To many, witchcraft killings are nothing but the ignorant sins of history. A bedtime story to tell children about. However, to the albino population living in Africa, it is a recurring, scary reality. Despite living in the twenty-first century, people with albinism still suffer from their society’s ancient and fatal beliefs, leaving them vulnerable in the face of violence, discrimination, and prejudices. With the pandemic fuelling poverty and illiteracy, the number of albino killings is surging once again.
All shades of discrimination
In a constant human fashion, the albino population has long faced constant discrimination due to their physical difference. Though Albinism is a rare and non-contagious condition, mostly affecting the individual instead of society, many regard it as a curse. Thus, in many African countries, albino individuals face all kinds of discrimination, ranging from ill-contempt to glaring violence.
The albino population has long faced discrimination in all sectors of society. Thus, society denies them the same opportunities in education, health, employment. Yet, as usual, the most morally corrupt consequence of such prejudice is manifesting in murder. Either because of curse beliefs or healing ones, parents are often encouraged to poison their albino children. Worse, many albinos are targeted to supply the vile trade in albino body parts. According to Josephat Torner, an albino living in Tanzania, if you’re albino, then “society doesn’t see you as a human being.”
A rise in witchcraft beliefs
Since some Africans believe that albino body parts possess magical powers, some are targeting them as means of healing. Thus, Tanzania, Malawi, and several other African nations stand at the top of the United Nation’s list regarding albino killings.
“In most of the cases documented, the attacks involved dismembering the victim’s limbs and resulted in death,” the report explained. “In a few other cases, the victims were beheaded; genitals, ears, and bits of skin were removed; tongues were cut out and the eyes and the heart gouged out.”
However, even though the ritual may seem built on a dying, ancient belief, reports show that the violence only increased during recent years. “When I was growing up there was a stigma,” confuses Ziada Ally Nsembo, an albino who helps lead the Tanzania Albino Society. “But people weren’t getting their bones cut—that only starting happening a few years ago.”
Between healings, witchdoctor, and science
Though Albinism takes place all over the world, it often prevails more in African countries. For an individual to be born albino, both of his parents must pass on to him the albino gene. However, some African people are prone to believe in another non-scientific explanation. Strong passed-down traditions in Africa often dictate that albinos are cursed ghosts. Yet, their white body parts are powerful wards against bad luck and have the ability to bring all forms of wealth and success.
Thus, superstitions, myths, and occult beliefs about them spun around to form a healing branch enforced by witchdoctors, with many witch practicers even holding powerful and strong socioeconomic ranks. Worse, UN reports and prominent Tanzanian journalists state that most victims of albino killings are children.
“Some even believe that the witchcraft ritual is more powerful if the victim screams during the amputation, so body parts are often cut from live victims, especially children,” the report says. “The use of children is likely linked to the pursuit of innocence, which, it is believed, enhances the potency of the witchcraft ritual.”
Moreover, with the current pandemic wreaking havoc across all nations, many are turning to witch doctors and their methods to save them. Thus, albino killings are once again rising.
Other magical benefits
Not only are the killings taking place because of healing benefits also because of their other magical uses. For example, some miners use albino body parts as talismans. Thus, they bury them while drilling for gold. Another example is fishermen weaving albino hair into their nets for better luck.
“The buyers of albino body parts are people who need wealth—they believe it’s an easy way to be rich,” says Al-Shaymaa J. Kwegyir, Tanzania’s first albino MP. “Men ill with HIV and AIDS have been known to abduct albino girls, in the belief that raping them might help cure their afflictions.”
Instead of stopping this tragedy, government officials are also undertaking such measures. “If a politician needs to win an election, they will consult a witch doctor, but then politicians will blame the fishermen [for murdered albinos],” says Kabendera, a Tanzanian journalist. “They are the scapegoats.”