Although not the main focus of this website I find it useful and necessary to draw attention to this phenomenon which is based on superstition, violates human rights and creates many innocent victims – not only elderly women and men but also children, just like ritual murders.
I wish to commend Charlotte Müller and Sertan Sanderson of DW (Deutsche Welle) – see below – for an excellent article on this topic. It’s an impressive account of what happens to people accused of witchcraft and victims sof superstition. (FVDK)
World Day Against Witch Hunts: People With Dementia Are Not Witches
Published: August 4, 2023 By: The Ghana Report
August 10 has been designated World Day against Witch Hunts. The Advocacy for Alleged Witches welcomes this development and urges countries to mark this important day, and try to highlight past and contemporary sufferings and abuses of alleged witches in different parts of the globe.
Witchcraft belief is a silent killer of persons. Witchcraft accusation is a form of death sentence in many places. People suspected of witchcraft, especially women and children, are banished, persecuted, and murdered in over 40 countries across the globe. Unfortunately, this tragic incident has not been given the attention it deserves.
Considered a thing of the past in Western countries, this vicious phenomenon has been minimized. Witch persecution is not treated with urgency. It is not considered a global priority. Meanwhile, witch hunting rages across Africa, Asia, and Oceania.
The misconceptions that characterized witch hunting in early modern Europe have not disappeared. Witchcraft imaginaries and other superstitions still grip the minds of people with force and ferocity. Reinforced by traditional, Christian, Islamic, and Hindu religious dogmas, occult fears and anxieties are widespread.
Many people make sense of death, illness, and other misfortunes using the narratives of witchcraft and malevolent magic. Witch hunters operate with impunity in many countries, including nations with criminal provisions against witchcraft accusations and jungle justice.
Some of the people who are often accused and targeted as witches are elderly persons, especially those with dementia.
To help draw attention to this problem, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches has chosen to focus on dementia for this year’s World Day against Witch Hunts. People with dementia experience memory loss, poor judgment, and confusion.
Their thinking and problem-solving abilities are impaired. Unfortunately, these health issues are misunderstood and misinterpreted. Hence, some people treat those with dementia with fear, not respect. They spiritualize these health conditions, and associate them with witchcraft and demons.
There have been instances where people with dementia left their homes or care centers, and were unable to return or recall their home addresses. People claimed that they were returning from witchcraft meetings; that they crash landed on their way to their occult gatherings while flying over churches or electric poles.
Imagine that! People forge absurd and incomprehensible narratives to justify the abuse of people with dementia. Sometimes, people claim that those suffering dementia turn into cats, birds, or dogs. As a result of these misconceptions, people maltreat persons with dementia without mercy; they attack, beat, and lynch them. Family members abandon them and make them suffer painful and miserable deaths. AfAW urges the public to stop these abuses, and treat people with dementia with care and compassion.
Published: August 10, 2023 By: Charlotte Müller | Sertan Sanderson – DW
Witch hunts are far from being a thing of the past — even in the 21st century. In many countries, this is still a sad reality for many women today. That is why August 10 has been declared a World Day against Witch Hunts.
Akua Denteh was beaten to death in Ghana’s East Gonja District last month — after being accused of being a witch. The murder of the 90-year-old has once more highlighted the deep-seated prejudices against women accused of practicing witchcraft in Ghana, many of whom are elderly.
An arrest was made in early August, but the issue continues to draw attention after authorities were accused of dragging their heels in the case. Human rights and gender activists now demand to see change in culture in a country where supernatural beliefs play a big role.
But the case of Akua Denteh is far from an isolated instance in Ghana, or indeed the world at large. In many countries of the world, women are still accused of practicing witchcraft each year. They are persecuted and even killed in organized witch hunts — especially in Africa but also in Southeast Asia and Latin America.
Witch hunts: a contemporary issue
Those accused of witchcraft have now found a perhaps unlikely charity ally in their fight for justice: the Catholic missionary society missio, which is part of the global Pontifical Mission Societies under the jurisdiction of the Pope, has declared August 10 as World Day against Witch Hunts, saying that in at least 36 nations around the world, people continue to be persecuted as witches.
While the Catholic Church encouraged witch hunts in Europe from the 15th to the 18th century, it is now trying to shed light into this dark practice. Part of this might be a sense of historical obligation — but the real driving force is the number of victims that witch hunts still cost today.
Historian Wolfgang Behringer, who works as a professor specializing in the early modern age at Saarland University, firmly believes in putting the numbers in perspective. He told DW that during these three centuries, between 50,000 and 60,000 people are assumed to have been killed for so-called crimes of witchcraft — a tally that is close to being twice the population of some major German cities at the time.
But he says that in the 20th century alone, more people accused of witchcraft were brutally murdered than during the three centuries when witch hunts were practiced in Europe: “Between 1960 and 2000, about 40,000 people alleged of practicing witchcraft were murdered in Tanzania alone. While there are no laws against witchcraft as such in Tanzanian law, village tribunals often decide that certain individuals should be killed,” Behringer told DW.
The historian insists that due to the collective decision-making behind these tribunals, such murders are far from being arbitrary and isolated cases: “I’ve therefore concluded that witch hunts are not a historic problem but a burning issue that still exists in the present.”
A pan-African problem?
In Tanzania, the victims of these witch hunts are often people with albinism; some people believe that the body parts of these individuals can be used to extract potions against all sorts of ailments. Similar practices are known to take place in Zambia and elsewhere on the continent.
Meanwhile in Ghana, where nonagenarian Akua Denteh was bludgeoned to death last month, certain communities blamed the birth of children with disabilities on practices of witchcraft.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is usually the younger generations who are associated witchcraft. So-called “children of witchcraft” are usually rejected by their families and left to fend for themselves. However, their so-called crimes often have little to do with sorcery at all:
“We have learned of numerous cases of children suffering rape and then no longer being accepted by their families. Or they are born as illegitimate children out of wedlock, and are forced to live with a parent who no longer accepts them,” says Thérèse Mema Mapenzi, who works as a mission project partner in the eastern DRC city of Bukayu.
‘Children of witchcraft’ in the DRC
Mapenzi’s facility was initially intended to be a women’s shelter to harbor women who suffered rape at the hands of the militia in the eastern parts of the country, where rape is used as a weapon of war as part of the civil conflict there. But over the years, more and more children started seeking her help after they were rejected as “children of witchcraft.”
With assistance from the Catholic missionary society missio, Mapenzi is now also supporting these underage individuals in coping with their many traumas while trying to find orphanages and schools for them.
“When these children come here, they have often been beaten to a pulp, have been branded as witches or have suffered other injuries. It is painful to just even look at them. We are always shocked to see these children devoid of any protection. How can this be?” Mapenzi wonders.
Seeking dialogue to end witch hunts
But there is a whole social infrastructure fueling this hatred against these young people in the DRC: Many charismatic churches blame diseases such as HIV/AIDS or female infertility on witchcraft, with illegitimate children serving as scapegoats for problems that cannot be easily solved in one of the poorest countries on earth. Other reasons cited include sudden deaths, crop failures, greed, jealousy and more.
Thérèse Mema Mapenzi says that trying to help those on the receiving end of this ire is a difficult task, especially in the absence of legal protection: “In Congolese law, witchcraft is not recognized as a violation of the law because there is no evidence you can produce. Unfortunately, the people have therefore developed their own legal practices to seek retribution and punish those whom call them witches.”
In addition to helping those escaping persecution, Mapenzi also seeks dialogue with communities to stop prejudice against those accused of witchcraft and sorcery. She wants to bring estranged families torn apart by witch hunts back together. Acting as a mediator, she talks to people, and from time to time succeeds in reuniting relatives with women and children who had been ostracized and shamed. Mapenzi says that such efforts — when they succeed — take an average of two to three years from beginning to finish.
But even with a residual risk of the victims being suspected of witchcraft again, she says her endeavors are worth the risk. She says that the fact that August 10 has been recognized as the World Day against Witch Hunts sends a signal that her work is important — and needed.
Hunting the hunters — a dangerous undertaking
For Thérèse Mema Mapenzi, the World Day against Witch Hunts marks another milestone in her uphill battle in the DRC. Jörg Nowak, spokesman for missio, agrees and hopes that there will now be growing awareness about this issue around the globe.
As part of his work, Nowak has visited several missio project partners fighting to help bring an end to witch hunts in recent years. But he wasn’t aware about the magnitude of the problem himself until 2017.
The first case he dealt with was the killing of women accused of being witches in Papua New Guinea in the 2010s — which eventually resulted in his publishing a paper on the crisis situation in the country and becoming missio’s dedicated expert on witch hunts.
But much of Nowak’s extensive research in Papua New Guinea remains largely under wraps for the time being, at least in the country itself: the evidence he accrued against some of the perpetrators there could risk the lives of missio partners working for him.
Not much has changed for centuries, apart from the localities involved when it comes to the occult belief in witchcraft, says Nowak while stressing: “There is no such thing as witchcraft. But there are accusations and stigmatization designed to demonize people; indeed designed to discredit them in order for others to gain selfish advantages.”
Maxwell Suuk and Isaac Kaledzi contributed to this article.
The following article is highly recommended reading, excellent work by Victor Ayeni!
In Nigeria, nearly every day ‘money rituals’ are reported, maybe not surprising in view of the country’s large population of well over 200 million people – Africa’s largest – even though just one ritual murder is already one too much. However, on the other hand, it could well be that the cases known and reported are only the tip of an iceberg.
But what do we know about ‘money rituals’, as ritual murders are being called in this part of the African continent? Most articles reporting on these crimes, which are driven by greed – for power, prestige or wealth – and based on superstition, are superficial. It is hard to find an article which treats this phenomenon in depth and in a serious way. The Nigerian journalist Victor Ayeni has done a great job and he’s to be commended for this achievement.
The traditional history of ritualistic killings and human sacrifices point to protection of the community’s interest by sacrificing one of its members. Cruel as this might be in our eyes nowadays, in the 21st century, back then relatives of the victim may have been proud of their family member’s contribution to the community. We see nowadays in many parts of the African continent that the ritualistic act which demands the death of the victim is for the (pretended, aimed) benefit of one person only who thus wants to increase his or her power, wealth or health. Moreover, the victim is often picked at random. Involuntary, the victim is attacked and tortured, what results is a gruesome, a wicked crime. Sometimes, specific groups are targeted, e.g. people with albinism, hunchbacks or bald people.
In some countries ambitious politicians tend to resort to these practices in the hope of increasing their political chances and success, resulting an increase in ritual murders during election campaigns. It’s a shocking reality – even though we don’t known the full scale of it.
‘Money rituals’ in Nigeria show another characteristic: some people consider it a business model, which enables them to ‘earn’ money from superstitious people who believe that by using another man’s organs or other body parts, ‘juju’ will be created, to their personal benefit.
Victor Ayeni explains well how this works in Nigeria. A very informative article which ends with the question ‘Are money rituals real or a fiction?’
The reader may answer this question for him- or herself after reading Ayeni’s valuable article. (webmaster FVDK)
Money ritual seekers’ dark walk into deceit, misery
VICTOR AYENI explores the subject of money ritual in popular culture, religious houses, and Nollywood movies, why the purveyors of the belief succeed in deceiving youths, and its implications on the public
The apprehension in the air was so thick that one could cut through it with a knife as Olajide (surname withheld) narrated his journey through a maze of confusion.
The 27-year-old graduate was helping a friend manage a pig farm in Osogbo, Osun State, when another friend introduced him to Internet scam, which in Nigerian lingo is called Yahoo Yahoo.
But his experience shocked the wits out of him.
“I was being paid N10,000 per month at the farm, but the money couldn’t meet my needs as time went on, so a friend of mine bought me an iPhone and from there, I was introduced to Yahoo Yahoo.
“I started off on a neutral ground and I was getting little money from my clients (victims), but after like three months into it, things became so tough that I couldn’t fend for myself again. I explained my situation to a friend and he took me to an Alfa (cleric),” Olajide recalls, shaking his head in disbelief.
This Alfa was known in Yahoo boys’ circles to be adept in the art of money magic – an occult economy that involves the performance of rituals to supernaturally conjure money.
Abode of fear
When Olajide described his financial difficulties to the Alfa, he was given two options.
