Thursday, November 19, 2009

Albino Killings Return

Here's some terrible news out of the African nations of Tanzania and Burundi. Last June Tanzanian authorities arrested a gang that was engaged in the murder of albinos in order to sell their body parts to unscrupulous witch doctors for use in magical ceremonies. The gang members went on to be convicted and were recently executed.

At the time of the arrests I expressed my hope that with the killers brought to justice this wave of murders would be over, and indeed, the killings did stop over the summer. Unfortunately, this fall they seem to have started back up again.

"It has been a crisis for over two years, 56 albinos have lost their lives as a result of killings done by hunters," Matthias Schmale, IFRC Under Secretary General for Development, told journalists at the report launch.

"The report demonstrates ... that thousands of albino lives in these two countries ... are literally put on hold."

There are 7,000 registered albinos in Tanzania and 1,000 in Burundi, although officials believe actual numbers are higher. According to the IFRC, these albinos are unable to live normal lives due to the threat of murder.

The attacks kicked off in 2007, and quickly spread across Tanzania - where the majority of the murders have occurred - and into Burundi.

A lull this summer led to hopes that the attacks were over, but in late October, hunters beheaded 10-year-old albino boy Gasper Elikana in front of his family in Tanzania, then made off with his leg.

It seems that the market for albino body parts is lucrative enough that a new batch of criminals has stepped up to take the place of the previous gang.

Tanzanian police estimate that a complete set of albino body parts - including all four limbs, genitals, ears, nose and tongue - are worth as much as 75 thousand dollars to witch doctors, who use them to concoct potions believed to bring wealth and good luck.

According to Isaac Mwaura, national coordinator for the albinism society in neighbouring Kenya, a combination of globalization-induced greed and old African superstitions is to blame for the killings, which he believes are well-planned and organized.

"Witch doctors commission people to look for these body parts," he said. "The gangs were organized, had certain targets and certain motivation."

I'm still trying to figure out why body parts lacking melanin are so valuable to practitioners of this particular school of traditional magick. It sounds to me like one of those superstitions based on scarcity that is widely believed despite never having been subjected to sufficient empirical tests.

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Rufus Opus said...

wow. $75k is a lot of money.

Seems to me that the Tanzanians should start advertising that if a witch doctor could really do magic with albino body parts, he wouldn't need to hire out murder of albinos by thugs.

But if the sorcerors can afford to pay that much for the body, they must be able to sell it at quite a profit. That means their clients can't be too hurting for cash themselves, which leaves me wondering why they'd need a wealth talisman in the first place.

Then again, I suppose a full-grown albino would make a lot of potions that could be sold to a lot of people at lower costs. How many potions do they need?

Scott Stenwick said...

Yeah, it's especially a lot of money in countries like Tanzania and Burundi. It does make you wonder just how rich the clients asking for prosperity spells really are.

So far I haven't been able to track down details like, for example, how many potions you could make with a hand or whatever. I suppose if you could make a lot of them it would explain why the estimated value is so high.