Spell of the Albino

Albinism is a non-contagious, genetically inherited disorder, affecting about 1 in 20,000 men and women around the world, regardless of ethnicity and geographical location. Sufferers are afflicted by a congenital absence of melanin, a pigmentation defect in the hair, skin and eyes that causes vulnerability to sun exposure and bright light. Many have very poor vision as a consequence and in tropical countries especially they can be vulnerable to skin cancers if unprotected from the sun.

What albinism is absolutely not, is an indication that the afflicted person is any way invested with magical powers.

Though it might seem absurdly obvious, the point is worth stating so starkly because in parts of sub-Saharan Africa especially, albinos have traditionally faced discrimination and prejudice – innocent victims of a still widespread belief that the condition is in some way associated with the supernatural. To some, a white-skinned African person is seen as a kind of phantom or ghost, who rather than die will dissolve or disappear with the wind and rain. As a result, in some communities, albinos have been feared, shunned and socially marginalised.

Over the last five years in Tanzania, however, the situation has become much, much worse, with albinos increasingly subjected to murder and mutilation because of a completely spurious myth that albino body parts are effective in witchcraft rituals. Despite international outrage and repeated attempts by the Tanzanian government to stamp out this truly appalling practice, since it first came to light many albinos have been hunted down and attacked purely for their limbs and organs. Indeed the incidents seem to be increasing. Since 2008, at least 62 albinos have been killed in Tanzania, 16 have been violently assaulted and had their limbs amputated and the bodies of 12 albinos have been exhumed from graves and dismembered.

Against this background, it is perhaps not surprising that estimates of the numbers of albinos in Tanzania vary significantly. Officially there are around 5,000 registered, but the country’s Albino Association says the real number is in excess of 150,000. They say that many albinos are still kept hidden by their families because of the stigma some associate with the condition or because of fear that they might be attacked.

In this remarkable episode of Africa Investigates, Tanzanian journalist Richard Mgamba, albino community representative Isaack Timothy and Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas set out to discover what lies behind these sickening attacks and to uncover and confront some of those behind the grotesque trade in body parts for witchcraft rituals.

In the process they meet two albino children, victims of vicious assaults that occurred in the weeks the film was being made. One of them is a 12-year-old boy who had part of his hand cut off, allegedly with the connivance of his father who is now in police custody and awaiting trial. The other is a 16-year-old girl whose left arm was hacked off by a stranger with a machete.

But Anas, who goes undercover in the guise of a businessman seeking to get rich, also comes face to face with a witchdoctor who tries to sell him a potion containing ground up albino body parts. Not surprisingly, when the offer is made, Anas makes his abhorrence very plain.

Right from the start of this film, viewers may find some of the images disturbing.

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  1. ignorance on people like that witchcraft my ass they should be behind bars for life
    or done to them what they did to the albinos

  2. Wow. Incredibly interesting, though upsetting documentary. It’s nice to see documentaries about issues in Africa actually coming from African journalists, as well (instead of from North American and European journalists as is most often the case in any videos we see here in North America). This is a very serious issue and I’m happy to see that so many people are not taking it lying down! Hopefully the people who took part in this video are successful in convincing the Tanzanian public that this is unacceptable human practice.

  3. Is this how blacks perceive all whites? Something to worry about. Also, the condition is growing artificially through ‘Lupis’ (also superstious) which is mainly from environmental stress, they say. Meaning, nuclear toxins in the atmosphere. Condition paralyses melanin, with the skin showing white spots which spread over time, making it impossible to tan. Gradually turning albino. I’ve had it since the first gulf invasion and notice many people showing the same symptoms now.

  4. So we blame a ‘belief in the supernatural’ & ‘superstition’ & the ‘uneducated’? I can see where, after viewing this, such a conclusion could be drawn. HOWEVER… when enough people share a superstitious supernatural set of beliefs, we call it a RELIGION & it becomes legitimized. 

    All mainstream religions are riddled with a rattlesnakes’ nest of superstitious foolish & supernatural beliefs & practices perpetuated by highly educated people. All are & have been in the past guilty of perpetrating atrocities to rival the ones in this film. These witch doctors are no different. Scratch away the surface & the pretense of a ‘magical/spiritual/religious’ necessity for Albino body parts & you find (as with The Inquisition & its with trials, The Crusades & other so-called holy quests) the relentless pursuit of power & the almighty dollar.

     ‘Religious’ dread amongst the masses can be readily ignited & manipulated in order to influence people into abandoning all humanity & reason. Add to that people at the top of the pile in positions of power & authority lacking in any ethical conscience & drooling for money & you can see how such practices can occur. In this setting, the vulnerable easily identifiable people are Albinos. 

    Many women burned as witches were single independent land-owners (the church could seize all their assets). As a species, we are slow to learn from our collective history & quick to distance ourselves from ‘others’ (uneducated, ignorant superstitious types) who do terrible things that WE enlightened morally superior types know better than to commit . This documentary underscores it. We do well to watch ourselves as humans: monitor our thinking & beliefs. Keep ourselves in check. All too easily, otherwise regular decent people gleefully engage in the most abominable conduct & justify it in the name of some belief system  

  5. Superstition is the culprit. Believe in the supernatural is dangerous for everyone.
    At 4:06 , the doctor thanked god for helping the mutilated child ,even so in his belief,god would be the creator of albinism,mosquitoes,malaria,earthquakes etc. in the first place.

    If the world needs volunteers for a one way flight to mars,I would go.Earth is dominated by morons.

    • I’m not so sure that any god helped that child. If there is a god, why was that child (or any albino) attacked? Belief in the supernatural is strong among the uneducated. It would be interesting to know if any of the miners that used albino bones actually got rich.

      • Ever read the Bible? Obviously not. And you probably have never read any religious texts in your life because your understanding of God is ludicrious and even hilarious.

        But this documentary is extremely sad. Humankind is capable of such horrors, but this is what free will and no morality/ethics leads too.

  6. So, they are killing other human beings literally to get rich….. Sounds like nothing new. The world is a cesspool of greed and assholes.

    Hope more awareness is raised so Albinos can live in peace and not fear for their lives!

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