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June 13, 2016
by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW

The Secret Human Slaughter of Albinos

June 13, 2016 02:54 by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW

The United Nations has declared Monday, June 13 to be International Albinism Day. Some may know what that is. Few know why that is.          

There is a pervading belief within the continent of Africa that to be an albino is to possess supernatural powers. This has led to atrocities on this population that remind of ancient beliefs and rituals.           

The situation is particularly dire in Malawi, where the U.N has warned that albino residents will become extinct. Tanzania is also particularly dangerous for these individuals.            

It is believed that possession of body parts of an individual with albinism will lead to wealth and luck. Once obtained these corporeal components are often sold to witch doctors who then use them to make potions that are coveted by a large segment of the country’s inhabitants.           

Graves have been robbed; newborns slain. In Eastern Africa a woman named Lebeka was persuaded by relatives to leave her albino newborn alone in a hut, dressed in black. Lebeka did as she was told. Men came in the night, amputated the infant’s legs, slit it’s throat and drank the blood, believing in a transference of power.           

Relatives and members of the household are all feared as family ties have not been a deterrent to the annihilation of these individuals.            

Other beliefs connected to this abomination are that albinos have bones filled with gold and that having sex with an albino will cure HIV (machilisto). This has led to an ever-increasing incidence of rape.           

In southern Africa mothers have been accused of having sex with a tokolosh (evil spirit); a white man. Thus, women may kill their own babies in an effort to avoid stigma. Some of these mothers believe they have been bewitched.           

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the police lack adequate training and skills. Those in the judicial system lack knowledge of the relevant laws.           

Albinos who have managed to stay alive face further, serious threats. First, due to the heat from the African sun, they are extremely vulnerable to skin cancer and eye problems. It appears that neither protection from the sun nor educational material is  available to this group.           

The fear of kidnapping remains throughout the life of an individual with albinism. Thus, many are afraid to walk the streets day or night. Many lack education because they are fearful of leaving home, or, when they were young children, their mothers were afraid to let them go out in public.

Part of the problem is that in Central and East Africa body parts from living individuals are preferred. The belief is that “fresher” organs are more potent. It is also thought, in some areas, that the louder the individual being attacked screams the more powerful the magic.           

In contrast, off the coast of Panama there are groups of people, called Guna, with albinism, who live in areas like the San Blas Islands that are between Panama and Columbia. The albinos of Panama are venerated as children of the moon. They tend to play outside in the moonlight because of their vulnerability to the sun.           

It is believed that the first albino gunas came from the god (baba) Mago, who is the father of the sun. They are well cared for because there is the conviction that those who look after them arrive at a special place in heaven. It is the job of the albino guna to defend the moon from the dragon that tries to eat it (the moon) at times of lunar eclipse. They perform this duty by firing arrows into the air that will slay the dragon. In fact, at times of lunar eclipse the children of the moon are the only ones allowed outside.           

The difference between the albinos of Africa and Panama is what is believed about them.  The lesson here is that just because someone believes something doesn’t mean that it’s true.           

The American film industry has not helped the cause of those with albinism as they are frequently portrayed as villains.  Between 1960 and 2006 there were 68 films in which there were “evil albinos”. Consider the following movies:

  • Silas                
  • The Da Vinci Code
  • Bosie              
  • Cold Mountain
  • The Albino     
  • The Princess Bride

This mostly unknown endangered species in Africa, it is felt should be protected from extinction.  International Albinism Day under the auspices of the United Nations hopes to shelter this population. Many countries, including African countries, are planning events. The hope is that the slaughter will be abated through attention and education. 


 Albinism Fellowship of Australia. (n.d.). International Albinism Awareness Day. Retrieved June 10, 2016.

Benson, M. (2014, April 16). Albinism, Witchcraft, & Superstition in East Africa. Retrieved June 10, 2016.

Chard, M. (2014, March 2). 5 Film Albinos (& Everything that's wrong with them). Retrieved June 10, 2016. 

Gondwe, G. (2016, June 7). Malawi Sees Surge in Attacks on Albinos; Victims Speak Out. Retrieved June 10, 2016. 

Karimi, F. (2016, May 1). Malawi's Albinos at Risk of Total Extinction U.N. Warns. Retrieved June 10, 2016.

Mohan, M. (2016, June 4). Challenging Africa's Albino Sterotypes. Retrieved June 10, 2016.

Palnikar, S., Dr. (2014, September 6). Albinism/ Hypopigmentation/Albinos. Retrieved June 10, 2016. 

Sim, D. (2015, June 11). Panama: The Islands Home to Hundreds of Albinos Who Must Hide From the Tropical Sun. Retrieved June 10, 2016. 

Killing Spree of Albinos Fuelled by Ritual Practice & Policing Failures. (2016, June 7). Retrieved June 10, 2016.

About the Author

Ruth Gordon Ruth Gordon, MA/MSW/LCSW

A practical approach to problems encountered in daily life. A confidential and comfortable atmosphere in which we will use humor to help you gain perspective on current concerns. Enhance your skills for creative problem solving.

Ruth Gordon has a clinical practice in Naples, FL

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