“Did you girls see that albino, quick spit on your left breast 3 times”, my cousins would say. “What”? I mean, sure my sisters and I were born and spent our early years in the U.S. but we went back to the Ivory Coast to visit family quite often. What had we missed? “Spit on your left breast 3 times or you will have an albino baby”! Ah! There it was… that superstition. Something we Africans are all too familiar with. And though my sisters and I shook our heads and called them crazy, we couldn’t help but pull our collars down while no one was looking and quickly spit, not once, not twice but 3 times on our left breast…just in case it was true, you know. This act was pretty innocent considering no one else had seen us or overheard our conversation, and yet, these are the sorts of beliefs that create such disillusion in people that they start to act negatively towards others they may deem “different”. I didn’t know how bad it was in some countries until I stumbled across a documentary on Africa investigates called The Spell of the Albino. I was shocked by what I saw. The documentary recounts the plight of albinos living in Tanzania. In this country, many still believe that albinos have some sort of magical powers: “they never die”, or other such superstitious beliefs. Since clearly that is not the case, what causes Albinism?
As I was growing up in Africa, I was intrigued by Albinos since I had never really seen an albino while living in the U.S. But I never really knew what actually caused them to look lighter than the rest of us. So recently, after a bit of research, here’s what I learned. Albinism is: “a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes due to absence or defect of tyrosinase, a copper-containing enzyme involved in the production of melanin. Albinism results from inheritance of recessive gene alleles and is known to affect all vertebrates, including humans.”
Albinos are more prone to vision problems, sunburn and infections because of their deficiencies in melanin and weaker immune systems. Though overall they are just as healthy as the rest of us. “Most forms of albinism are the result of the biological inheritance of genetically recessive alleles (genes) passed from both parents of an individual, though some rare forms are inherited from only one parent. There are other genetic mutations, which are proven to be associated with albinism. All alterations, however, lead to changes in melanin production in the body. The chance of offspring with albinism resulting from the pairing of an organism with albinism and one without albinism is low. However, because organisms can be carriers of genes for albinism without exhibiting any traits, albinistic offspring can be produced by two non-albinistic parents.” Nothing about special powers, sorry.
The Spell of the Albino sheds light on the growing demand for albino body parts to perform witchcraft. Some witch doctors believe that mixing albino bones or other body parts into their “potions” will help cure people of their ills or at least that is the way they present their miracle product. The thing is that without demand, there would be no more need to supply such a thing, so raising awareness about the issue is of utmost importance. Innocent lives depend on it.
In one case, a child was attacked in his own home; his arm hacked off by a man he’d just had dinner with, while his father stood by and watched! I can’t imagine what it must be like not only to suffer the physical pain but the emotional pain of knowing that your own parent agreed to such a barbaric act in exchange for money or food. In another case, local gold miners expressed their belief that albino bones would bring them luck in finding riches. Is poverty then also in part to blame? Perhaps, but really no situation justifies this sort of behavior.
It was a tad reassuring to see that the courts in Tanzania are starting to crack down on this issue and ensure that justice is served for these innocent victims. Investigators are also helping put witchdoctors who perform or promote these acts behind bars. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing an investigator, posing as a client beat down a witchdoctor with a fake albino arm after he admitted to sometimes using albino body parts in his potions (Can we say caught in the act?).
Yet still, far too many albinos are living in fear in their own communities. There needs to be more effort from government and the police in addressing this matter. It was mentioned that because of this issue, since 2008 in Tanzania, 62 albinos were killed, 16 got their limbs amputated and 12 were exhumed. This can’t go on! No demand, no supply. There is nothing wrong with being superstitious. Heck, we all are in our own ways. But when this affects the well-being of others, when it hurts innocent people, it has got to end. Here’s hoping that Tanzania and other countries (because Tanzania isn’t the only one) performing these acts based on ridiculous beliefs put an end to it NOW. Enough is enough!