietey is a university graduate and an engineer with Ghana Telecom. He makes a good salary and drives a Company Car. But he fears that could all change if the elders in his family have their way.
He told Joy News: “They think I am the right man for the job because I am cool and collected…”
According to local tradition, Ashietey is in line for the throne of the Sakumor Shrine, after the last chief priest died about five months ago. But Ashietey wants none of it.
He said performing the fetish rituals would go against his Christian religion. It would also mean sacrificing his career.
“Fundamentally it is seriously against my religion. And I don't think it is a place that I belong to. If you are made a fetish priest you don't wear slippers and you can not even go beyond your home town and that means you have to stop whatever work you are doing. A young man of 29 years I am seriously against it,” he pointed out.
But Ashietey fears he may have no choice, and that he will be forced into the priesthood. So the immediate option is to flee into hiding as he has done now. He said he has moved twice for fear of being kidnapped and enstooled. But members of his family insist he must take up the post.
A family elder in Tema, Ataa Anum told Joy News tradition dictates that the family can forcefully enstool him if necessary.
“If a nominee escapes, the family can forcefully arrest him and enstool him,” he stressed.
Ashietey said that would violate his Constitutional rights. The Co-ordinator of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Nana Oye Lithur agreed in an interview with Joy News.
“If that person for one reason or the other decides not to take up the nomination as a traditional leader, nobody, no shrine or stool can compel that person. That is an individual decision.”
But Madam Lithur admitted that it can be difficult to go against one's culture and family. She said some people who have declined traditional posts have even fled the country to avoid traditional authorities.
She said that is why it is important for the National House of Chiefs to develop protocols that respect people's personal choice and resolve conflicts.
For Ashietey, he has dared to hire a lawyer to fight for his rights if he has to, but he hopes it does not come to that.