Albino Body Parts Traded for Use in Magic in Tanzania and Beyond

untitled.pngAlbinos in Tanzania and other areas of Africa live in fear of having their limbs hacked off or being murdered so their body parts may be used by witchdoctors. I have known this for some time. Last night, I read this article from NPR in which a Tanzanian diplomat tries to minimize the problem. As a person with albinism, a practitioner of magic, and a human being, it had me shaking with rage. Someone here is clearly lying through their face. My guess is it isn’t the people who have had their limbs hacked off.

In particular:

“There’s also a disagreement about the meaning of the term ‘zeruzeru,’ a Kiswahili term for albinos. Ash says the term carries the connotation of a worthless, ghostlike creature. Manongi (the Tanzanian diplomat) says that’s a lie. It’s just a word, he says, and all it means is albino.”

Sound familiar? What other words can we think of that are “just words” people are told not to get so upset about?

When asked specifically about this, an albino Tanzanian who had her arm hacked off while she slept in her bed, answered thusly:

“Mkola has a soft voice and sits with her one arm wrapped around her chest. She doesn’t speak English, but she hears the word ‘zeruzeru’ when I ask what it means to her. She tenses when I say it, even before our interpreter begins translating. ‘In my village, they called me “birimiru”’ which means a white goat,’ she says. ‘The word zeruzeru is like that,’ she says. ‘It’s like they don’t see people with albinism as human. It feels terrible. I have a name, so why do they call me zeruzeru or birimiru? Why wouldn’t they just call me by my name?’”

But what’s in a name, right? People who are lesser should readily allow themselves to be dehumanized.

The Tanzanian diplomat also offers this gem:

“Manongi has another point of view: ‘Implying that we are so uneducated, we need interventions from abroad, there’s nothing more colonial than that. I’m reminded of the “White Man’s Burden,” this attitude that only foreigners can enlighten people engulfed in ignorance and helplessness. We are far better than that.’”

Red herring much? He drags out the colonial boogie in hopes people will be so devoted to political correctness and cultural relativism that they will somehow overlook the fact that there IS an albino body parts trade in his country, people ARE being maimed and killed for no other reason than the color of their skin, they live in constant fear, and, by testament of the people who actually live this horror, the government was doing NOTHING about it until it was brought to worldwide attention and external pressure was applied.

As a matter of fact, according to the article, Ikponwosa Ero, “the U.N. independent expert on albinism and also an official for Under the Same Sun, said in a statement in October that attacks on people with albinism in Africa increase during election campaigns.”

Now, if albino body parts are supposed to be especially good for luck, why do you suppose this occurs? And why do you suppose elected officials might not be too keen on exposing the problem?

The diplomat denies this and states that the internal Tanzanian government statistics show the opposite trend.

Gee, really?

Once again, someone is lying through their face, and I suspect it isn’t the people whose limbs have been hacked off.

Shaking. Shaking with rage.

I am reminded again of how incredibly lucky I am to have been born into this country at this point in history. The shaming, prejudice  discrimination, and difficulties I have borne for my skin color were and are tough to take sometimes, but whatever I have felt in my life is but a drop in the ocean compared to what these people suffer.

May their gods watch over them in the long, dark night.



About M. Ashley

Essayist and poet, my work has been rejected by some of the finest journals in America. Fortunately, it also gets accepted from time to time and has appeared in equally fine journals such as Word Riot, Inlandia, Brew City Magazine, and SageWoman among others.. In 2002, I was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize for Vanderbilt University. For no good reason, I possess an unnecessarily dark humor which is why being third generation California Inland Empirian delights me so. My gods are weird. I once received $350 for writing a smartassed essay on “why the wise use of water is important in my daily life”. I am undoubtedly the Greek god Hermes’ special snowflake. I’m pretty sure I got into college via a series of fortuitous clerical errors. When I had to grow up and get a real job, I decided against it and stayed a writer. I have worked many odd—and I mean odd—jobs to support my habit: Commercial writer for country music hopefuls, resume massager, WalMart fitting room attendant and switchboard operator, telephone psychic.
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