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
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
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.
members of the household are all feared as family ties have not been a
deterrent to the annihilation of these individuals.
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
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
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.
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:
- The Da Vinci Code
- 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,
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.