African Traditional Religion and Voodoo Rituals in Cases of Nigerian Sex Trafficking. Application of an Integrative Theological Method

Term Paper, 2019

14 Pages, Grade: 7 (UK Higher Education)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. ATR, Oath Taking Rituals and Juju

3. Scripture and Ancient Oath Taking Traditions

4. Reason and the Supernatural

5. The Experience of Juju

6. Liberating Communities



Reports of Nigerian and other West African women migrating into EU member states then being forced into prostitution are on the rise at alarming rates.1 This form of labor exploitation has been defined as sex trafficking based on the UN Trafficking Protocol2 and is considered to be one of the most urgent human rights abuse issues of our time.3 The methods behind sex trafficking carry distinct traits in different parts of the world. There is, however, a particularly beguiling element to Nigerian sex trafficking - the use of juju (voodoo) rituals as a tool to mentally enslave victims. This element has captured the attention of both state actors and European society on a larger scale.4 This form of control has been especially challenging to navigate for law enforcement and NGO organizations within the EU, since the controlling factors are built upon belief systems that are radically different to their own.

Despite the fact that religious affiliations within Nigeria are almost split down the middle between Christianity and Islam, the role of African Traditional Religion (ATR) remains deeply influential in the beliefs and common practices of the general population.5 This is especially seen in the widespread use of a ‘native justice system’ within the Nigerian legal code.6 The term ‘native justice’ describes a justice system built on the supernatural enforcement of an agreement between two parties through the swearing of ritual oaths before a deity belonging to the ATR cosmology. The spiritual power of the deity is applied to bring about swift justice to the oath breaker and is therefore more reliable than corrupt public servants.7 The ritual oaths made by women as a security, often at the beginning of their migration process,8 what will later become forced prostitution, are embedded in this native justice system and its related beliefs.9 There is a lack of understanding in the West regarding the use of ritual oath taking and voodoo. Therefore, when stories emerge of voodoo usage in trafficking cases, the perception is that victims are being brainwashed by aberrant witchdoctors under the direction of traffickers. In reality, however, traffickers are simply utilizing commonly held beliefs and practices within ATR to exploit their victims.10 In other words, at the heart of Nigerian sex trafficking are issues related to theology. In addition, many NGOs and government workers assisting these women come from a western European post-christian worldview, one that is significantly more influenced by secular humanism than biblical theology and its supernatural worldview. This gap has often hindered trafficked women in their pursuit of liberation and integration in host countries.11

This essay will utilize an integrative theological method to examine the theology behind ATR and its use of juju in cases of Nigerian sex trafficking. An integrative theological method approaches theology by focussing on the epistemological sources of Scripture, tradition, reason, experience and community and their interpenetration. This essay is especially aimed at equipping those among African Christian diaspora communities as well as NGO’s in their work to assist Nigerian trafficking victims within Europe.

African Traditional Religion, Oath Taking Rituals and Juju

When attempting to define a very diverse and complex subject as “the whole African religious phenomena,”12 our brief description of ATR beliefs will focus on the cosmology related to the use of ritual oaths in trafficking. Even though Africans believe in one benevolent God who is the creator of man and the universe, almost all traditions speak of the “withdrawal of God.”13 Furthermore, in between man and God stand various intermediaries such as deities and ancestors as well as rituals, medicines, and other spirit beings.14 The deities are especially seen as expressions of God’s grace and each of these “force-beings” derive their life and power from God to help rule and judge on his behalf, even if they do so in an unpredictable, arbitrary manner.15 This pantheon of spirit beings within the ATR cosmology stands at the center of ritual oath activity with oath taking temples and shrines functioning as locations where deities and humans meet.16 The operational model of these oath taking temples is directly related to the theological principle that the ruling deity possesses an authority derived from God to enforce justice (or enact otherwise some blessing) in the world of humans.17 This sense of justice, however, is more often related to the prosperous advancement of the family or tribe than to a universal standard of right.18

Despite trends toward globalism and modernity, the role of the spiritual realm in human affairs remains unquestioned in the Nigerian worldview, regardless of the religious affiliation.19 Bound with this is the high place given to ritual and symbolism. Standing between the unseen world and humanity are those gifted in interpreting, guiding, and potentially even manipulating such spiritual power.20 The level of trust given to these spiritual guides has led to a growing number of reported cases of abuse.21 The most common occurrence, however, could easily be considered the vast number of those affected by juju priests operating within networks of trafficking. The term juju as practiced by such priests can be defined as “the utilisation [sic] of supernatural forces to impress on the natural.”22 The juju priest performs a specific ritual in order to invoke this power. This ritual involves the collection of items from the woman, the slaughtering of animals, and the solemn vow to repay the debt owed for being transported to Europe. Above all, the women are also made to swear that they will not speak of this to anyone.23 In many cases, the use of juju within the ritual is also presented as a petition to the god for prosperity and success. Only later does its power become a source of fear, as she attempts to leave the horror of her situation.24