“Alfa said he would help me out with small osole. I asked what he meant by that and he explained that osole (spiritual assistance) is different from oso (human body parts).
“Alfa told me oso required the use of human parts for material wealth with repercussions such as untimely death or insanity, whereas osole required the use of plants and animals for the same purpose but with lesser repercussions like being poor. I opted for osole,” he added.
Olajide was instructed to pay a sum of N12,000 into the cleric’s bank account for the materials and return in four days.
Five days later, when Olajide put a call through to the Alfa, he was asked to return for the materials.
He said, “When I got there, he gave me a small black soap and told me to find small palm oil and go to a flowing river to bathe that I had to cleanse myself first before I would use the materials.
“He explained to me that the soap was made with pepper mixed with some herbs and directed me to rub the palm oil on my body first before bathing with the soap. He warned that if I didn’t use the palm oil first, I was going to disappear and I would not be seen again. So, I did as I was told.”
Olajide said he complied with all the instructions.
“When I went back to him, he gave me three different materials: a soap to bath with every morning by 4am, a potion which I must swallow daily after taking my bath, and a powdery mixture to be licked every night before I go to bed.
“He said the herbal concoction was made from animals like crow, chameleon, cat, pigeon, and some leaves. He also told me that I would experience more hardship during the first two or three months of using the ritual materials, but I should endure it because after that, the tide will turn and money will be flowing in from my clients,” he added.
The idea of recipients conjuring money through magic is a familiar theme in many Nigerian films and religious houses.
Whether through animal sacrifices or trafficking in human parts, it is erroneously believed that these rites bring stupendous wealth to those who practice them.
When our correspondent inquired from Olajide if the magic worked, and in what specific ways the money came to him, he was silent.
When he spoke, he recalled faithfully following all the instructions given to him, but for the next two months, as the cleric predicted, he experienced serious financial hardship.
At this point, he said his friend introduced him to a client (victim), who had been defrauded several times.
Olajide then began to siphon money from the victim.
The inexplicable ease with which his ‘client’ gave him money implied that he (client) had been hypnotised.
“I ended up getting plenty money from this client. The cleric had assured me of having lots of money from osole, but he advised me to return to him for an upgrade of the ritual by paying N450,000, saying I would be making millions of naira after using the alleged ‘upgraded’ soap.
“But I didn’t go back because I asked my friend who took me there about what the new upgrade entails since that was what he did, and he warned me sternly against it because of the repercussions behind it.
“He said once I bathe with the ‘upgraded’ soap the cleric would prescribe, I could only wear the clothes and shoes I had and I must not change them for the next two years,” he added.
Four months after he dabbled in osole, Olajide realised that his fortunes began to dwindle as reality pulled the plug on his gravy train.
He said, “Things suddenly turned sour after four months. The client I was getting money from was arrested and ended up in jail and I no longer had any financial link. I ended up becoming more broke than before.
“My friend found me another client but I ended up wasting money rather than gaining some. Then, I was taken to another voodoo practitioner. This one said he would perform a ritual for me but one of its conditions was that I must never have sex with more than one girlfriend for the next three years and if I did otherwise, I would run mad.
“It was then I decided to withdraw from this stuff and went back into teaching for some time. Later on, I was introduced to the crypto business that I now do.”
The poverty factor
The belief in gaining wealth through mystical practices has gained much appeal over the decades in Nigeria with the exponential rise in poverty and lack of equal economic opportunities, especially for young people.
According to the 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index Survey released by the National Bureau of Statistics, 63 per cent of Nigerians, which account for 133 million citizens, are multi-dimensionally poor due to a lack of access to health, education, living standards, employment, and security.
The unemployment rate in Nigeria has not only increased constantly in the past years, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group has also projected that the country’s unemployment rate will hit 37 per cent in 2023.
However, investigations by Saturday PUNCH showed that many Nigerians fervently believe that they can make a lot of money regardless of the dire economic situations in the country through a supernatural supply of money.
In Nigeria, there are various tales around wealth creation that foster the concept of one becoming rich through the manipulation of metaphysical forces in nature.
Among the Yoruba, South-West Nigeria, there is the aworo phenomenon that is believed to draw large patronage to a trader in a marketplace.
There is also awure (wealth booster) which can be prepared as a traditional soap or concoction.
Research shows that many Nigerians plank their belief in money rituals on mostly unverified reports.
This has drawn many into desperate measures, including taking the lives of close family members and friends.
In December 2021, a suspected Internet fraudster from Edo State, identified only as Osas, allegedly murdered his girlfriend, Elohor Oniorosa, for ritual purposes.
In November 2022, another Yahoo boy, alongside his herbalist, one Ike, aka Ogenesu, was arrested after policemen recovered suspected human parts at the herbalist’s place in Obiaruku, in the Ukwuani Local Government Area of Delta State.
But Ogun State appeared to have the highest number of reported incidents of such killings.
For instance, the state recorded at least 15 cases of ritual killings between January 2022 and 2023.
In January, the Ogun State Police Command arrested a 36-year-old herbalist, Taiwo Ajalorun, who reportedly confessed to the gruesome killing of a 26-year-old mother of two and two others in the Ijebu Ode area of the state.
On December 28, 2022, in the Ijebu-Ode area of the state, a gang reportedly killed three women, including a girlfriend of one of them, after sleeping with her.
In February 2022, two suspected criminals who were alleged to be ritualists were set ablaze by an angry mob for being in possession of human parts in Oja-Odan in the Yewa-North Local Government Area of the state.
Also, in October 2022, two suspected Internet fraudsters allegedly killed a 40-year-old man, Abdullahi Azeez, in Owode-Egba.
But probably the most pathetic was that of some teenagers who were caught burning the head of a female, Sofia, whom they killed for money ritual in the Oke Aregba area of Abeokuta.
One of the teenagers, Soliu Majekodunmi, who was Sofia’s boyfriend, said in January 2022 that he learnt the practice through Facebook.
Majekodunmi said he typed, ‘How to make money ritual’ on Facebook and got the details, adding that the link instructed him to behead and burn a female skull in a local pot.
Shaman or sham man?
Our correspondent found many Facebook accounts and groups created for seekers of money rituals.
Most of the social media pages had photographs of new naira notes placed in African traditional pots, calabashes, and cowrie-strewn bags, and some showed animal blood splattered on the ground around them.
Posing as a school teacher, our correspondent reached out to one of the acclaimed shamans, Babatunde (surname withheld), who resided in Ijebu Igbo, Ogun State.
In his response, he introduced his shrine as the ‘Arab Money Family’ and sent his phone number to our correspondent.
In a rather confident tone, Babatunde said, “If you are ready, even if it is this night, you will pay me and I will get the materials ready to start the ritual work for you. Most of my ritual work is done overnight and by tomorrow, it will be completed and your money will come out.
“You will send me your bank account, photograph, and full name, and you will be receiving money in your account. You will be receiving cash thrice every two weeks.”
When our correspondent inquired whether it is spirits that would be sending the money, he interjected in a mildly exasperated tone, “Listen, I will prepare the money here in my shrine and the money will be entering your account.”
He sent his ritual material price list and asked our correspondent to select the amount of money he wishes to receive in his bank account.
The list says, “N15,500 for N200,000; N20,000 for N300,000; N30,500 for N500,000; N50,000 for N1million; N75,000 for N5million; N90,000 for N20million; and N120,000 for N50 million.”
When our correspondent selected “N20,000 for N300,000,” he reiterated that his brand of ‘money magic’ utilises native materials instead of human blood.
“I make money without human blood and I only make use of native materials. I only make use of materials called ‘Cash of Hope’ and the ‘Money Drawer Oil.’
“Mind you, my work does not require any side effects or human being blood for sacrifice or repercussions, okay? Never say never to the high spirit.
“You don’t need to travel down for the ritual; I will just send them to you and you will get your money, but you must come down to my shrine with a token of appreciation for my work, any amount your heart chooses,” Babatunde added.
When the reporter complained about being unable to afford the cost of the ritual material, the magician urged him to find the money by any means possible and contact him when ready.
Babatunde was also observed to regularly post videos on his Facebook and WhatsApp statuses featuring ‘clients’ who claim to have acquired money through his rituals but the veracity of their claims could not be confirmed.
The second acclaimed money magician, who resides in Ogbomoso, Oyo State, goes by the Facebook name, Iya Ifa Bomi.
In this case, our correspondent posed as a greenhorn ‘Yahoo boy’ and asked her for spiritual assistance in order to obtain money from his ‘clients.’
She said, “You mean you are talking to your clients and they are not giving you money? I can perform a ritual for you and it will involve the use of big Titus fish, pepper, and some fresh leaves, but it will cost you N25,000.
“When you have the money, you can come to Ogbomoso and pick up the materials. I will prepare them for you. I have done this for many Yahoo boys like you and they all come back to testify that their clients are cooperating although some of them are ingrates. We also have some of us who do this work who are scammers and have made people not trust our works.”
Another cleric contacted by our correspondent, Alfa Abdulmumeen Aremu, advertised himself as a practitioner of “money rituals for engineers, contractors, business owners and ‘Yahooboys.’”
He first demanded a sum of N2,000 and told our correspondent to send his full name and his mother’s name for spiritual consultation before he could recommend osole to him.
In a voice note, he explained, “There are different types of osole and I perform them for people like you, so don’t worry, I am adept in this work. Send me those things first and I will do some consultations to know your destiny in five minutes and I will revert to you.”
Our correspondent sent him a pseudonym along with the name of his late grandmother.
After some minutes, Aremu sent a voice note saying, “I can see you have a very bright destiny but you have some enemies. They are divided into two: some from your family and others from your workplace.
“You will cook ritual meals like rice and semo with tasty stew and give them to the children in your community. They will eat it with relish, and some of them will go to sleep. After you do that, you will be spiritually clean and we can proceed to the next stage.”
A student of Business Administration, Kazeem Akinpelu, says money rituals are real.
“If they have not been working, people will no longer be practicing them. I grew up in Ibadan, Oyo State, and I know of a market where they sell human parts at night.
“The people selling in this particular market practice voodoo and they are patronised by those who perform money rituals. There was also one time the body parts of a lynched motorcyclist here in Ibadan were used by ritualists,” he added.
However, a civil servant, Nnamdi Okeke, dismissed money rituals as a fantasy that existed only in the realm of make-believe.
“Well, I have not come across any money rituals and I haven’t thought of doing such either. I don’t believe there is anything like ‘blood money.’
“Someone can watch a film and tell you the story, but no cult will tell you what to bring if you have not passed through their ranks, and that is if such things exist, because I don’t believe in them. The question is, the person who wants to make you rich, why is he poor and even why are their children not rich?” he asked.
Similarly, a medical scientist, Mike Okechukwu, said the whole concept of ritual killing boiled down to superstition.
“People would believe what they want to believe to obtain money. Desperate people will employ desperate measures. For me though, I don’t think ritual killings are effective; I have not seen any proof to make me believe so. It all boils down to superstition,” he stated.
But a sales representative, who gave her name as Judith for security reasons, said she once dated a man whom she believed was involved in such rituals.
She said, “I was dating this Yahoo-Yahoo guy and one day, I visited him unannounced and found that he didn’t want me to go inside his room. He was just acting weird that day.
“But while I stood at the door, he didn’t know I saw a native pot placed on the floor. From that day on, I began to suspect him and that was what made me leave him eventually because I don’t want anybody to use me for money rituals.”
Money ritual mirage
Commenting on popular beliefs about money rituals, a Professor of Philosophy of Religion at the Lagos State University, Danoye Oguntola-Laguda, said herbalists appeal to Internet scammers for pecuniary gain.
He said, “My experience is that there is nothing called money rituals. What many people mistake for money rituals is the prayer for getting rich. That could definitely involve some sacrifices of animals or birds or cooking for the whole community (saara) which brings the blessing of feeding multitudes and people may not be able to determine how you become rich.
“I don’t want to say that those who believe in osole or perform oso are wrong because there are a lot of myths that point in that direction, but if you ask many of them to tell you or show you the real thing, you will see that they have nothing to show.
“I want to say that most of these traditionalists do not even know that those who consult them are ‘Yahoo boys.’ They just see them as people seeking a way to be rich and they do a ritual, pray for them and tell them to go and kill one goat. The babalawos are also human beings who have families to feed so when they see a victim with such a proposal, they grab it with both hands.”
