Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Albino Killings in Tanzania

Usually witchcraft hysteria is based on a bunch of made-up allegations centered on individuals who are harmless but have accumulated enemies within their communities. Rather than the accusations accurately reflecting any action on the part of the accused "witch," they serve as a convenient excuse for the community to attack those that they simply dislike. However, every so often magical practitioners really do commit heinous crimes. In Tanzania, there is a folk belief that the body parts of albinos have special magical powers. This belief is so strong that Tanzanian albinos are being killed and their body parts apparently taken for magical rituals.

The story first came out in April after 19 albinos were killed during the preceding year. Despite actions ordered by the Tanzanian government, however, a more recent undercover investigation by the BBC found that the killings are still going on and I can find no evidence online that any arrests have been made or that the Tanzanian police have managed to conduct an effective investigation. The Tanzanian President has ordered a census of all albinos in the country to make protecting them easier for law enforcement, though some now suspect elements of the Tanzanian police could be involved in the killings.

Various systems of folk magick use human body parts, but I don't really see why the body parts of albinos would be more powerful than those of people who have melanin in their skin. Does melanin inhibit the flow of magical energy or something? I'm sure there are a lot of African spiritual practitioners who would take serious issue with that statement. It seems more likely to me that it's all just superstition that arose because albinos look different. After all, I'm guessing that even if these spells work really well nobody has ever tried to do any double-blind studies on the effectiveness of normal versus albino body parts.

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