There is an African superstition that albino people are not truly human. Many believe that they are demons or ghosts. They also believe that albinos are immortal, and their bodies contain magic healing properties. Witch doctors still practice dark magic in many countries, although the persecution of Albinos primarily occurs in Tanzania and Malawi. Clients are willing to pay high prices for albino body parts because they are used in spells to bring good luck and success. Life as an albino is terrifying, to say the least. These ten stories of persecution and mutilation are so tragic; they are almost unbelievable.
10Misunderstanding and Racism
Discrimination against albino people has been going on for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and yet nothing has been done to stop it until very recently. In 1892, a researcher named Charles Staniland Wake from Chicago was traveling throughout Africa. He studied various tribal cultures and published a book called Memoirs of the International Congress of Anthropologie. While he was on a hunting trip, he was shocked to run into an albino man. He admitted that after a year of not seeing any other white person besides himself, it was frightening for him. The local villagers explained that they believe albinos are demonic ghosts, and it is rare to see an adult because they are normally killed during infancy.
Despite the fact that the superstitions were explained to him, Charles concluded that the real reason why they killed albino babies was to preserve the darker skin complexion of the village. The knowledge of how recessive genes work among humans would not become public knowledge for many years. Charles Wake writes that Africans must come in all shades—ranging from pure white to very dark. He writes, “Black can turn to white, but white can never turn to black. This looks like the final extinction of the dark races of men.”
9Body Parts for Profit
In Tanzania, an albino girl named Kabula was walking home from school. A man spotted her while driving, and figured out where she lived. A few days later, three men showed up to Kabula’s home. They cut off her arm, threw it in a plastic bag, and ran away.
It is difficult to imagine how anyone could be so cruel to a child, but selling albino body parts to witch doctors can make someone rich. The average income for someone in Tanzania is only about $ 400 per year. Body parts are sold piece by piece at around $ 2,000 each, and an entire corpse can go for as much as $ 75,000. In a world where people are living in extreme poverty, and superstition tells them that albinos are not even human, it is easy to see why people are willing to do it without remorse.
An albino man named Stephane Ebongue was discriminated against as a child in Cameroon. When he grew up, he went to University and became a journalist in Italy. In 2016, he returned to his African roots and decided to confront a witch doctor with other reporters from the BBC.
Instead of treating Ebongue like a human being, the witch doctor stared at him like a lion ready to jump on its prey. He forced Ebongue to hold some magic wooden sticks during the interview. The witch doctor kept saying how much money Ebongue was worth. He explained that they are so valuable, that he even exhumes buried bodies whenever an albino dies.
Ebongue tried to ask the witch doctor if he felt any remorse for killing people, or if he ever worried about being arrested for murder since he admitted to all of his crimes very openly. The man replied that he makes so much money that whenever police come to visit him, he bribes them, and they go away.
7Special Schools and Camps
Since it is too dangerous for albino children to go to regular schools, many of them never leave their houses. For those who care to get an education, they go to live in special boarding schools. At the very least, they can often attend summer camps to meet fellow albinos. However, for the boarding schools, many parents drop their children off and never come back. There is an old superstition that giving birth to an albino child means there will be a curse upon the household. Parents are eager to give them up without resorting to killing them.
These camps were created only after the government realized they needed to step in to prevent the murders of so many albino people. Every night, tall gates are locked, and the grounds are watched over by security. While this protects the lives of albino children, it also further isolates them from the outside world, and it does nothing to help society accept them as human beings. Once they are teenagers, they become too old to stay at the schools, and they are forced to figure out how to live in a world that hates them.
6Destined for Poverty
Since many people feel superstitious about albinos, they become shunned from society, and cannot find jobs. Many adult albinos are forced to depend on family members to support them. In Fear & Loathing: Albino African Survival in Tanzania, a documentary produced by RT, a 50-year old albino man named Said was attacked, and his hand was chopped off. His sister allowed him to “live” with her, but he was only permitted to sleep outside of her home, covered with a mosquito net.
In many societies, education has been a way to escape poverty. Since albinos are born with poor eyesight, it makes it difficult for them to receive a good education. According to The Red Cross, many teachers assume that all albino children are stupid. However, they cannot see the blackboard. One of the many things the Red Cross is doing to help albino children is to make sure they learn how to read braille since many of them are nearly blind. They also provide eyeglasses and magnifying glasses to help them read.