Oguntola-Laguda also explained the difference between religious practice and occultism.
“Religion is experiential; it is about your experience. If I tell you that prayer doesn’t work, it’s because I tried it and it didn’t work and if I tell you that it works, it’s because I tried it and it worked for me.
“There is a need to separate occultism from religious practices. Occultism is the appropriation of spiritual agents, who in most cases are negative, and it’s not limited to African traditional religion; it is something that cuts across the board.
“Many religious people appropriate these negative spiritual agents for these money rituals and power to be able to do things that are extraordinary, like the power to be able to tell the sun to go down or to tell the rain to stop.
“So, it is occult people that will tell you that they will make you rich and invite a spiritual agent to do that for you but they always come with a price and that is what many people have come to call oso or osole.
“In the past, in Yoruba traditional society, the wizard who is called oso doesn’t mean he is rich but has power appropriated through spiritual agents that he deploys for good or evil of society,” he added.
Nollywood magical realism
The scenarios of materially wealthy people enmeshed in sinister rituals and pacts with spirits, is a recurring theme in Nollywood plots.
Findings by Saturday PUNCH revealed that whether in the predominantly Muslim North or the largely Christian South, many religious Nigerians believe in the reality of an unseen world, and the fictive representations from Nollywood plots have heavily shaped their perceptions of reality.
A Nollywood screenwriter, Mr Abiola Omolokun, argued that the depictions of money rituals in films are a true representation of Yoruba culture.
He said, “First, I don’t write such stories, but they are true representations of reality. Money rituals are real and are reflected in our cultural beliefs; they are not fiction.
“We tell a story just to teach morals and make people see things differently. Our stories make them know that for every action, there are consequences.
“Through our movies, we teach that patience is a virtue that youths need to walk on the right path, and in due time, with hard work and perseverance, everything will lead to success.”
However, a researcher in African Studies, Akin Faleye, contended that such stories lack historical precedent and are fraudulent.
“As a student of global history, I will say that there is no evidence that the Yoruba practised money rituals in the pre-colonial time. All these stories of money rituals are fraudulent and emanated from psychopaths rather than people with some actual spiritual knowledge of how to make money,” he stated.
Money rituals in other cultures
In some other cultures, what could be termed as money rituals are often symbolic acts or dramas that appeal to psychological and cosmic powers through an application of symbolic structures.
In Ireland, there is a tradition of taking a piece of straw from the nativity scene/crib in the church at Christmas and keeping it in your purse or wallet, which is believed to bring financial prosperity throughout the year.
An Indian author, Suresh Padmanabhan, in his work, I Love Money, devoted a chapter to ‘Money rituals’ and wrote, “Take a currency note in your hand and wish it ‘Good morning.’ “Express gratitude to your wallet, accounts book, cash box, bank passbook, or any other tools connected directly to money. Smile at yourself in the mirror and pat yourself when you perform a task well.”
Some practitioners in western traditions also perform what they define as money spells/rites, which involve the invocation of spirits and archangels, drawing ritual circles, erecting a temple and an altar, and presenting offerings to ancient deities.
However, these rituals are often believed and practiced by religious groups on the fringes and are based on cultural paradigms that only allow clearly defined routes of financial access through hard work, lucrative business, and clever exploitation of market gaps.
Lamenting the lack of profitable skills available to Nigerian youths, a United Kingdom-based personal development coach, Mr Toyyib Adelodun, highlighted the need for popular magical ideas about money to be refuted.
“Nigerian youths need to understand that money is a unit of account to measure, therefore the more value you produce for the community, the richer you are supposed to be. So, the first thing a young person should seek is education and skills to earn money.
“Money is always circulating in an economy. It is the Central Bank of Nigeria that prints money, it doesn’t come from anywhere else. We saw a practical example of this recently when the CBN embarked on the naira redesign and there wasn’t enough money in circulation. So, there is no magic that is going to bring money from anywhere unless you offer your skills as a person of value.
“I have been to several countries in the world and I can see that money only comes from value creation. Unfortunately, Nigerian youths are not equipped with the relevant skills; we just go to religious houses to pray and sit back at home and don’t market skills or deliver an excellent service in order to generate wealth. We don’t have to resort to crimes,” he said.
Clerics urge re-orientation
A Senior Pastor at Christ Life Church, Ibadan, Prof. Wale Coker, told Saturday PUNCH the youth need a re-orientation that would see them embrace a new value system other than the present mad rush to become wealthy overnight.
“The scriptures state that ‘wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished, but he that gathers by labour shall increase’. Youths should be encouraged to walk in the fear of God which is the beginning of wisdom,” he added.
The National Missioner of the Ansar-ud-Deen Society of Nigeria, Shiekh, Abdur-Rahman Ahmad, stated, “All those who claim to be Muslims and Alfas that are involved in money rituals know within their hearts that they are doing something wrong and deceiving people.
“The reality is that there is no money ritual. It is not only against the letter and spirit of the laws of Islam but also against human conscience. Islam recognises only three sources of legitimate wealth: direct labour or hard work, inheritance, and a legitimate gift and this doesn’t mean a Greek gift or bribe or something induced.”
On her part, a traditionalist, Omitonade Ifawemimo, said, “There is no shortcut in Isese (traditional spirituality). If you don’t work, you won’t be wealthy. Nollywood and the fantasy it creates bears responsibility for the concept of money rituals.
“Human sacrifice for money rituals does not exist in Isese. It is fake, madness, and a scam! It’s tragic that Yoruba movies have messed up people’s thinking into believing all these lies.”
It’s again a sad (and cruel) story. The reader is warned: the following article contains graphic details of a barbaric crime. This time it occurred in an eastern region of the vast Central African country Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Two tiny Central African countries Rwanda and Burundi are nearby. Is there a relationship with these countries where people with albinism are also often targeted by unscrupulous individuals? Who is responsible for this horrific act which left a young boy dead, a crime which was based on superstition and motived by greed? As soon as more will be known I will share it with you. Meanwhile we hope that the authorities are swift in their reaction, effective in their investigations, and without mercy to bring the perpetrator(s) to court to account for their ruthless and disgusting deed. (webmaster FVDK)
Witchcraft killer decapitates five-year-old albino boy and hacks off his legs in Congo
Published: February 2, 2023 By: Jack Newman – Mail Online, UK
Some believe people with albinism have magical powers in sub-Saharan Africa
Their body parts are often sold for thousands on the black market
A five-year-old albino boy has been decapitated and had his legs cut off by a witchcraft killer in the DR Congo.
Occult believers in sub-Saharan Africa believe the body parts of people with albinism carry magical powers and are regularly sold on the black market.
The young boy’s body was found in eastern DR Congo’s South Kivu province in the Kalehe area of South Kivu – a province that borders Rwanda and Burundi.
Only the arms and torso remained of the boy when he was discovered on Wednesday, and police are hunting for the killer.
Archimedes Karhebwa, assistant administrator of Kalehe territory said: ‘We condemn and deplore this new case of the murder of a 5-year-old albino, who was kidnapped by armed bandits for ulterior motives.’
Juvenal Lushule, who works for an albino association in South Kivu, said that 18 albinos had been killed in similar circumstances in the province since 2009.
He said: ‘This recent case disgusts us and does not surprise us, because we have always been victims of these barbarisms.’
Ten albino graves had also been profaned during that period, according to Lushule, and there were 22 kidnapping attempts.
As in several other African countries, albinos in the DRC are sometimes targeted due to the belief that their body parts can be used in magic rituals to bring fame and fortune.
Because of the superstition, their body parts can be sold for thousands of dollars and they are often targeted in ritual killings.
Some believe that having sex with an albino woman can also cure AIDS.
Albinism, caused by a lack of melanin, the pigment that colours skin, hair and eyes, is a genetic condition that affects hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, especially in Africa.
The article below is not specifically describing the actual situation in one or more African countries. The article is brief and superficial. The reason why I decided to post it here is that it illustrates the fact that ritualistic killings, human sacrifices, and the belief that sacrificing a human being in a ritual with the objective to please the gods or the ancestors are as old as mankind and have occurred or are still occurring all over the world.
It goes without saying that although these age-old practices occur world-wide, they have no place in the 3rd millennium of mankind. (webmaster FVDK)
SOME OF THE DEADLIEST HUMAN SACRIFICES IN HISTORY
Published: December 12, 2022 By: Oluwatomiwa Ogunniyi – Guardian, Nigeria
In the past, human sacrifices were prevalent all over the world. The manner in which they were carried out was dreadful and not for the faint-hearted. We have compiled a list of some of the deadliest human sacrifices in history; you wouldn’t believe some of them!
Persecution of People with albinism
Albinism is a genetically inherited condition that is very rare and it affects approximately one in every 20,000 people worldwide. Though rare in the western world, albinism is fairly common in sub-Saharan Africa, most likely, as a result of consanguineous alliances. Even though albinism occurs in both males and females and is not specific to any race or ethnic group, many still believe that it is a punishment from God or a result of hard luck.
Some Africans still believe that certain parts of an albino’s body have magical powers. This belief has led to many witch doctors and those seeking ingredients for their rituals to kill them. As a result, thousands of people with albinism have been killed and dismembered, and their graves of dug up and desecrated. The scary thing is that this practice is still common in Africa today.
The Lafkenches Tribe Sacrifice
In the year 1960, the strongest earthquake and tsunami ever recorded on the moment magnitude scale hit Chile, thereby, killing thousands of people and destroying many homes and properties in the process. This earthquake became known as the great Chilean earthquake and it led to widespread fear of the possible cause. The people came to the conclusion that the god of the sea was angry with them and so they decided to offer a sacrifice.
They chose a five-year-old child and sacrificed him in a horrifying manner: he had his legs and arms and was stuck into the sand of the beach like a stake and the beach carried him away so that the waters would be calmed. The culprits were arrested and charged but they were released after two years.
The Mayan Sinkhole Sacrifices
During the pre-Columbian era, the Mayans are known to have carried out all manner of ritual sacrifices, as they believed that human sacrifice was the ritual offering of nourishment to the gods. And one manner of sacrifice practised was the sinkhole, where they deposited valuables and human bodies into the cenote as a form of sacrifice to the rain god Chaac.
They also believed that the sinkholes and cenotes were portals to the underworld and they would appease dead spirits by offering human sacrifices to them. Explorers have discovered many sinkholes including the Sacred Cenote, a water-filled sinkhole at the pre-Columbian Maya archaeological site on Peninsula. Archaeological investigations have removed thousands of objects from the bottom of the cenote, including artefacts made from gold, jadeite, copal, wood, rubber and cloth, as well as thousands of human skeletons.
The Child Sacrifice in Carthage
Child sacrifices were very common in ancient cultures maybe because they believed that children possessed innocent souls and therefore were acceptable as forms of sacrifices to gods.
The Carthaginians would have a sacrificial fire pit where children would be thrown into by their parents. The practice became very repulsive to the Carthaginian parents who became tired of killing their own children. In response, they decided to buy children from neighbouring poor tribes, or care for their servant’s children who would then be offered as sacrifices. And during calamities like war, drought or famine, the priests demanded that even the youth be offered as a sacrifice. The sacrifices were carried out on a moonlit night, the children would be killed generously and their bodies would be tossed into the fiery pit amidst singing and dancing.
The Killing of Twins in Nigeria
This is another form of child sacrifice as the killing of twins was a cultural practice among some ethnic groups in Nigeria. Back then, multiple births were seen as an abomination against the earth deity and giving birth to twins was considered a bad omen that could bring devastation or calamity upon society. Twin babies were believed not to be humans but evil.
In 1876, Mary Slessor, a Scottish missionary assigned to Calabar, gradually worked towards changing the cultural belief that twins were evil. However, by 1915, following intervention by the British government, twins and their mothers were fully integrated into their communities.
Reports on ritual killings in Madagascar are rare – which should not be understood as being the same as the absence of ritualistic murders – but the position of people with albinism (PWA) on this large Indian Ocean island is fragile, as I reported earlier this year (see my April 3 and June 16 postings).
A recent attack on a child with albinism in Ikongo, about 50 miles southeast of the capital Antananarivo, angered a mob which subsequently tried to invade a police station where four suspects of the kidnapping were being held in custody. The consequences can be read below.
