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Opinions of Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Columnist: John F. Davis

Extinction of African Religious Tradition in Ghana: The case of Obour Piripi

The shrine of Obour Piripi The shrine of Obour Piripi

Prior to Ghana’s independence on March 6, 1957, Ghana was called the Gold Coast. The earliest Europeans to set foot on the land were the Portuguese in the 15th century (1471), followed by the Dutch. Many other European traders came to the Gold Coast to trade.

These included the British, Danes, and Swedes. By 1874, the British who were then the only Europeans in the Gold Coast established the crown colony that brought the coastal states under its effective political control.

Prior to the European invasion on our soil, the people of the Gold Coast believed in Traditional African worship. Today through imperialism, more than one-half of the populace is Christian, around one-fifth is Muslim, and a little section holds fast to the conventional native religions (Traditional African Religion).

According to the 2010 housing and population, the Traditional African Religion only constitutes 5.2% of the total religious affiliations in Ghana while Muslim is second with 17.6% and Christianity toping with 71.2%. The Traditional African Religion is gradually facing out in our days.

In recent times many charlatans, quacks, and fraudsters have assumed the role of traditional priests to dupe and defraud unsuspecting individuals who still believe in the powers of the gods for protection, wealth, and other personal desires.

Many of the known old so-called shrine houses have closed down and many more across the country are on the verge of closing down. There is less patronage at the shrines these days and most of the priests and priestesses either retire on the job or even at death struggle for a replacement and more and more people tend to shun the religion and worship of lesser gods.

“Obour Piripi” is of no exception, the once very popular shrine with so many followers/worshippers now faces a serious leadership crisis and is steadily heading towards a permanent shutdown.

The Shrine, which is located in Adiembra, a farming community near Asamankese in the Eastern Region of Ghana and known for its mysterious powers, has over the past few years struggled to get a priest to head the shrine. Within the past three years, there have been two unsuccessful attempts to install a priest following the demise of the last priest who occupied the top position for over three decades.

A third unsuccessful attempt to install a new priest began some few weeks ago when a 36year old truck driver, known in private life as Stephen Frempong who is a direct nephew of the immediate past priest, was selected for the position by the elders of the shrine house and community.

With pressure from the various opinion leaders and stakeholders in the community, the new appointee reluctantly accepted the offer to go through initiations and purification rituals to become the next priest but while the rituals were going on which lasted about three weeks, the will-be priest escaped from confinement in a town called Adiembra and fled.

His whereabouts are currently unknown despite several attempts by natives to trace his hiding spot or place of refuge. The unfruitful attempt to locate Mr. Stephen Frempong has cast a dark cloud on the future of the old traditional African Religion in the Adiembra community.

In many traditional societies in Ghana, It's a major honour and duty to be nominated or become such a priest/chief/family head: Such individuals are considered to be spiritual heads and custodians of their cultural heritage.

The "consequences" of refusing such “privileges/honour" is a big issue as it is more of a family/clan issue than personal. On the personal level, a person refusing/turning down such a position may be socially ostracized (they are putting their kin group and community at disadvantage and risk, and may also be costing them economic benefits, so life thereafter for that person may be quite unpleasant), perhaps driven away.

Looking at the downward trend of the religion based on empirical statistical data, and the rate at which it is almost impossible to identify a true fetish priest in our society these days as charlatans appear to have taken over, one may not be out of place to suggest that the African Traditional religion is an almost extinct religion in Ghana today

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