Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nigeria-Born Albino Fights Deportation

Over the years I've covered a number of cases related to the African trade in albino body parts. In traditional African folk magick it is believed that the body parts of a person afflicted with albinism have special magical powers that unscrupulous sorcerers can exploit in order to strengthen their spells. Albinism is rare and the demand is apparently quite high, leading some criminal gangs to resort to murder and dismemberment in order to obtain parts that can be sold for a huge profit.

Franklin Ibeabuchi is a Florida resident who emigrated to the United States from Nigeria with his parents at the age of 10. He is also an albino, and is fighting deportation on the grounds that if he returns to Africa his life may be in danger.

Ibeabuchi is like a lot of Americans: He graduated from high school (Wolfson High School in Jacksonville), earned an associates degree from what is now Florida State College at Jacksonville, married, had three children and worked for Staples for a decade, reports The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.

He also has a condition called albinism.

His pale skin, his reddish blonde hair and his light blue eyes make him a moving target in Nigeria where witchcraft is common. People like him in sub-Saharan Africa risk death because superstitious folks there believe his body parts possess special powers -- and they'll pay an arm and a leg for one of his limbs.

Now he faces being deported to Nigeria because of a 2003 battery charge, which was later dropped.

An immigration right's clinic has stepped in to help him by pursuing a unique claim: Ibeabuchi's albinism makes him part of a persecuted social class.

That we live in a world where such a defense is necessary is a sad realization, but the fact is that albinos are threatened in much of Africa by the stupidity surrounding this superstition. On those grounds I hope that Ibeabuchi's defense succeeds, because whether or not the belief itself is imaginary the hazard it poses to people like him certainly is not.

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Melissa Alexander said...

Playing Devil's Advocate here...

Magick associated with albino human body parts is stupid superstition. What about hair, blood, fingernail clippings, or bodily fluids? What about the body parts of a poached black bear? What about the blood of a sacrificed chicken? Chicken feet? Shedded snake skin? Bird feather? What about magickal properties from plants or minerals?

I'm not advocating the persecution, dismemberment, or murder of this or any other human. I'm just curious where the boundary between magickal substance and "stupid superstition" lies -- and why.

Scott Stenwick said...

What I meant is that whether or not there's anything to this superstition the whole situation it has sparked in Africa is fundamentally stupid. The demand for these body parts has far outstripped the possible benefits any substance could possibly add to a spell, and furthermore there are going to be other materials in the world that have similar spiritual characteristics - and which a magician can likely obtain without paying a gang to kill someone for it.

Materials have affinities for certain types of magical forces which are why they are used in the first place. But the magick itself comes from the magician and the materials act more like a focus than an amplifier. In some cases, such as with hair or fingernail clippings from a target, they can also form a contagion link but that has little to do with the beliefs surrounding albino body parts.

After careful analysis these stories I think it's likely that the belief arose out of the always-toxic just-world assumption. Obvious this must be powerful because it's rare! The thing is, in actuality scarcity has nothing to do with the magical properties of a material or implement. That's like making the assertion that the rarity of a metal is the source of its electrical conductivity.

Rob said...

Oddly enough I saw an episode of Harry's Law on TV a few weeks back in which the characters were trying to get asylum for illegal African immigrants because they were albinos. Hopefully this is a sign that the United States, and other Western nations, are becoming more aware about the persecution of albino skinned people in Africa, and that hopefully this will lead to some international aid, or at least help those trying to claim asylum.

Although the whole deportation issue here seems absurd, and even if he had no fear of persecution, deporting him for any reason at all is just insane. Then again the INS has been known to be rather insane in its enforcement of the rules, especially in certain areas, and there are lots of cases of people who shouldn't have been deported being deported.

Scott Stenwick said...

@Rob: That's good to hear that the issue is starting to make its way into popular culture. I think in the past people may have dismissed it just because it sounds so weird, but it's no joke to albinos living over there.

And don't get me started on immigration policy. The INS has been a mess for a long time.

Unknown said...

Mellisa there's a lot you don't understand about Nigeria ,But if you did you would understand, by the way this is his wife of 27 yrs .....