The rule of law is a good thing, mob justice cannot be tolerated, but questions can be asked about the conditions and reasons which prompted police officers to use their deadly weapons.
Apart from this question, we would like to know the outcome of the interrogations of the four suspects and – above all – which measures the government of President Andry Rajoelina is taking to improve and protect the position of people with albinism on this large island.
Madagascar is an island situated east of the African continent, in the Indian Ocean, separated from mainland Africa by the Mozambique Channel.
Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island and the world’s second largest island-country (after Indonesia). It has a population of nearly 30 million people (2022). (webmaster FVDK)
Cops shoot dead 14 people and wound 28 in Madagascar as they open fire on crowd trying to break into police station to kill four men accused of kidnapping albino child
A crowd of 500 angry villagers descended on the Ikongo police station
They were demanding officers hand over the four alleged kidnappers
When they refused to back down, police opened fire, killing 14 people
Police in Madagascar have shot dead at least 14 people and wounded 28 others after opening fire on a crowd of protesters angered at the kidnapping of an albino child.
A crowd of around 500 angry villagers armed with machetes and knives descended on the local police station in Ikongo calling for the release of the four suspects arrested yesterday, so they could be dealt with by the mob.The demonstrators then ‘tried to force their way in’ to the station, a police officer told AFP.
‘There were negotiations, the villagers insisted,’ the officer said over the phone, adding police fired smoke grenades and shots in the air in an attempt to disperse the crowd.
‘They continued to force their way through… We had no choice but to defend ourselves,’ the police officer said.
Local doctor Tango Oscar Toky said ‘nine people died on the spot’ and another five died later in hospital.
Nine of those injured were in a critical condition, he said.
‘The gendarmes… fired on the crowd,’ local lawmaker Jean-Brunelle Razafintsiandraofa in the southeastern town of Ikongo told AFP.
Some sub-Saharan African countries have suffered a wave of assaults against people with albinism, whose body parts are sought for witchcraft practices in the mistaken belief that they bring luck and wealth.
Because of the superstition, their body parts can be sold for thousands of dollars and they are often targeted in ritual killings.
Some believe that having sex with an albino woman can also cure AIDS.
The kidnapping took place last week, according to Razafintsiandraofa, an MP for the Ikongo district about 50 miles southeast of the capital Antananarivo.
No further details were immediately available.
Madagascar, a large Indian Ocean island country, is ranked among the poorest in the world.
There is hardly any doubt that in Malawi the position of people with albinism is the most fragile and dangerous as compared to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. I have repeatedly mentioned this here, see e.g. my posting earlier this year, on January 22.
In 2017, ALJAZEERA reported that In Malawi, more than 115 people had been attacked in the past two years and that at least 20 of them did not survive the attack. Below follows an extensive report of ALJAZEERA on the victims, the survivors and the perpetrators (as far as known).
ALJAZEERA is to be commended for raising awareness on the human rights violations people with albinism experience and the efforts being made to protect them.
ALJAZEERA is to be commended for this excellent work of investigative journalism and the attention thus paid to this curse. People with albinism face discrimination in at least 23 African countries. For many, this discrimination amounts to insecurity, violence & murder.
Also in the current year, ALJAZEERA paid attention to the plight of people with albinism, on June 13, International Albinism Awareness Day, with a series of tweets. Click here to access the tweets.
Warning: some readers may find the following stories disturbing (webmaster FVDK).
Published: June 13, 2022 By: ALJAZEERA
Killed for their bones – On the trail of the trade in human body parts
In Malawi, people with albinism are being killed and their bodies harvested; children and adults hacked to death with machetes and kitchen knives. More than 115 people have been attacked in the past two years, at least 20, fatally. Those who have survived have been left with deep physical and psychological scars, and remain fearful that those who hunt them will return.
But why is this happening? Ask and most people will talk about an elusive market for these body parts, people who are prepared to pay large sums of money for them and witch doctors who use them in potions to cure everything from disease to bad luck. But few seem to know where this trade actually takes place or to be able to point to an instance of money changing hands.
So, does this market of human body parts really exist, or is it a myth that is driving murder? We went in search of the market and found a toxic mix of witchcraft, poverty and desperation.
Here are the stories of the victims, the survivors and the perpetrators.
The condition that makes me black without black, white but not white. That is how it was, and I will tell you all about it. – Petina Gappah, The Book of Memory
1 – The Victims
Village of Nambilikira, Dedza district, eastern Malawi
It was a Sunday in April 2016. A warm, dry day. Seventeen-year-old David Fletcher was being moody and withdrawn. He wanted to watch a football match at the local school instead of helping his family gather maize in the fields. His parents eventually relented and let him go.
When he didn’t return later that day, they searched the village, but couldn’t find David.
The next day, they walked to the nearest police station to report him missing. Then they waited.
A week later, the local police chief came to their home to deliver the news: David’s dismembered body had been found, 80km away, in neighbouring Mozambique. It was badly decomposed, he told them. It couldn’t be brought to the village for burial, but he could bring the arms and legs, if they wished. And if the family could afford the journey, they could visit it where it was found.
“He was dead. What benefit was there to see his dead body?” Fletcher Machinjiri, David’s 65-year-old father, asks, dismissively. “It was too expensive for us.”
Fletcher is sitting outside his house. His 53-year-old wife, Namvaleni Lokechi, sits beside him. Her face is expressionless. Their 32-year-old daughter Mudelanji and 21-year-old son Manchinjiri sit on the hard earth a few metres away. They listen as though it is the first time they have heard the story.
“He was killed like a goat at a market,” Lokechi says, staring into the distance. “His arms and legs had been chopped off. They broke off some of his bones. His skin was hanging. And they buried him in a shallow grave.”
He was killed like a goat at a market. His arms and legs had been chopped off.– Namvaleni Lokechi, the mother of David Fletcher, a murdered 17-year-old
She makes chopping motions with her hands as she speaks.
“We cry every day,” Fletcher says. “To us, he was a ray of hope. We believed in his future. We thought he would lift our hand because he was good at school.”
“We still battle to eat without him.”
‘A war against people with albinism’
Born in 1999, David was the fourth of five siblings – and the only one to have been born with albinism.
“I wasn’t surprised when he was born,” David’s mother says softly. “I was more than happy with his complexion.”
Her tiny frame stiffens when she talks about her son.
She had an aunt in Blantyre with the same congenital disorder that results in a partial absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes, she explains.
“I’ve always felt that this group of people were lucky in life,” she says slowly.
David was a star pupil at the local school in the neighbouring village of Kachule.
His teacher, Clement Gweza, recalls feeling mildly concerned when he didn’t turn up for school that Monday.
“I thought maybe there were no groceries at home, or maybe he was unwell,” Clement says, sitting inside his empty classroom. “But the second day [he didn’t turn up] … then I got worried.”
When he learned what had happened to David, he says, he was shocked. “It meant I was next,” he says, placing his hands on his chest.
For Clement also has albinism.
So, too, does 14-year-old Latida Macho, another pupil at the school. She is one of five siblings with the condition. After David’s murder, her family refused to send her to school for three weeks.
“If this is war against people with albinism, then it means I’m second in line,” Clement reflects.
He says he knew that people with albinism were being murdered, but “for it to happen in the district, but also in my class, it was unreal”.
Within days, two men were arrested for the murder.
Both Malawians, they were tried in a district court in May 2016 and sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiracy to commit a crime and abduction.
David’s family say they heard about the arrests and subsequent trial only from the media. And that they are bitterly disappointed with the outcome.
“The accused persons should be killed as well,” Fletcher says, pointing to the floor. “The child was brutally killed, hence they must equally be killed brutally.”
Village of Nasi, district of Phalombe, eastern Malawi
Seventeen-year-old Alfred Chigalu lives with his aunt in a mud home surrounded by dead sunflowers.
Their courtyard of red earth is home to five goats and a dozen raucous chickens.
The nearest neighbour is a five-minute walk away, along a path cut through overgrown grass. It takes 20 minutes – across dried up tobacco fields – to reach the main road. Drought has hit this region hard, and while tall mango trees provide shade for the farmers, they bear no fruit.
The climate here is harsh. Crops are often destroyed by drought or violent hailstorms. Like others in the village, Alfred and his aunt, Lydia Petulo, are surviving on pieces of dried maize from last year’s harvest. The goats in the yard are not their own. Lydia looks after them for a local merchant, and receives one at the end of each year in return.
In December 2015, four men broke down the door of Alfred’s bedroom while he was sleeping. They slashed at him with machetes, hitting the back of his head, his shoulders and his back. They tried to drag him out of the house. When his aunt found him in a pool of his own blood, his attackers ran away.
Alfred survived but was left badly scarred.
Now, the slightest sound wakes him, and when he walks to the village he must be accompanied.
“Before the attack I used to depend on him; I could send him to the market, he could go to the farm and do the farming,” Lydia says, biting her lips as she completes her sentences.
“But I cannot do the same these days.”
“I fear for his life. The responsibility has shifted to me.”
But this isn’t the first time she has been afraid for her nephew. She took him out of school six years ago, when the taunting began, she explains.
Lydia slouches as she narrates their story. Her tired eyes wander. But they brighten when she talks about Alfred. She adopted him after his mother – her sister – died.
Alfred had a sibling who also had albinism, but that child died, she recalls. She doesn’t remember the dates or the details – of his sibling’s or his parents’ deaths – other than that both of Alfred’s parents died around the time he took his first steps.
‘I am lonely’
Alfred is sitting outside on the floor, his back against the house, wearing oversized jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. They are the only clothes he owns. He was wearing his other outfit when he was attacked. There was so much blood that it had to be burned.
On his head is a large cowboy hat.
He is tall with broad shoulders that droop when he walks. For the first few hours that we are there, he doesn’t talk.
But when we put the camera away and move out of sight of the curious neighbours who have gathered to watch, he begins to speak.
His parched lips barely move.
“I wake up at 6 in the morning, every day. I sweep the yard, but I feel pain in my arms,” he says slowly.
He removes his shirt to reveal long, deep scars on his chest and back.
“The way they cut me, they cut my veins. I can barely hold a hoe,” he explains.
I want to finish school, to become a teacher, and move out of here. I would love if someone could take me away from this village. I have to get out of this place.– Seventeen-year-old Alfred Chigalu, who was attacked in November 2015
When she found him on the floor, Lydia began to scream and cry.
“The neighbours came, but it was too late, the attackers had left,” she says. “I really felt sorry for him when I looked at him and I knew he was lucky to have survived. He would have been killed if he hadn’t screamed for me.”
She says she knows why he was attacked.
“Before the attack, some people used to mock him if he went outside the house. They [would say] he is worth millions of kwacha [thousands of dollars], so that gave us an indication that his life could be in danger,” Lydia explains.
The physical wounds have mostly healed, but life is not the same for Alfred. He misses “chatting”, he says, shyly, before adding: “Most of all I miss my friends. I am lonely.”
His aunt says he “lacks peace”.
In April 2016, Ikponwosa Ero, the UN’s independent expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, visited Alfred and his aunt. She told Al Jazeera that Alfred seemed to have suffered “memory loss” after the attack. But when we visit him two months later, he rolls off the names of towns in Malawi, capital cities of African countries and national political leaders. He seems to be recovering.
Fiddling with a piece of dry hay, he tells us: “I want to finish school, to become a teacher, and move out of here. I would love if someone could take me away from this village. I have to get out of this place.”
Village of Mpakati, Machinga district, southern Malawi
Edna Cedric remembers that night in February 2016.
Her husband, Marizane Kapiri, had gone fishing. Her identical nine-year-old twins, Hari and Harrison, were sleeping beside her.
She heard a knock at the door. When she answered it, a machete-wielding man barged inside, slashing at her.
He pulled Hari from the bed and dragged him to the door. Edna tried to hold on to him while also gripping Harrison with her other hand.
Then the intruder struck her face with the machete and she fell to the floor. And, just like that, her son was gone.
The police brought the head wrapped in a cloth and in a sack. His mother identified it.– Marizane Kapiri, Hari’s stepfather
“I couldn’t hold on to him any longer,” she says, quietly. “I ran out screaming.”
“Four days later, the police found his head in Mozambique.”
“The place was very lonely. This is why we moved here,” her husband says.