5Skin Cancer and AIDS
Albinos are extremely susceptible to developing skin cancer. Their bodies do not produce Melanin, resulting in their skin having no pigmentation and no natural protection from the sun. Albinos should always wear hats and reapply sunscreen throughout the day.
According to a study done by the European Organization for Research on Treatment of Cancer Education Branch in Stockholm, Sweden, African albinos typically form skin tumors on their faces and necks. With a lack of proper medical treatment, these tumors can become massive, and it often leads to an early death. According to that study, African albinos usually do not survive past 30 years old.
To make matters worse, the albinos’ “magic powers” caused a rumor to spread that if a man with AIDS has sex with an albino, they will be cured. This has lead to young girls being kidnapped and raped. As a result, they contract AIDS as well.
4The Albino Island
Since albinos are so often rejected from society, many of them decided to start their own community on the small Ukerewe Island, which is off the coast of Tanzania. As of 2014, around 70 albino people live there. Some of them were lucky enough have a family who does not believe in superstition, and they can all live together in peace.
However, living on Ukerewe does not guarantee that albinos are safe. Despite the fact that they are three hours away from the much larger Mwanza City, an albino man named Alfred Kapole was attacked in Ukerewe. He was raised by his parents on the island, who wanted to give him a better life. Kapole realized that so long as outsiders still believed that albinos are magic, they will never be safe.
Kapole moved to Mwanza City and started an organization called the Tanzania Albinism Society. On the wall of the building, he has written, “We do not melt in the sun. We do not disappear. We live and die like normal people.” He has devoted his life to giving seminars, trying to educate people in nearby villages about albinism. He also spreads the word through radio and TV.
One may wonder, how could this horrible practice still be alive today, when there should be plenty of educated people in the government? Erick Kabendera, an investigative journalist in Tanzania, noticed that albino killings dramatically increase during the presidential election season. It has already been well documented that many politicians in Africa still believe in magic, and they will pay witch doctors for spells that will guarantee victory.
Politicians are also some of the only people who can actually afford to pay the outrageous price to obtain the body parts. When confronted with this theory, politicians have replied that they believe fishermen are the ones who pay for the spells.
It is no surprise, then, that if politicians are actually the ones demanding that albinos are killed, they would not step up to try and protect them. The United Nations and Human Rights Watch needed to get involved. Jakaya Kikwete, who was the President of Tanzania in 2015, said that this practice was disgusting, and an embarrassment to the nation. He was willing to collaborate with arresting witch doctors, which no other Tanzanian president was ever willing to do before.
2Villagers Fight Back
While there are many superstitious Africans who believe that albinos deserve to die, there are many educated people who are horrified. Since the government is so corrupt, people are very literally getting away with murder. Many young activists have taken the matter into their own hands to hunt these serial-killing witch doctors.
In 2015, a rumor spread that 58-year old Jane Faidha Bakari was a witch who paid men to kill an albino for a spell. People were outraged and showed up at Bakari’s house in the middle of the night. Over 200 angry villagers turned up and dragged her out of the house. They chopped her body into small pieces, as her husband Moses stood by and watched. They burned her body and then burned the house, too. Moses had to escape with their three children. Later, he claimed that his wife was not a witch doctor and that these activists killed an innocent woman.
Unfortunately, since witch doctors often keep their true identities secret, elderly women usually take the blame. They fall into the stereotype of what people think a “witch” is. In a world where villages live on edge wondering who the serial killer is among them, they jump as soon as there is any shred of “evidence.”
For centuries, leaders of communities, police, and the justice system in Tanzania did very little to stop the killing of albino people. Finally, in 2015, after albino activists and The United Nations spoke out about the issues, the government finally stepped up and did what they should have done years before. They arrested 225 “healers” that were practicing without a medical license, as well as witch doctors who were known to request albino body parts from bounty hunters. During the police raids of the witch doctors’ residences, they found monkey tails, lion skin, warthog teeth, and many more animal parts that witches mixed together and made people consume as part of their “healing” spells.
This is a huge victory because now that the source of the money is behind bars, fewer people will have motivation to hunt albinos. Any witch doctor who was not caught will also think twice before revealing themselves publically, now that they know they can be arrested. Unfortunately, many witch doctors still practice in other countries in Africa.
Shannon Quinn is a writer and entrepreneur from the Philadelphia area.