East African Witch Doctors Are Hunting Albino Children to Amputate Their Limbs and Turn Them into Magic Potions

In Tanzania and other East African nations, people with albinism don’t just worry about developing vision problems and skin cancer — common afflictions among those whose bodies don’t produce enough melanin. They also have to keep an eye out for assassins who want to harvest their body parts, says Scientific American. The crimes are motivated

… by superstitious beliefs that albinos’ body parts can lead to power and wealth. A rash of more than 100 crimes against individuals with albinism have been reported in the past seven years in Tanzania, according to the Tanzania Albino Society, an advocacy organization.

(via the Daily Mail)

The authorities are trying to crack down on witch doctors who make albino potions and charms, and on the buyers of such wares. According to a recent United Nations report, in one incident,

… an unidentified individual tried to sell a man with albinism for $250,000.

Children’s body parts are especially in demand, and from there it gets even more gruesome. The U.N. report states:

“Some even believe that the witchcraft ritual is more powerful if the victim screams during the amputation, so body parts are often cut from live victims, especially children. The use of children is likely linked to the pursuit of innocence which, it is believed, enhances the potency of the witchcraft ritual.”

One source claims that the remains are used like this:

[F]ishermen on the shores Lake Victoria weave albino hair into nets. Bones are ground down and buried in the earth by miners, who believe they will be transformed into diamonds. The genitals are made into treatments to bolster sexual potency.

Scientific American says that

… in Tanzania alone there had been 72 murders of people with albinism since 2000, only five of which have resulted in successful prosecutions. … [A] widespread belief that individuals with albinism cannot die and that they may just “disappear” contributes to a lack of empathy for the crimes.

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In other parts of the world, superstitions surrounding albinism are just as irrational — but there, the outlandish beliefs may protect rather than harm. For instance, to some Native American tribes, albino animals are sacred and may not be killed. That’s the case for the indigenous Mi’kmaq people of Nova Scotia, Canada, who flew into a tizzy the other day when visiting hunters, unaware of Mi’kmaq lore, shot and killed a white moose.

Mi’kmaq hunter Danny Paul told CBC News:

“We know the significance and we’ve been teaching that to the non-native population for almost 500 years – about the importance that this and other white animals played in our lives. We are not to harm them in any way, shape, or form because they could be one of our ancestors coming to remind us of something significant that’s going to happen within our communities.”

Same humbug, though of an infinitely kinder variety.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • L.Long

    Perfect example of stupidity that isn’t linked to the common religions.
    Shows that delusion and stupidity must be fought on all fronts.

  • closetatheist

    If there were a god this would be a perfect time for them to show their ”love” by STEPPING THE FUCK UP and intervening. The worst horror movie cannot compare to this real-life evil.

    • Lucilius

      Oh, come on. You know he’s not concerned with something as trivial as life, torture or mutilation. He’s preoccupied with making sure you can’t marry anyone with the wrong appendages and guaranteeing tax cuts for oil companies.

    • Timothy McLean

      …I could make a joke by pretending I thought you meant a different meaning of “worst horror movie,” but that would be in pretty bad taste considering that the tragedy we’re talking about involves dozens of murders and children getting their limbs chopped off in ways that maximize screaming in order to make magical potions.

      • closetatheist

        yeah, I realized that the “worst horror movie” award could be referring to the cheesiest, plot-holiest film, but I figured ya’ll could figure out what I meant in this context.

        • Timothy McLean

          I knew what you meant, it just crossed my mind to make a joke about it.

          Then I remembered the mutilated children.

  • Art_Vandelay

    If anyone needs a reminder…yes, it’s the year 2013.

    • islandbrewer

      Wait, CE or BCE?

  • http://www.last.fm/user/runawayuniverse runawayuniverse

    I guess you can add me among those who “flew into a tizzy” over the killing of that moose. Not for the same reasons though. I’m just not a fan of people who get off on killing things just so they can have some new decoration mounted on their wall.

    • Terry Firma

      This is not a discussion about the pros and cons of hunting. I’m sure there are other sites for that. The point is, it’s only the albino animals the Mi’kmaq don’t want to see hurt, because religion. You’d be killing the spirits of their ancestors, you see. All other beasts may be killed, no objections.

      • Taz

        Hunting is one thing, killing something that rare is something else. And if these hunters didn’t realize how rare a white moose is then they’re idiots. I know a lot of hunters, and not one of them would have shot this animal.

        • Itarion

          Actually, these fellows may have killed the albino moose because it is rare. Killing hard to find things is way cooler, because hard to find things are hard to kill, since they’re hard to find. Weird, right? See legends and huntings of the White Stag from Britain, I think it is.