The fisherman is not the father of Edna’s children. He says he spent the best part of the five days after Hari was abducted explaining to the police why he wasn’t at home when the attack took place. They suspected that he was involved and it wasn’t until the village chief explained to them that he spent much of his time at the lake, catching fish to feed the family, that the police let him go.
“After the police discovered the head, they sent a message to us that we should be ready to see it,” Marizane explains. “They brought the head wrapped in a cloth and in a sack. His mother identified it.”
According to Amnesty International, two men were arrested in connection with Hari’s murder. One was said to be an uncle, and the other a stranger who had an existing conviction for possessing the bones of a person with albinism. For that crime, he had been fined $30.
The family, though, say they have no idea who was responsible for the attack and what has become of those who were arrested.
The twin brother
Harrison is wearing pyjamas and a cowboy hat. He sits between his parents as they take turns to talk. He fiddles with the cords of his hat, licks his cracked lips and scratches at the dry skin on his arms. He only returned to school in September 2016, eight months after his brother was taken.
Their mudbrick home is in a remote rural area, far from the main road between Blantyre and Mangochi. Houses here sit in small plots on expansive fields. It is a few minutes’ walk to the nearest neighbours through fields of browning plants that haven’t been harvested in a year. Here, police officers are few and far between.
But this is not where Hari was taken from. That home was even more isolated, Marizane explains.
“We demolished the house … and moved here so we are closer to other people,” he says.
But the move hasn’t changed much for the remaining brother, Harrison.
“He wakes up in the middle of night, screaming, because he can’t find his brother. We just tell him he will come back one day,” Marizane explains.
He wakes up in the middle of night, screaming, because he can’t find his brother.– Marizane Kapiri, whose stepson, Hari, was murdered
Edna says that she can’t get over the pain she felt when she saw Hari’s head.
“I immediately thought about his brother, Harrison, and I knew his life would never be the same,” she says, looking at her surviving son.
2 – A History of Violence
Borrowed from the word “albus”, meaning white in Latin, albinism is a congenital disorder where the body is unable to create enough melanin to darken the skin, hair and eyes.
The non-contagious condition affects about one in 20,000 people worldwide. But it is more common in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in 5,000 have albinism. Most cases are in Mozambique, Tanzania, Burundi, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
In Malawi, a country of 16.5 million people, there are said to be 7,000 to 10,000 people with albinism.
Why it affects this part of the world so disproportionately is unclear.
And it is not just a matter of colour: lack of melanin often results in poor vision and sensitivity to light. In fact, many people with albinism are legally blind.
Because their skin is particularly vulnerable to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, they can also be predisposed to skin cancer and lesions.
According to a 2014 study, people with albinism in Africa are 1,000 times more likely to get skin cancer than others.
But their plight is not solely medical.
The story of discrimination against people with albinism is an old but not necessarily well-documented one. It is driven by myths and superstition.
According to Amnesty International, those with albinism face discrimination in 23 countries in Africa.
For many, this discrimination amounts to violence – murder, infanticide and live burials.
The past decade has seen an increase in the number of documented killings and maimings of people with the condition, driven in part by a belief that their organs, bones and body parts can be sold on the black market.
And that belief is fed by the myth that their bones are made of gold dust and the suggestion that they are a necessary component of magic potions.
But while there are reports of bones reaching up to $75,000 on the black market, there have been no documented cases of money changing hands. So the question of whether an organised trade in the body parts of people with albinism exists has yet to be definitively answered.
The UN’s Ikponwosa Ero says they have been unable to confirm the existence of a market.
“There is allegedly a lot of money in this business. And I say allegedly because people keep on repeating the idea that there is a lot of money in this, and it would seem that the media is part of the reason some people have gotten involved,” she says. “But then some countries have witnessed a reduction in the number of attacks, maybe because people are realising there is no value [in the bones and body parts].”
The majority of the documented attacks have taken place in the Great Lakes region, particularly Tanzania and Burundi. According to media reports, Tanzania has seen some 180 attacks, including 76 murders, since 2000. Thirty-five of those murders took place in 2015.
Within eight months of her appointment as the UN’s independent expert on albinism in June 2015, Ikponwosa, who herself has albinism, documented 40 attacks in eight countries.
Although there has long been discrimination, she points to a more recent phenomenon: “Hacking people [with albinism] alive.”
Zomba, southern Malawi
Emily Chiumia works at a government department in Zomba, southern Malawi. But she moonlights as an activist for people with albinism.
She’s happy to talk, even if the topic is the names they call her.
“You walk on the street, and they call you ‘millions, millions’,” she laughs, “as if we are gold.”
Emily is the former vice-president of the Association for Persons with Albinism (APAM). Since the attacks began, Emily and the association have been documenting the offences committed against people like her.
Most of them, she says, are carried out by relatives, neighbours or people the victims considered to be friends.
“Before, it was a case of people saying ‘if you sleep with a person with albinism, your skin will turn white’,” she says. “But now, it’s different. I cannot enjoy my life as I used to … I can’t walk in the evenings, can’t sleep, even at home, I fear who might come.” Her laugh has disappeared now.
You walk on the street, and they call you ‘millions, millions’, as if we are gold.– Emily Chiumia, former vice-president of the Association for Persons with Albinism
Radio DJ Ian Sambota describes how in 2012 he was befriended by an “older, educated” woman who first offered him K100,000 ($138) and then K500,000 ($700) to sleep with her. “She was HIV positive and she thought if she slept with a person with albinism, it would be solved,” he says.
Ian refused, but admits that the offer was tempting because he needed the money to pay for medical care for his mother.
Steven Burgess is in his 40s and says he has been called a “white animal” since he was a child. But this is “a time of crisis”, he explains, referring to the increase in attacks.
Bazirio Kaudzu, 46, says he feels so threatened that he only travels to the clinic in the capital Lilongwe – to collect the zinc oxide ointment needed to treat the lesions and blisters on his skin – if his nephew accompanies him. It’s an expensive journey for the tomato farmer, so each month he must take out a loan to cover the cost of the taxi ride for two.
But it hasn’t always been this way.
Patricia Maguwa, 37, remembers a time when her husband, gospel singer Geoffrey Zigoma, was considered one of the golden voices of Malawian music. Before he died of cancer in 2013, he always tried to offer a counter-narrative to the misperceptions about people with albinism, she says.
“He was called names like ‘yellow man’, but he never felt insecure about his life,” she says from her modest home 7km outside Lilongwe. “[But] the situation is different now.”
A shifting trade
Malawi’s government recognises that there is a problem.
Neverson Chisiza, a senior state advocate at the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, says there have been at least 85 documented cases, including murder, assault, attempted abductions, trafficking, maiming, and grave robberies since 2014. At least 20 of those cases have been murder.
Malawi’s government says a crackdown in neighbouring Tanzania has shifted the “trade” in body parts to their country.
Senior Chief Kawinga, a traditional authority from Malawi’s Machinga district, where most of the attacks have taken place, told us during a visit to his office that he’d heard the market for body parts was in neighbouring Mozambique. Each country in the region tends to posit their neighbour as the source of the problem.
Though many people tend to use the term “albino”, there have been significant attempts to change the terminology to “person with albinism”. Ikponwosa Ero says this is preferred as it puts the person before the condition, while Canadian charity Under the Same Sun points to the fact that albino has historically been used in a derogatory manner.
In June 2016, 150 government officials, academics and activists from 26 countries met in Dar es Salaam for the first forum on albinism in Africa. It aimed to create an action plan to end the attacks, and concluded that governments must dedicate a budget and a multisectoral task force to doing so. It recommended a range of measures and best practices. “Now that we have a catalogue of effective specific measures that are not very expensive to execute, governments should no longer act ignorant of what to do on the issue … It is time to act,” said Ikponwosa Ero.
3 – The Perpetrators
Zomba, southern Malawi
The red brick walls glisten in the midday sun.
Zomba Maximum Prison stands like a citadel in the former capital. It might resemble a factory were it not for its watch towers and the metal fence that encircles it. Flanked by mango trees and shrubs, a dirt track leads to the main entrance.
Inside, some 2,365 prisoners are either awaiting trial or serving time for some of the most serious of crimes: murder, abduction, trafficking, and armed robbery.
The prison’s director, Major Manwell, greets us at the front door – an almost three-metre tall gateway made of green steel. He is wearing a khaki safari suit and leather sandals.
“How can I help you?” he asks with a knowing smile.
Manwell hands us over to two prison guards who lead us into an open corridor between the front desk and the staff kitchen. A makeshift clothes line hangs nearby. We sit on a bench, shaded by the prison’s towering walls.
Over the next three hours, we will meet eight prisoners who are either awaiting trial or have been convicted of playing some part in an attack on somebody with albinism.
One at a time, they sit opposite us on another wooden bench, a translator beside them.
A guard sits at a distance – far enough that his presence doesn’t feel intrusive, but close enough to eavesdrop. His body language tells us when he finds an inmate’s story of interest. When he doesn’t, he slumps back into his leather chair.
Just two of the inmates acknowledge that their case is related to someone with albinism. Most insist that they were framed or have been wrongly accused. Only one admits to having committed a crime.
“They are not able to come to terms with their crimes,” says the guard, removing his cap so that he can scratch his head. “They are in denial.”
The tomb raider
Stenala Shaibu Lizahapa is wearing a clean white shirt and tattered jeans. He takes his seat slowly and crosses his legs. A thin row of rosary beads pass through his fingers. Stenala is not in a hurry. Unlike the others, he doesn’t fidget. He simply sits and waits.
He is in his mid-30s and has been convicted of trespassing on a gravesite to remove three bones from the body of a deceased man named Awali Mandevu.
Along with five others, he was caught trying to sell the bones to an undercover police officer in April 2015.
All six were charged with criminal trespassing, removal of human tissue and selling human bones.
Three of them, including Stenala, pleaded guilty. Two others denied the charges and were acquitted, while the case against the sixth was dropped.
Stenala was sentenced to six years in prison.
He says he has made peace with his crime.
“What I did was wrong, but I felt desperate,” he says softly, only briefly making eye contact. “I feel ashamed.”
If there is a market [for bones], I don’t know… I would have believed it if I saw it. – Stenala Shaibu Lizahapa, sentenced to six years in prison for selling human bones
As a fisherman, he says he was earning K500 (70 cents) a day. So when friends asked if he’d help them deliver a set of bones to a client – promising it would make him “rich enough to drive” – he says he was tempted.
“With my income, I can’t afford a motorcycle, but a car – that was a dream … The devil took over me,” he says.
In early April 2015, Stenala travelled with friends from Machinga to his home district of Jali, where he went to Chinangwa, a village neighbouring his own, in search of a grave he’d been told housed the corpse of a person with albinism.
“Who doesn’t want more money?” he asks rhetorically. “I knew it was wrong, but I did it for my family.”
“If there is a market [for bones], I don’t know,” he says. “I would have believed it if I saw it.”
The victim’s family
Chinangwa village, Zomba district, southern Malawi
In the village of Chinangwa, Emily Emisi is sitting on a straw mat outside her mud brick and thatch-roofed home.
She offers us a mat on which to sit – between a couple of brown puppies and some corn drying in the winter sun.
“Why didn’t you call before you came?” the 36-year-old asks with a smile. “I would have cooked.”
Her generosity betrays her means. Her open yard – like the barren plateau that surrounds it – is hard brown earth. A few mango and small kachere trees surround the settlement.
Three children sit on the floor. For a while, they watch curiously. But when the novelty of strangers wears off, they return to kicking a punctured miniature football.
“It was my grandfather’s grave that Stenala dug up,” Emily says. “It was terrible. He was buried a long time [ago], in the 1990s. And this felt like a second funeral for him.”
Emily says it didn’t come as a surprise to many of the villagers when they learned that Stenala was responsible.
“He was known to steal goats,” she says.
Stenala had got into an argument with his brother weeks before when he’d tried to persuade him to help find the bones, Emily explains. His brother had refused and the argument had turned into a fight. The whole village heard about it, she says.
“Then, he tried to romance an albino girl, but the girl refused and told villagers that she was being pursued by him.”
She is “happy he has been put away”, she says, because he would “terrorise the village”.
Someone close to Stenala must have betrayed him, Emily speculates, because nobody knew that the village graveyard had been tampered with.
