Shrines of Accra: Witchcraft trial records at Nai, Korle and Sakumo We, Accra, Ghana (EAP540)

Aims and objectives

This project will preserve and digitise vulnerable documents held at Korle We (the shrine to the Goddess of the Lagoon), Nai We (the shrine to the Goddess of the Sea) and Sakumo Tsoshishi (the shrine to the God of War) - the three paramount religious shrines in Accra, Ghana. Most of the activities at these places of worship are conducted orally, but there are a significant number of records and visual materials held in the offices of the shrine complexes, including photos, paintings, legal documents, correspondence, and most importantly, ledgers containing the transcripts of witchcraft trials.

The shrines of Korle, Nai and Sakumo are courts of first appeal in the case of spiritual malfeasance, and as such they hear hundreds of cases every year. These cases cannot be forwarded to the Ghanaian courts because there are no provisions within the Ghanaian legal code to deal with the spiritual dimensions of these disputes. The method of judging the trials has been maintained for hundreds of years, but the only remaining documents are held at the shrines. The followers of the gods at these shrines use these documents as references in legal cases, and they have pledged their support in helping to preserve them. However, the shrines operate on limited budgets and lack the expertise to preserve their own archival materials.

The documents at the three paramount shrines contain information that does not exist anywhere else in the city, and that are rare in West Africa. They are the only indigenous documentary accounts of the practices of Ga religion held anywhere. None of this material has been archived before. Unfortunately, the documents are currently being held in the bedrooms or offices of the shrines, on piles or on shelves. The trial records are written in pen in notebooks of dubious integrity. These materials are vulnerable because they are open to access by all members of the shrine and to some members of the public, and as such are constantly moving around. Their storage locations make them vulnerable to neglect, water damage, insects and fire.

This project will digitise all the documentary and visual material. The original materials will be left at the shrines, while digital copies on portable hard drives will be given to each shrine, to the Ghana National Archives, and to the British Library. The shrine leaders are willing to participate in the archiving of the material and will encourage some of their shrine members to participate as a way of learning the techniques of archival preservation. Each shrine will nominate two of its members for training in archival preservation during the project duration. The project has also been approved by the Public Records and Archives Administration Department (PRAAD) of Ghana, who has agreed to catalogue and store digital copies of the originals at their location in Accra, and make them fully and costlessly accessible to scholars.