          • Taz

            Absolutely. Which makes them complete assholes, regardless of Mi’kmaq superstitions.

        • Terry Firma

          I’m not a hunter, and I don’t like recreational hunting very much. In fact, I’m repulsed by the fact that so many people kill animals for sport.

          That said, I don’t see that there’s anything worse about killing a white moose versus a regular one. Why should one be protected and not the other? Because the white moose has abnormal melanin levels? So what? By that measure, you ought to get equally upset over the killing of any animal with any genetic mutation or abnormality at all. A blue lobster, a deer with green-pigmented eyes, a wolf with extra teeth. Do you?

          • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

            On a purely intellectual level I’m with you. But while on that same wavelength we care more about horses than cows, and more about cats and dogs than chickens. If somebody wants to raise dogs as food, who are we to complain if we eat chickens?

            It may not be an argument that can be made empirically, but although I don’t have a religious bone in my body, I for some reason care more about this white moose than all the brown moose that get killed every season.

            Call me emotional.

            (And of course I care a hell of a lot more about all the humans being butchered and killed in Africa. Maybe Hamilton explains that. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t explain the moose)

          • Mark W.

            Two words Terry…Moose Racists. All those people above you might as well just tattoo an antlered swastika on their foreheads. Oh, the black moose, that’s just fine to hunt, but don’t shoot whitey.

            I have a dream, of a day, when a moose or indeed any member of the deer family may be hunted without regard for the color of it’s fur, but for the plumpness of it’s roast. I have a dream today!

  • LesterBallard

    I don’t suppose beating someone with copies of The Demon Haunted World would help.

    • The Other Weirdo

      You would have the word Demon in your hand, therefore you are a demon worshiper.

  • The Other Weirdo

    You know, there are a lot of Evangelicals over in Africa. I wonder what they are doing to help stop this.

    • CultOfReason

      Funny how you never see Joe Klein helping the albinos in Africa.

    • Charles Hilton

      Evangelicals are encouraging the persecution of gays in Africa, and I doubt they’re concerned about albinos. The only group of people evangelical christians ever cared about is themselves. Their concern for others is only for scoring brownie points with god by “saving souls.”

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    “Some even believe that the witchcraft ritual is more powerful if the victim screams during the amputation, so body parts are often cut from live victims, especially children. The use of children is likely linked to the pursuit of innocence which, it is believed, enhances the potency of the witchcraft ritual.”

    Yeah, that would be Blood Magick. No, it doesn’t work. Yes, it lends itself to rather… gruesome… incidents.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Yeah, that would be Blood Magick. No, it doesn’t work. Yes, it lends itself to rather… gruesome… incidents.

      There. Fixed it.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        The one is technically a subset of the other.

        Point is, it’s a horrid practice, maiming and/or killing children (or animals) just for spell components.

        • The Other Weirdo

          I’ve read articles that talked about adults being murdered for the same thing. I think once you’ve started killing living things for magic, it hardly matters whether they are human, animal, child or adult. It’s a degradation of humanity and the emotional manipulation is unnecessary. The act itself is bad enough, it isn’t made worse by saying that the victims are children.

          • Terry Firma

            I think that does make it worse, actually.

            • The Other Weirdo

              I am not really so sure. Let’s do a simple thought experiment. I tell you, “In Africa there are some people who hunt down certain types of people to murder them and use their organs in their magic potions.” Do you say, (1) “That’s horrible, what can we do stop it?” or (2) “That’s horrible, but if those victims are children, what can we do to stop it?” Granted, this methodology sucks as I am not a trained scientist, but I hope you can see my point. Adding “but it’s the children” shifts your focus to the victim and from where it properly belongs, the crime.

              The only thing that child victims make worse is that it makes their murderers seem more monstrous. The crime itself is already as monstrous as it can be. Whether the victims are men, women or children can’t make the crime any worse.

              • closetatheist

                well, “worse” is a problematic term that can easily be defined by every single individual or situation. I see your point and I agree with you, but humans typically feel that going after their young is worse than going after adults – though most humans would agree that any murder is tragic. For example, there are accounts in the Bible where Israelites slaughtered whole armies. But, what really gets the non-Christian crowd into a tizzy? The accounts of the Israelites then going after the defenseless women and children. On some level, humans mourn the loss of those who are helpless more deeply than those who were capable of fighting back – perhaps it has something to do with the feeling that attacking an opponent who is less capable than you is extremely unfair?

                To me, the fact that these people are preying on children seems to be a choice. And this is probably because children are far more defenseless. In some sense, that makes their crimes more calculated – which makes these people more inhumane – which, in one sense, makes their crimes worse. Not that these people are more murderous or that the life of a child is inherently more valuable, but in the sense that these people’s motives seem to be even more despicable.