But, while she has no doubt that Stenala had been searching for the bones of somebody with albinism, Emily says he dug up the wrong grave.
“My grandfather, Awali Madenvu, was not an albino. But his grave was close to an albino and so they got the wrong bones.”
That wouldn’t have made any difference anyway – the penalty in Malawi is the same.
Because his was not a case of murder or attempted murder, Stenala wasn’t eligible for legal aid and so had no representation in court.
He was tried, sentenced and given 30 days to appeal.
When we tell Emily that Stenala admits his guilt and is remorseful, she clicks her tongue and looks away. “Of course, after the hardship in jail, he is going to be remorseful,” she says.
“He is not someone who will change. We all think that his sentence is too short, and we expect him to come back and teach us a lesson.”
‘I will wait for him’
As the sun is about to set, the silhouette of a woman appears through a haze of dust. She has a girl at her side and a baby in her arms.
“That is Annie Fuleya,” a young girl says. “Stenala’s wife.”
She is on her way to gather wood. Stenala’s home village of Jali is just a few hundred metres away. Emily’s family crosses paths with Stenala’s every day.
Annie is tall with a brush-cut. She wears a long green skirt and a pale blue T-shirt.
In the weeks leading up to the incident, the 26-year-old says her husband was acting strangely. She recalls asking him to stay away from a friend she thought was trouble.
“I didn’t believe it at first but then after the conviction I felt let down by him,” she reflects, looking away as she completes her sentence. Then, without looking back at us, she adds: “I believe that he did it.”
Annie was pregnant when her husband was arrested and must now raise their four-year-old daughter Saamyato and their now 14-month-old baby Latifa alone.
She left Machinga for Stenala’s village after his arrest, believing it was safer to be close to her mother-in-law. Now, she works in other people’s fields and depends on financial support from the extended family to help raise her children.
“All I know is that he was found with body parts of an albino. I don’t know what parts. I don’t know what he did. I just feel disappointed,” Annie says, holding on to Latifa as the baby wriggles in her arms.
“But I understand that he may have done it because of our situation. He doesn’t earn enough as a fisherman. He looks after me, his mother, my mother, and two orphaned children from an aunt,” she explains softly. “Perhaps this is what drove him to do this.”
“I will wait for him. Because I have forgiven him,” she adds. “But he will have to conduct himself properly on his return.”
Stenala’s mother, who has been watching pensively as her daughter-in-law talks, agrees to speak to us under the shadow of a large kachere tree. Elizabeth Magawa is 49, and the resemblance to her son is immediately apparent. She smiles when we tell her this and the children who have gathered around, burst into laughter.
Elizabeth seems tired. She says she has aged over the past year.
“I didn’t look like this,” she sighs. “I spend sleepless nights wondering why Stenala would have done such a thing. He always helped the family.”
“It is something I will never understand,” she says. Then, she adds: “But I know he was fully capable of such a thing.”
Maybe Stenala did it because of our poverty, or because of peer pressure. I don’t know. – Elizabeth Magawa, mother of Stenala Shaibu, sentenced to six years for selling human bones
Her son’s arrest brought the family unwanted attention in the village, but Elizabeth says they haven’t suffered any serious repercussions.
“There was a lot of talk. They spoke about bones. But they’ve moved on,” she says.
“Maybe Stenala did it because of our poverty, or because of peer pressure. I don’t know.”
It has grown cold now and, without warning, Annie stands up and walks away, in the direction of her mother-in-law’s house.
Elizabeth watches as her daughter-in-law disappears into the darkness, her young daughter in tow.
Charles Nyasa: Convicted of trying to sell human tissue
Charles Nyasa cries as he tells his story.
The 24-year-old from Zomba district was sentenced to six years for being in possession of human flesh in March 2015.
He says he heard an advert for a witch doctor on radio or television – he can’t recall which – that promised “quick riches”. But when he visited the witch doctor, he was told to bring the placenta of a newborn. So, he says, he spent K8,000 ($11) buying one from nurses at a hospital.
When he took it to the witch doctor, he was accused of carrying a placenta from a newborn with albinism.
He was convicted but insists his case had nothing to do with albinism.
John Alfred: Convicted of trying to sell a child
Thirty-one-year-old John Alfred looks older than his years. He is feverish and sweating profusely, but wants to talk.
John was sentenced to six years in prison for trying to sell his own child.
“I did it because of my [financial] condition. No other reason,” he says, shaking.
The father of five from Naweta village, in Machinga district, was earning K4,000 ($5.50) for two weeks’ work in the gardens and on the farms of a businessman.
“My boss saw me living in poverty and said to me one day: ‘Why don’t you be brave, and sell that child of yours?’ pointing to my daughter Vanessa. He said there were buyers in Mozambique for children like her.”
I had five children, and I thought that maybe it wasn’t a problem to get rid of one.– John Alfred, sentenced to six years for trying to sell his daughter
John says that his daughter does not have albinism but “resembled one”. The authorities at the prison say the child does have the condition, although there is no mention of it in his prison file.
“I had five children, and I thought that maybe it wasn’t a problem to get rid of one,” John says.
In April 2015, without consulting his wife, he took their four-year-old daughter and left for Mozambique.
“I didn’t know where I was going. I was just going to Mozambique to find this market,” he says.
But the police intercepted him in Machinga and arrested him.
“I admitted it in court and was sentenced,” he tells us.
Melinda Mbendera: Convicted of attempted kidnapping
Twenty-year-old Melinda Mbendera is agitated. She twitches and bites her lips as she talks.
She was found guilty of trying to kidnap a child with albinism and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. But she insists that she is innocent. The court didn’t have enough evidence, she declares, and based their verdict solely on the claims of the child and her parents.
She says the judge told her that it would be safer for her to be in jail than on the streets, where she might face mob justice.
In 2016, 11 people suspected of being involved in digging graves or carrying human flesh were lynched in Malawi. In one case in the Nsanje district in March 2016, seven witch doctors accused of using bones in their potions were burned alive. A month earlier, a courthouse in the South Lunzu township in Blantyre, was razed to the ground after three people accused of murdering somebody with albinism had been bailed.
Melinda says she previously spent eight months in prison for stealing K200,000 ($275) from a family friend. She suspects her criminal record influenced the verdict in this case.
But, she maintains: “I didn’t spend eight months in this wretched place only to go out and commit another crime.”
“The police said that because I stole before, the probability was high that I did this … but why would I sell a human being?” she asks.
4 – A Question of Justice
Zomba, southern Malawi
Edge Kanyongolo is a tall man with thick eyebrows and an even thicker moustache.
The associate professor of law at the University of Malawi in Zomba is sitting behind his desk. Behind him, a window showcases a courtyard garden. Beside him, textbooks and legal reports are carefully stacked on a wooden bookshelf.
“The attacks on persons with albinism are a manifestation of a larger problem,” he says. “On the surface, there is the question of superstition and witchcraft, but I think underlying all of that is desperation.”
Malawi has been in an economic crisis since 2012. It began when tobacco, the country’s premier export, dropped in price by more than 50 percent in 2010. In 2012, under the guidance of the International Monetary Fund, President Joyce Banda imposed a range of hard-hitting economic reforms that were most harshly felt by the poor. The currency was devalued by almost 50 percent and inflation reached more than 20 percent.
In 2015, the World Bank rated Malawi as the poorest country in the world, per capita.
Two out of every five Malawians of employable age are without work. According to the International Labour Organisation, three in four young workers have only irregular employment, while nine out of 10 work in the informal sector, where their employment is precarious and may change daily. At least 61 percent of Malawians live on less than $1.25 a day and 2.3 million are said to be food-insecure.
“People don’t have options to earn money. And this then drives them to be so desperate and, as some would say – so irrational – as to think that getting the body parts of a type of person and so on, may make you rich,” the professor explains.
But Elijah Kachikuwo, the senior deputy commissioner of police in Mangochi, disagrees. In fact, he grows agitated when questioned about the connection. He is standing in the dusty courtyard of the main police station in Mangochi.
“It is not poverty that is causing this,” he declares, the lines on his forehead deepening. “We aren’t faced with poverty for the first time in the country. We shouldn’t hide behind this … so that question is out of order.”
The traditional healers
Mphalare in Dedza, central region of Malawi
Masiyambuyo Njolomole and Usmani Ibrahima Banda live in the remote village of Mphalare in Dedza. It is 80km – about an hour’s drive along a dirt track – from Lilongwe.
They are both traditional healers.
Seven wooden stools lined up against a wall and a small coffee table are the only furniture inside the house where we meet them. There is no electricity, so the door has been left ajar. The sunlight illuminates the two men’s faces. A woman sweeps the yard outside, scraping at the dry earth.
Usmani wears a skull cap; Masiyambuyo a headdress made from monkey skin. The latter smiles as he presents his registration card. Usmani’s expired in 2011.
Masiyambuyo, a tall, thin man, makes it clear that neither of them use bones of any kind in their potions. He says “people like him” are being made scapegoats for criminals and a political conspiracy because the government has lost control of the situation. “This is a syndicate by some influential people in this country who are interested in body parts of albinos. They simply want to take the attention away from them; that is why they are accusing us,” he declares.
“Albinos have existed for a long time and we have also existed for a long time,” he adds.
In June 2016, Malawi’s High Court banned “witch doctors, traditional healers, charm sellers, fortune tellers and magicians,” in an effort to quell the trade in the bones of people with albinism.
Traditional healers such as Usmani and Masiyambuyo argue that only hurts the people they help.
“People think we deal with witchcraft, but we are here to help people,” Masiyambuyo says, earnestly, opening his arms.
According to the Traditional Healers Association of Malawi, up to 97 percent of the population visit traditional healers and herbalists. It is hard to verify this but it is clear that many people do use them, particularly in rural areas, where the state is often conspicuous by its absence.
Usmani says that, in such circumstances, the services he and Masiyambuyo provide are critical.
People think we deal with witchcraft, but we are here to help people.– Masiyambuyo Njolomole, a traditional healer based in Dedza
He was trained by his father, the softly spoken traditional healer explains, and used to specialise in sexually transmitted diseases. But, “nowadays, [it’s] cancer, blood pressure, asthma, using herbs and a mixture from seven trees” he adds, showing us plastic packets of concoctions made primarily from plants.
“People come to me when the hospitals have failed them.”
Dr Chilani is the spokesperson for Malawi’s Traditional Healers Association and tells us over the phone that “everyone [in the country], [from] farmers to politicians” uses traditional healers.
Many believe that illness involves an “element of being bewitched”, he explains. But, he insists, “sending people to kill others” isn’t part of their craft.
“We help people, we don’t kill them,” he says.
The new law targeting unlicensed traditional healers would purportedly help end these crimes. But the line between traditional healer and witch doctor isn’t always clear.
Mary Shawa, the former principal secretary at the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, says the distinction lies in registration. “No one who obeys the law needs to feel threatened,” she explains.
Chilani’s Facebook page offers “revenge spells, fertility spells, magic rings and witchcraft spells”, but also asks that anyone with information about the bones of somebody with albinism contact him so that it can be reported to the police. He says no one has been in touch.
“If we have been around for generations, and the killings of persons with albinism began roughly two years ago, what were we doing all this time?” he asks.
One lawyer for every 38,500 Malawians
Lilongwe, central region of Malawi
Piles of paper cover Masauko Chamkakala’s desk. The director of Legal Aid, the body tasked with representing those who cannot afford legal representation, is in his office in Area 4 of Lilongwe.
The country’s legal system, he says, is a mess.
“More than 90 percent of the population cannot afford legal representation. We have seven lawyers for the entire country,” he says, his hands clasped and eyebrows raised.
The Legal Aid Act stipulates that anyone charged with a crime that could result in a custodial sentence is entitled to legal aid, but limited resources have resulted in the courts restricting this to homicide cases.
A 2013 report found that Malawi had fewer than 400 lawyers. That was one lawyer for every 38,500 people.
The jails are overcrowded and suspects can wait months or even years before their cases go to trial.
“If you go to the prisons [and] start going through the cases, you realise that so many of these people are not supposed to be there,” Masauko says, pointing out that: “For an ordinary person to get an appointment with a lawyer will cost him K20,000 ($27), while the [monthly] minimum wage is K18,000 ($25).”
Then there is the question of entrapment – a method that police officers have admitted to using but one which has so far led only to the arrest of sellers.
