Jan 15

I told the Witch Doctor

Quality Ingredients Make Quality Magic

It is not funny; but if I don't inject some levity into this I am going to get to angry to continue.

70 albino's killed in Tanzania in the last 3 years. Most recently, Dec. 27, a group of armed witch doctors took a 4 year old girl. Why? Spell components. Apparently the body parts of albinos hold particular potency, and with national elections coming up this year apparently the demand for blessings, and curses, from the witch doctors are growing.

In Tanzania 1 in every 1429 births is albino according to a 2009 Red Cross report. That is a higher rate than anywhere else in the world. These children are often seen as cursed, the product of infidelity, or possession by the ghost of an European; resulting in abandonment or out right murder. How often this happens cannot be verified, but research shows that its far to common.

Witch Doctors, sangoma (a Zulu word, but used throughout Southern Africa), are a common part of life in Tanzania, and are consulted for healing and fortune telling by people from all walks of life and both Christians and Muslims. Sangoma believe in ngoma, a type of ancestor worship mixed with a tradition of herbalism and other folk remedies. The sangoma channel the ancestors to work their magic through the efficacy of natural ingredients. Most use a sacred hut, or at least a temporary sacred space, to channel while using the symbolism of their community as ingredients. Snuff, incense, and animal sacrifice is used to appease and draw the attention of the ancestors.

The Al Jazeera English program Africa Investigates has an excellent episode on albinos in Africa and the body part trade. Nothing I can say to add to that. However, some people are likely to find it disturbing; given that it depicts the terrible aftermath of things done to children I had to skip around in it. It is about half an hour.

Banning the witch doctors may cut back on these practices, but there will be complications. First is the fact that so many people visit them, and not all of them (or even most?) are part of this horror. People will continue to seek their guidance and it will only serve to make people who help their community into criminals and drive the guilty into hiding. Second, scarcity breeds demand. If attacks on albinos become less common it will simply drive up the value for those willing to provide their parts, perhaps creating a bigger problem as professional criminals become involved.

Banning a faith over the bad practices of a few is not the answer. Only education and vigilance are going to make any kind of lasting impact.

What would I tell the Witch Doctor?

Do not conjure what you cannot put down.

We are watching.

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