                • The Other Weirdo

                  I understand what you are saying, but you confusing what makes the crime worse versus what makes the criminal worse. Also, I don’t necessarily agree that children, on the whole, are any more defenseless than adults are when people come after you with machetes in their hands and insanity in their brains. As the Rwandan genocide proved.

                • closetatheist

                  Ok, no the crime isn’t any worse because it was done to a child vs. and adult. It’s the same crime no matter what. I was trying to say that, regardless of logic, humans typically feel more emotional anguish when a crime has been committed towards a child. Perhaps because we imagine the perpetrator to be more predatory. Perhaps it’s because we imagine that something innocent or hopeful was lost. Think about what people might say if you posed this question: Either your mother or your daughter will die in their sleep tonight. Who would you rather it be? Now, all things being equal I’d wager most people would pick their mother. I would.

                  So although it’s not ”worse” in a logical, tangible, quantifiable way, which seems to be your point, and I agree with it. It’s often more emotionally strenuous to see a child be victimized and so the crime can feel as though it’s “worse” in an intangible way….But whatever, the bastard scum should be prosecuted and hung. Child, adult, man, woman, elderly person, invalid, christian, atheist, dentist, hairdresser, republican, democrat, member of the NRA…

                • The Other Weirdo

                  Well, maybe I’m being needlessly pedantic. Always a possibility when I’m in a mood.

                • closetatheist

                  Me too. It’s been rainy and boring with not much else to do.

  • gg

    That a large portion of these East Africans carry the albinism gene makes it doubly tragic. The magic potion you eat today may be made with YOUR child’s body tomorrow.

  • asifis

    Without knowing their history I don’t think it’s fair to call the idea that albino animals could (his word, not mine) be some sort of omen irrational. It could be based on his experience, as unlikely as that may seem to you. And by mixing the crimes of Tanzanian suppliers to potion preparers with the comments of a Mi’kmaq opens to discussion the suggestion that if albino body parts really are effective healing components that the violence would be somehow justified. It is the behaviors that are the problem, not the beliefs. And yes, beliefs matter, but they are imaginary, they are not observable.

    • tracy two crows

      Nice try at mental masturbation in a vain attempt at justification for holding onto irrational beliefs ,but it’s the beliefs CAUSING it there sparky.No way outta that. It wasn’t so long ago folks like me would be put to death by Christians as abominations,all for being Left handed. Nope,Superstitious Beliefs need to be eradicated before we can call ourselves a Civilized Species or Society.

      • asifis

        What bothered me about the post is the mixing of a harmless notion that led to no crimes that I know of, with another notion that led to horrific atrocities. I just don’t see it as having that much to do with belief. I suspect the criminals in Tanzania are motivated by money and prejudice. And I understand the money is there because of the beliefs. By all means l would support efforts to fight this, but I suspect it would be easier to fight by educating the people and providing more effective remedies, rather than trying to change their beliefs. I’m not sure what beliefs are. We can only see behaviors and actions.

        Not to long ago people like me were being put to death by the million and I don’t think it was because Hitler believed certain things about Jews, even though he may have said so.

        I agree fully with you that it would be wonderful if superstitious beliefs and ideas were eradicated. But who decides what’s real? And how does one change beliefs?

        I consider myself an atheist, and I have a huge respect and curiousity about the practice of science, but I’ve also had numerous psychic experiences, and I’m curious about all sorts of metaphysical, new age type activities, and I love to experiment with various practices. I appreciate the professional skeptics for looking closely at remarkable claims but their dogmatism so often seems a simple reflection of their nemesis, religion. And I don’t appreciate them telling me my experiences are not real. As Allan Iverson so memorably claimed, “it’s about the practice, man, practice”, not belief.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGDBR2L5kzI

  • T. Camilleri

    What a stinking discrace to human life. To think they thought haveing sex with a 6 month old baby would get rid of Aids….my god where do these people come from why do they think so primitive .
    Witch doctors what the hell…when are they going to realise that it’s all bullshit. Sure it’s what they have been lead to believe or the way they live WHATEVER wake up you people and at least try to save your kids. They are not zombies because they have white skin…

  • Mark W.

    Maybe we can reach a compromise. Could we issue hunting licenses for East African Witch doctors and sent moose hunters from N.S. to Tanzania?

  • pagansister

    I don’t even know what to say—killing a child because he/she is an albino? Obviously human life is not precious at all. I much prefer that a totally white animal is protected and not killed. Yes, that is superstition too, but a life is not taken for that superstition!


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