More than 90 percent of the population cannot afford legal representation. We have seven lawyers for the entire country.– Masauko Chamkakala, the director of Legal Aid
In a side office near Malawi’s High Court, Neverson Chisiza, a senior state advocate at Malawi’s Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, acknowledges that there have been discussions within the ministry about “why it is always sellers, those who are desperate [and] looking for quick money, [who] are caught, not the buyers”.
And without the buyers, the police are little closer to understanding the source of this trade.
Masouko says that the hysteria over the killings of people with albinism has reached such a height that “it is possible a person could be convicted for carrying antelope bones because they resemble human bones”.
And, he adds, those accused of any crime related to people with albinism are tried in “people’s courts”.
A question of government preparedness
Lilongwe, central region of Malawi
It is late on a Friday afternoon when Mary Shawa meets us in her office and her team are about to leave for the day. She is responsible for the security, health and wellbeing of Malawians with albinism.
“Until the atrocities started, we didn’t look at persons with albinism as people with a disability. We saw them as ordinary people,” she says, adjusting her glasses.
She slumps back into her chair. “If you look at the demographics, they are young and old, some working as lawyers and teachers, some still in school,” she adds.
Before moving to this ministry in 2012, Mary was the secretary for nutrition, HIV and Aids in the president’s office, credited with tackling the country’s HIV pandemic.
She speaks authoritatively and frankly, rejecting any suggestion that the government hasn’t done enough to address the crimes committed against people with albinism. She rattles off the details of cases that have been solved and cites “ministerial research” to suggest that there is no market for the bones.
“[The] culprits get the bones and walk around looking for a market to sell them,” she says.
Mary says her ministry has been leading a communications plan to tackle the crisis. “The radio messages, the billboards, this is all us,” she explains.
But it’s hard to tell if anyone is listening.
“We are also compiling a census, to register all persons with albinism in the country,” she says, leaning forward, her hands resting on the desk.
But beyond the issue of security, people with albinism have other needs – sunscreen, hats and sunglasses to protect them from the sun. The Ministry of Health does provide zinc oxide at clinics but that only helps with the blisters and lesions and doesn’t offer any protection. Moreover, patients have to travel to the main cities to access the ointment.
Mary hints at a lack of funding. Malawi is heavily reliant on donors, and it’s unlikely that sunscreen or hats top the government’s financial priorities or a foreign government’s agenda.
Village of Nambilikira, Dedza district, eastern Malawi
5 – The Future
Confident, assertive and friendly, Clement Gweza seems as though he was born to teach. He transforms the 60 rowdy teenagers into an orderly classroom and begins his social and environmental science lesson by scribbling “How to prevent air pollution” on the blackboard.
The 24-year-old is smartly dressed in an off-white shirt, pinstriped tie and black trousers.
“It was difficult at first,” he says. “The children found it hard to understand my albinism, because people, not just the learners, don’t think that a person with albinism can do something that can be recognised by society.”
He became a teacher, he says, because the tuition was free and he couldn’t afford to pay to study anything else.
At first, he worried that his students wouldn’t respect him. But, he says, “after a few weeks, the learners came round. They will tell you: ‘Ah! He is a good teacher and he understands our problems’.”
But he knows that, despite the respect he enjoys in the classroom, he is not safe outside of it.
The murder of one of his students, David Fletcher, made him afraid.
He has stopped walking outside at night and, if he must, he asks a close friend or relative to accompany him.
“If I can’t find someone to take me home, I will stay where I am and sleep there. I have no choice,” he says.
“Everything has changed. I look at the people, the friends around me, and I think ‘maybe he wants to kill me and make some money’.”
Stercia Kanyowa’s story
Masumpankhunda, in Lilongwe, central Malawi
Twelve-year-old Stercia Kanyowa says she doesn’t want to beg. She wants an education, and to stand on her own two feet.
“I want to be a teacher first. Then maybe a journalist or a bank manager,” she declares.
Stercia is one of three children with albinism at the Malingunde School for the Visually Impaired. As an only child from a single-parent household, she says completing school is her only hope for the future. She has been here since 2011.
“Of course, I miss home. It’s long since I have gone home. Who doesn’t miss home?” she says, outside her dormitory.
The school is government-run, and functions almost exclusively on donations. There are 17 classrooms and 40 teachers for 3,000 students.
There is no electricity. Inside Stercia’s classroom, some students are huddled around braille machines, while others, such as 15-year-old Foster Kennedy, who also has albinism, use a magnifying glass to read textbooks.
“Everyone here is a friend. You would think we are born from the same mother,” Foster says, smiling.
He wants to be a radio personality or a songwriter, he explains.
The school yard is a thoroughfare for people walking or cycling to the town centre, which means that there are always strangers passing through. This concerns the school authorities. Without a wall or a gate, the school is vulnerable to theft and the students to being attacked. In early 2015, a 16-year-old student with albinism was almost abducted by a stranger who promised to buy her supplies from the local market.
“It is an open place. And anything can happen,” says Chiko Kamphandira, the school principal.
Back outside, Stercia, who is head of the school choir, begins to sing one of her favourite songs, before stopping suddenly, self-conscious and shy.
“I am going to work hard and fulfill my dreams,” she says. “I don’t see myself as any different. I am just a human being.”
Ian Simbota’s story
Blantyre, southern Malawi
Ian Simbota is eating a chicken tikka burger at a Pakistani fast food diner when we spot him one evening in Blantyre.
When we ask to talk to him, he scans our journalists’ credentials before agreeing. It turns out that he gets paid to talk as a late-night radio talk show host and a DJ with the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. And he has just returned from Kasungu, in the central region of Malawi, where he was the master of ceremonies for World International Albinism Awareness Day.
When he finishes his meal, he invites us to the radio studio.
Once on the airwaves, the slightly pensive man we met at the restaurant is no more. He taunts and teases his listeners. The studio is his safe place.
Later on, he talks of a double life. As a radio star, his voice and name are widely recognised. But not all of his listeners know that he has albinism. And there are times when his confident persona gives way to fear.
“Look, I am working at night. And people know I am here,” he says. “What are they thinking, planning? From here I will get a car and go home. And when I go home, I feel unsafe. What if they attack me? I think about it all the time.”
Ian became a full-time DJ in 2015. It was a dream come true. “I wanted to be a midwife as a child [but] thankfully my mother convinced me otherwise,” he laughs.
“And then, I wanted to be a radio host. Geoffrey Zigoma [the gospel singer] made a huge impact on my life.”
But life hasn’t been easy for Ian.
When he was born, he was the second child in his family to have albinism. His father walked out on them.
“My father told my mum to kill us. When she refused, he left,” he says, matter-of-factly.
“At that time, people didn’t know about the genes and stuff. My dad thought it was a curse.”
Ian’s mother left her village in southern Malawi and came to Blantyre with her two children to look for a job. She found one as a cleaner at the College of Medicine.
His father remarried. His next child was also born with albinism.
School was tough for Ian. He says his teachers didn’t realise that he was visually impaired so would just call him lazy. When he completed his certificate in journalism and applied for internships in radio, his visual impairments worked against him again – station managers were concerned that he wouldn’t be able to see the computer screens, he says.
Then his mother died after a prolonged illness, and the new job felt like the start of a new life for him. But then the attacks on people with albinism began.
“I can tell you, it has become difficult,” he says. “I have friends. But at this point in time, I only trust one friend in my circle. I have other friends, but then sometimes, you just wonder, you know, maybe, he is being used [to get close to me].”
He also has to face harassment on the streets and says his girlfriend left him last year because “she couldn’t deal with what … [he] was going through”.
But today he’s the voice of a successful radio show.
“I like radio because you could come naked to the studio and it doesn’t matter. People are listening to your voice,” he says, pausing for a second, before laughing.
“I have done a little bit of TV, but radio is better because listeners create a different picture of what they think you are. It’s only now [with the crisis] that people realise I am a person with albinism …”
The Southern African country of Malawi is notorious for its attacks and killings of persons with albinism. As I reported earlier this year “Malawi is the worst case on the whole African continent as far as attacks, abductions and killings of persons with albinism is concerned.” (see my January 4, 2022 posting).
Arrest of suspects involved in ritual murders of people with albinism and prosecution is rare but, as the case below demonstrates, it does happen.
The Masambuka murder case dates as far back as 2018. A painful fact: the murder of MacDonald Masambuka in 2018 occurred in a wave of gruesome killings of people with albinism, resulting in over 40 murders and 145 assaults on them. See the following article. (webmaster FVDK)
Catholic priest and 11 others convicted of killing albino for ritual purposes
Published: May 3, 2022 By: Andreas Kamasah – Pulse, Ghama
A Malawian High Court has found guilty a Catholic priest and 11 others of killing a man with albinism with the intent to use his body parts for witchcraft rituals.
MacDonald Masambuka, 22, was gruesomely murdered in 2018 and some suspects were arrested in connection with his death, and their trials have since been ongoing.
Interestingly, the deceased’s own brother was also among the people who have been convicted and are awaiting sentencing.
The murder of Masambuka follows a spike in gruesome killings of people with albinism, resulting in over 40 murders and 145 assaults on them.
The perpetrators of these murders hold the false belief that using body parts of albinos engenders wealth and luck.
Speaking after the court proceedings, Malawi’s director of public prosecutions, Steve Kayuni, told AFP that Masambuka’s brother had conspired with other accomplices to kill him.
The convicted brother of the deceased lured him to meet his friends, who he claimed had found him [Masambuka] a woman to marry. Little did he know that they were going to kill him.
“MacDonald was betrayed by those he had trust in, namely the brother, the priest, the policeman, and the clinical officer. These are positions of trust,” the official said, as quoted by Thecitizen.co.tz.
The High Court on Thursday concluded that the 12 plotted to kill Masambuka to extract his bones for rituals that they were hoping to benefit from financially.
Reading the decision, judge Dorothy NyaKaunda Kamanga said: “This is a violation of the right to human life and the greatest violation of the rights to life and integrity for persons with albinism.”
Sentencing of the convicts has been set for May 31.
Meanwhile, the court’s ruling has sparked reactions among activists. Former UN rapporteur on albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, lamented that the latest discovery “points to a serious safety issue for people with albinism in Malawi”.
Steve Kayuni, revealed that there are around 20 cases under prosecution in Malawi courts involving the murder, attempted murder, exhumation, and selling of body tissue of people with albinism.
In most African countries, the position of people living with albinism is unfavorable. Rejected by society, mistrusted, discriminated, even living in fear as in many countries attacks on them are frequent. Widespread belief in the supernatural power of their organs or other body parts in combination with an unscrupulous, criminal mind of the perpetrator(s), has resulted in many ritual murders or unexplained disappearances of albino children and adults. Although some countries in Southern and Eastern Africa are notorious for these ugly practices – see my reporting – also in other African countries the position of people living with albinism leaves much to be desired, as the following article on Nigeria demonstrates. (FVDK)
Stop ritual killing of persons living with albinism – Jake Epelle
Published: March 13, 2022 By: NNN
Mr. Jake Epelle, founder of the Albino Foundation, has called on Nigerians and Africans to stop killing people living with albinism for ritual purposes.
Epelle made the appeal when he appeared on the Nigerian News Agency Forum special talk show on Sunday in Abuja.
He said “when the news got out that there were rituals coming out of all the African countries, Tanzania and all that; It is not only true, I have seen it with my own eyes.”
According to him, the country has seen its share of cases of people living with albinism killed for ritual purposes.
He said that in April 2014 he was about to be a victim but was able to escape from the driver who tried to take him to an unknown destination.
“These are issues surrounding albinism that have not been touched on,” he said.
Epelle added that the foundation had also done a lot to ensure the protection of people with disabilities in the country, including finding police hotlines.
He said, “I have gone to the police to ask for hotlines where my members can call or encourage our members to report cases that we need to pursue.
“The Disability Rights Fund once gave us money with which we train people with albinism on how to protect their rights, how to promote their rights, and how to prosecute those who violate their rights.”
He said that the Albino Foundation inaugurated ‘the champion of albinism’ and compiled manuals in different languages to correct some of the myths and superstitions about albinism.
Epelle therefore called on the public to grant people with disabilities compassion and fair treatment so that they can live their lives without fear of being raped.