Scripture and Ancient Oath Taking Traditions

Ritual oaths and their accompanying use of juju are built on the fundamental theological view in ATR that God has appointed spiritual beings as rulers and judges to preside over the affairs of men. The worldview of the ancient Near East (ANE) shares incredible similarities with ATR’s cosmology and the practice of ritual oath taking.25 In her notable research on curses in the ANE, Kitz demonstrates how ritual oaths were used as points of contact between heaven and earth, as deities were expected to play a role in enforcing “the terms of an arrangement between two parties.”26 The use of spiritual power in the enforcement of oaths, a hypostasized curse, is nearly identical to observations on how juju is used.27 The Hebrew Scriptures, written with an ANE backdrop, present its unique expression of monotheism from within the ANE cosmological landscape,28 including the use of the divine council imagery.29 The divine council concept, as used by biblical authors, is one where Yahweh is presented as being the “chief deity” over a council of ruling spiritual beings, sometimes referred to as the “sons of God.”30 These beings are given administrative roles within the cosmos under Yahweh and are given ruling authority over the nations outside of Israel.31

Psalm 82:1-8 is particularly worth considering based on the comparisons between the ANE and ATR, Scripture’s use of divine council imagery, and the practice of ritual oaths in cases of Nigerian sex trafficking. In v. 1, we are abruptly introduced to a heavenly vision where God is standing in judgement against beings which are also named as “gods” (elohim). His prosecution against them relates to their corruption as judges (vv.2-4). Scholarly debate has been given on whether the plural elohim in this passage refers to earthly judges being honorifically called elohim or to spiritual beings.32 33 Arguments for “earthly” judges are often taken from Exod 21:6 and 22:6-7 where judicial activities between two parties are expected to be performed by an elohim.33 When comparing these two references in Exodus to Kitz’ description of ANE oath rituals, there is reason to consider these passages as describing a transaction where the power of Yahweh, Israel’s elohim is presiding in order to enforce the agreement.34 Curiously enough, the LXX of Exod 22:7 adds the phrase “and swear an oath” (koi opsliai) to the sentence, making it clear that the translators considered a ritual oath to be taking place.35


1 Hepburn, Trafficking Around the World, p.176

2 Ikeora, ‘The Role of African Traditional Religion,’ p.3

3 UN, ‘Human Rights and Human Trafficking,’ pp. 5-8

4 Baarda, ‘Human trafficking for sexual exploitation from Nigeria into Western Europe,’ p.265. See also Ikeora, ‘The Role of African Traditional Religion,’ p.9

5 Ikeora, ‘The Role of African Traditional Religion,’ p.11. See also Eriksen, ‘A Clash of Imaginaries,’ pp.80-81

6 Diagboya, ‘Oath Taking in Edo,’ p.2

7 Ibid, p.15

8 This is seen as a practical measure to ensure the repayment of the debt incurred by the migrating woman. See Olufade, ‘Sustenance of Sex Trafficking in Edo State,’ p.5

9 Ikeora, ‘The Role of African Traditional Religion,’ p.8

10 Ikeora, 'The Role of African Traditional Religion,’ pp. 12-13

11 Ibid., p. 9. Some government workers consider the fear of spiritual repercussions as 'bogus’ attempts to claim asylum.

12 Oborji, 'In Dialogue with African Traditional Religion, p.59

13 Ibid., p.61

14 Ibid.

15 Moscicke, 'Reconciling,’ p.129

16 Diagboya, 'Oath Taking in Edo,’ p.4

17 Ibid., p.5

18 Oborji, 'In Dialogue with African Traditional Religion, p.61

19 Agazue, Culture of Superstition, p.81

20 Michael, Christian Theology and African Traditions, p.94. See also Ejizu, 'Cosmological Perspective on Exorcism,’ p. 173

21 See Agazue, '"He Told Me that My Waist and Private Parts Have Been Ravaged by Demons:" Sexual Exploitation of Female Church Members by "Prophets" in Nigeria’

22 Olufade, 'Sustenance of Sex Trafficking in Edo State,’ p.5

23 Ibid., p.7

24 Ibid., p.13

25 Adu-Gayamfi, ’Psalm 82 and Injustice,’ pp. 26-27; See also Lange, 'An Assyrian Successor State in West Africa.’ who presents the very real possibility that the correlations could be explained by the migration of the ancient Assyrians into west Africa.

26 Kitz, Cursed Are You, p. 35

27 Ibid., p. 176

28 Walton, 'Demons in Mesopotamia,’ p. 229

29 Miller, 'Divine Council as Cosmic-Political Symbol,’ p. 55

30 Gen. 6:2; Deut. 32:8; Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7. Heiser, 'Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,’ pp. 59-60

31 Ibid., pp. 70-71

32 A thorough argumentation for the elohim in Ps. 82 as spiritual beings is beyond the scope of this essay. See Handy, Among the Host of Heaven, pp.89-90; Kee, 'The Heavenly Council,’ pp.263-264; McClellen, 'The Gods- Complaint,’ pp. 836-838;

33 Tate, Psalms 51-100, pp.340-341

34 Kitz, Cursed Are You, p. 62

35 Durham, Exodus, p. 326.

Excerpt out of 14 pages


African Traditional Religion and Voodoo Rituals in Cases of Nigerian Sex Trafficking. Application of an Integrative Theological Method
London School of Theology
7 (UK Higher Education)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
African Traditional Religion, Sex Trafficking, Nigerian Christianity, African Christian Diaspora, Theology, Voodoo Rituals, Ritual Oaths, Ancient Near East, Divine Council, Oath Taking Rituals, Juju
Quote paper
Justin Shrum (Author), 2019, African Traditional Religion and Voodoo Rituals in Cases of Nigerian Sex Trafficking. Application of an Integrative Theological Method, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: African Traditional Religion and Voodoo Rituals in Cases of Nigerian Sex Trafficking. Application of an Integrative Theological Method

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free