Stop killing persons with albinism for ritual, Albino Foundation cries out
Published: March 13, 2022 By: PG People’s Gazette
Jake Epelle, Founder of the Albino Foundation, has appealed to Nigerians and Africans to stop killing people living with albinism for ritual proposes.
Mr Epelle made the appeal when he featured on the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum special interview programme on Sunday in Abuja.
“When the news broke that there were rituals coming out of all African countries, Tanzania and all that; not only is it true, I have seen it with my eyes,” he said.
He said the country has witnessed its share of cases of persons with albinism being killed for ritual proposes, citing himself as an example.
He narrated how in April 2014, he was almost a victim when a driver tried to take him to an unknown destination.
“These are issues that surround albinism that have not been touched,” he said.
Mr Epelle added that the foundation had also done a lot to protect persons living with disabilities in the country, including seeking hotlines from the police.
He said, “I have gone to police to ask for hotlines where my members can call or encourage our members to report cases that we have to follow up.
“The Disability Rights Fund had once given us money with which we trained persons with albinism on how to protect their rights, how to promote their rights and how to prosecute those who violate their rights.”
He said that the Albino Foundation had inaugurated the ‘Albinism Champion’ and compiled handbooks in different languages to correct some of the myths and superstitions about albinism.
Mr Epelle appealed to the public to accord persons with disability compassion and fair treatment to enable them live their lives without fear of being violated.
The town of Fana has a bad reputation. Reportedly, in less than four years, eight ritual murders have been committed in this small town, located some 80 miles (125 km) from the nation’s capital Bamako. This time the victim was a retired soldier, who was brutally murdered. In the night of June 9 to 10 (Tuesday – Wednesday), the murderer or murderers attacked him in his house and sliced his throat savagely. Bakary Sagaré was 50+ years old when he died.
If the authorities fail to apprehend the killers, the danger exists that the population will take the law into their own hands, but mob justice may aggravate Mali’s numerous problems. In the north and centre of the country, terrorists and Tuareg separatists have been challenging the authority of the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) since the disastrous military coup of captain Sanogo in 2012. Recently, a huge manifestation in Bamako showed the dissatisfaction and anger of the population, tired of the growing insecurity in the country. The growing unpopularity of the once very popular Keita may even further endanger Mali’s political stability. Rumors about an intervention of the military have already started to circulate. Certainly interesting developments which merit to be monitored closely. in the meantime, the inhabitants of Fana hope that the criminals responsible for the murder of Bakary Sagaré will be arrested and put on trial.
The original articles are in French and are shown below (webmaster FVDK).
Les habitants de la ville de Fana se sont encore réveillés avec un crime devant leur porte, l’assassinat Bakary Sangaré âgé de plus de 50 ans. C’est un militaire à la retraite, dit-on. Il a été égorgé chez lui dans la nuit de ce mardi au mercredi 10 juin. C’est le 8e crime du genre dans cette ville où la petite albinos a été également tuée. Pour l’instant, aucune information officielle n’est donnée sur les raisons de ce crime, sur son ou ses auteurs. En attendant sur Facebook, la nouvelle endeuille et les messages de compassion et de condoléances pleuvent.
Pour d’autres, c’est l’occasion d’en finir définitivement avec cette pratique. Et pour cela, l’État doit s’assurer en prenant en main la sécurité de la population. Ces actes montrent combien, les populations sont exposées face à des bandits, à des auteurs de crimes rituels. Pour eux, c’est un signe de la faillite de l’Etat face à sa responsabilité de protéger les populations et de leurs biens. Encore, c’est la faute aux autorités incompétentes et corrompues, pestent de nombreux internautes.
En revanche, d’autres estiment que c’est un travail qui doit se faire en synergie entre la population et les autorités pour venir à bout de ces actes cruels dans cette ville. Parce qu’ils accusent que ce sont des charlatans connus de tous dans la ville qui sont à la base de ce crime.
Comments of readers / Commentaires des lecteurs :
Konimba Sidibé : Fana dans le cercle de Dioila au Mali en deuil à nouveau : les coupeurs de têtes ont encore sévi hier soir pour la huitième fois en moins de 4 ans (dont le cas de Ramata la petite albinos arrachée des mains de sa maman à leur domicile). Bakary Sangare est leur nouvelle victime. Peu de progrès ont été faits dans l’identification et le châtiment des criminels et leurs complices : les populations doutent fortement que l’Etat ait pris le problème au sérieux et se sentent abandonnées à leur triste sort. Cri de cœur pour libérer Fana de cette insécurité morbide !!! Que l’âme des victimes repose en paix.
Yacouba Aliou Toure : C’est une honte pour le monde du troisième millénaire. Dans la loi islamique, la sentence pour le magicien de couper sa tête à l’épée. Il ne sera pas enseveli, il n’est pas aussi enterré dans le cimetière des musulmans. La magie est la chose la plus horrible sur la Terre. Qu’Allah nous en garde. Amine.
LASSINA DEMBELE ALÉAS TEACHER : une situation séculaire insaisissable depuis la nuit des temps à Fana et environnants… Ce crime crapuleux perpétré hier à Fana le 09/06/2020 ; le corps d’un homme sans vie a été retrouvé décapité par des personnes non identifiées. Ce n’est pas une première fois que ces genres de scènes scandaleuses et hystériques se passent encore à fana semant la panique et de la désolation à la population civile de fana et environnant. Cette situation reste sans solution depuis des décennies à Fana. Les autorités compétentes judiciaires et la population civile de la ville doivent conjuguer leurs forces afin de mettre la lumière sur les Criminels auteurs de ces crimes crapuleux de Coupeurs des têtes.
Zanze Bouare : triste comme nouvelle, on doit sévir contre ces criminels. Il n’y a pas d’autorité au Mali.
Dramane Kélépily : l’arrivée de la police n’a rien servi à Fana que Dieu bénisse la ville et qu’il fasse démasquer les coupables, Paix à l’âme du disparu. Honte aux autorités incompétentes et corrompues !!
Bourama Keita : Sans la collaboration de la population, les autorités ne peuvent rien faire. Tous unis, nous pourrons mettre fin à ça. Mes sincères condoléances aux familles des disparus.
Mamadou Barry : Tout le monde sait que ce n’est pas un terroriste qui a commis le forfait. C’est bien un charlatan. Ils sont connus de tous à Fana. Paix à son âme.
Bafing Sangaré : la question que je voulais savoir, c’est pourquoi toujours à Fana ? La situation est de plus en plus inquiétante vraiment…
Awa Sidibé : Il y a certainement à Fana des tueurs protégés qui ne craignent rien d’où ces crimes à répétitions.
Abdoul Karim Niambélé : C’est triste. Je compatis à la douleur des parents des victimes. Que le Tout Puissant les accueille parmi ses Élus dans son paradis. Et pendant ce temps, on crie sous tous les toits que nous sommes en sécurité. Que Dieu sauve le Mali.
Thomas Seydou Doumbia : Allah akbar, paix a son âme. Je remarque à chaque fois qu’il y a un événement politique, il aboutit à un crime à Fana à nous de chercher la vraie raison.
Molière Sidibé : Vraiment, c’est dépassé, il est temps qu’il y ait une implication avec rigueur pour mettre fin à ces drames.
Tidiani Konate : En réalité, le Mali vit actuellement dans une situation d’impasse. Notre sort dépend de notre visibilité, notre mobilité, car les membres de ce gouvernement ne se soucient plus des peuples, mais seulement de leurs places. Que Dieu libère Banico en particulier et le Mali en général.
Dioba Dembélé : vraiment, on va de mal en pis, il faut que la population s’implique davantage au côté des autorités pour la sécurité définitive de la zone.
Abdoulaye S. Dembele : Dioba Dembélé, penses-tu que la population ainsi que les autorités veulent la fin de cette barbarie ? J’en doute. Sinon, on n’allait pas arriver là.
Au Mali, principalement dans les localités de Fana (cercle de Diola), les coupeurs de tête pour des rituels humains ne cessent de surprendre la paisible population par ces actes démoniaques. Cette fois, c’est un homme d’âge avancé du nom de Bakary Sangaré, (ancien militaire) qui a été décapité dans son domicile. Cet acte barbare et lâche s’est passé dans la nuit du mardi 10 juin au 11 juin dernier dans la même localité de Fana dans le cercle de Diola.
En effet, la population de la ville de Fana s’est réveillée avec une mauvaise nouvelle. Suite à la découverte macabre du corps sans vie d’un ancien militaire du nom de Bakary Sangaré, qui a été froidement assassiné. Les malfrats ont tranché sa tête de la manière la plus cynique, avant d’abandonner le reste du corps. Selon les témoignages des habitants, le défunt Bakary, ancien militaire qui vivait seul chez lui a été froidement tué par des hommes inconnus. (Huitième fois en moins de 4 ans dont le cas de Ramata la petite albinos arrachée des mains de sa maman à leur domicile).
Une enquête est ouverte par les forces locales en collaboration avec le juge d’instruction de Fana pour traquer les malfrats et leurs complices continuent à semer la terreur et la psychose dans la ville de Fana. Face à cette situation (…)
The same article, by the same author Abdul Karim Sanogo, was published by the Malian daily MaliKonokow. The link follows here (webmaster FVDK).
Au Mali, principalement dans les localités de Fana (cercle de Diola), les coupeurs de tête pour des rituels humains ne cessent de surprendre la paisible population par ces actes démoniaques. Cette fois, c’est un homme d’âge avancé du nom de Bakary Sangaré, (ancien militaire) qui a été décapité dans son domicile. Cet acte barbare et lâche s’est passé dans la nuit du mardi 10 juin au 11 juin dernier dans la même localité de Fana dans le cercle de Diola.
Another article on the same murder, dated June 10, 2020:
Les populations de la paisible ville de Fana ont eu un réveil brutal. Ce matin, suite à la découverte macabre du corps sans vie d’un ancien militaire du nom de Bakary Sangaré, qui a été froidement assassiné. En effet, les malfrats ont tranché sa tête de la manière la plus cynique, avant d’abandonner le reste du corps.
D’après les témoignages des habitants, le défunt Bakary, ancien militaire qui vivait seul chez lui a été froidement tué par des hommes inconnus.
Quant à la gendarmerie de Fana, les responsables ont affirmé ne vouloir rien dire avant la fin des enquêtes.
«Pour l’instant, nous ne pouvons rien dire à qui que ce soit avant la fin des enquêtes. Nous sommes sur les enquêtes en collaboration avec le juge d’instruction de Fana. Nous attendons que tous les éléments soient réunis pour nous prononcer sur cette affaire. Tout ce que je peux vous dire, c’est que nous avons constaté le cadavre d’un homme comme vous le voyez sur les réseaux sociaux et les enquêtes sont en cours», a déclaré le Capitaine de la Brigade gendarmerie à Fana.
A suivre !
The Malian daily Mali Actu published the same text. It is not known which article appeared first, maybe Mali Jet’s article, which has been reproduced above, signed with the author’s name, Gaoussou Kanté (webmaster FVDK).
Les populations de la paisible ville de Fana ont eu un réveil brutal. Ce matin, suite à la découverte macabre du corps sans vie d’un ancien militaire du nom de Bakary Sangaré, qui a été froidement assassiné. En effet, les malfrats ont tranché sa tête de la manière la plus cynique, avant d’abandonner le reste du corps.
The article below is a follow-up to another article by the same reporter, Chris Phiri, in the same newspaper, Zambia Reports, which was earlier published on March 26, 2020 (my posting of March 29, 2020).
Though I haven’t included the comments of readers below, it’s worth reading what the readers think about this disgusting murder and the Zambian police authorities (see the original article – webmaster FVDK).
Body Of Murdered Albino Still Unclaimed
Published: April 5, 2020 By: Chris Phiri – Zambia Reports
The Eastern Province police command has expressed concern over the delay by the relatives of an albino who was found dead without some body parts on March 24. The body was without a tongue, arms and eyes.
Provincial police Commissioner Luckson Sakala said the body had remained unclaimed and is currently at Chipata Central Hospital mortuary.
Mr. Sakala said police suspect that the deceased was taken from somewhere and was just dumped in Chipata. He is appealing to members of the public who could be missing a relative to come forward and identify the body.
The body of the deceased was found near Yamene Farms along the Chipata/Lundazi road.