Albinos Hunted in Tanzania and Malawi


albino person missing a limb lying on a bed covered in quilts

Tragically, albinos are being hunted like animals in Tanzania and Malawi. The limbs of people with albinism are believed to bring happiness, luck, health, and prosperity, according to witch doctors who use the body parts for amulets and rituals [1]. Their limbs are worth thousands of dollars, while whole bodies can be sold for $75,000 [2]. This, unfortunately, attracts ‘bounty hunters’ to abduct, mutilate, and kill. It has been reported that even some families of albinos are trading their loved ones for money and influence.

Since 2006, there has been 74 murders, 59 attacks with survivors, and 16 robbed graves in Tanzania [11], however, many more undocumented incidences have occurred. These numbers also don’t account of indices in other countries, such as Malawi. 

What is Albinism?

Albinism is a hereditary condition that limits the body’s production of melanin and causes a lack of pigmentation (color) in the hair, skin, and eyes. It increases the risk of skin cancer and eye damage for those affected [3]

Tanzania has the highest population of albinos in the world, affecting one in 1,400 people. Experts suspect incest in the rural communities to be the major cause of this statistic.[4] 

According to Al-Shymaa Kway-Geer, an albino member of parliament, there are 6977 registered albinos in Tanzania. However, it is believed there may be up to 17000 undocumented. [5]

Who is the Enemy?

A 38-year old woman was attacked in her sleep by her husband and four other men, while her eight-year-old daughter watched. Shocking as it is, this is a common occurrence.

Joseph Torner, who campaigns for albino rights, puts it plainly:

“What kind of war are we fighting if parents and family do this? Who can we trust? You do not know who is your enemy.” [6]

Gilbert Daire woke up in the middle of the night from the sound of drilling against his wall. He immediately thought of the hunters coming for his body parts. His wife screamed and brought their neighbors to his aid. However, Daire no longer feels safe in his own home. He worries about the hunters returning.

Since people with albinism are so visible in their communities, they are forced to hide in their homes to avoid the risk of being hunted. It seems that even there, as Daire feels, they are not safe.

Attacks are not quiet night hunts. Homes may be invaded in broad daylight. Children are snatched from their mothers walking them to school. Family members — fathers, uncles, boyfriends — can often involved in these crimes.

Bodies are sometimes found later without hands, feet, genitals, skin, breasts, eyes, or hair, depending on what spells were cast.

Child Victims

Children are the most vulnerable to abduction, being easy targets for hunters.

Pendo Emmanuelle Nundi was four years old when she was taken from her home this past December. Her father and uncle were suspected in aiding her capture, especially since her father waited half an hour to report the attack, even though neighbors were nearby to help. Although the police offered a reward equivalent to over $1400 USD, she hasn’t been found.

Mwigulu Matonange was 10 when two men attacked him on his way back from school. They chopped off his arm and ran off. 

“I was held down like a goat about to be slaughtered,” he told IPP Media.

Toddler Whitney Chilumpha’s teeth and clothes were found in a neighboring village after her kidnapping. The child herself was never found.

Nine-year-old Harry Mokishini’s head—and only his head—was recovered by the police. For teenage David Fletcher, his body was found without hands or feet.

Why Hunt Albinos?

Deprose Muchena, a spokesman for Amnesty International, reports that cultural traditions persist in the rural communities where education is limited or nonexistent, superstitions are rampant, unemployment is high, and proper resources about albinism is not available. 

Women who birth children with albinism are often shunned by the community and their own husbands who accuse them of infidelity with a white man. They may believe the child is a ghost of European colonists. Overall, the baby is seen as a bad omen and may fall victim to infanticide.

Some people believe people with albinism contain magical powers and their body parts are crucial ingredients for spells for fortune, wealth, or power. Others believe albinos are not human, their only value is monetary, and their bones contain gold. 

“It’s a readiness to believe in mythical expectations about how you create wealth,” Muchena said. “These are false, deep-seated beliefs that need to be eliminated in society. These beliefs feed on ignorance from the lack of education that afflicts a number of people in Malawi, particularly in rural areas.”

According to Muchena, nobody was convicted for the last 20 albino slayings in the last three years due to poor policing and an inefficient criminal justice system. [7]

Action Against the Persecution

The good news is that things are changing, albeit slowly. For instance, in March of this year, 65 witchdoctors in Tanzania were arrested recently for ritual killing at least 10 children. [8]

The inspector general of police, Simon Sirro, has ordered every traditional healer to obtain a license.

“We have also requested other institutions like religious leaders and politicians to help us,” he said. [7]

The United Nations has increased funding and awareness campaigns to reduce the violence against albinos in Africa.

“Funding and campaigns to put the plight of albinos in the spotlight was starting to pay off, said Peter Ash, founder of Under the Same Sun, a charity for people with albinism. 

Attacks in Tanzania dropped to six last year from 20 in 2010. “For us, that’s progress,” Ash told a United Nations event on the fifth annual International Albinism Awareness Day.

However, there is still a lot of work to be done.

“Albinism, poverty, extreme discrimination go hand in hand in many countries,” said Stephan Bognar, executive director of the New York Dermatology Group Foundation. He calls for more dermatologists to care for the albino population. He cautions that their lives are still at high risk.


According to its permanent representative at the United Nations, Kenya spent about $7 million for health care, protective clothing and free sunscreen to people with albinism.

Malawi has also made major strides. According Perks Ligoya, Malawi’s ambassador to the United Nations, it has toughened its laws and punishments, waged public awareness programs, created a database of people with albinism, and plans to build about 200 protective homes nationwide. [9]

A documentary has been released about people with albinism called In the Shadow of the Sun. It follows two albino men fighting fear and prejudice in Tanzania. [10]

For more detailed information on the persecution of albinos please read this advocacy brochure published by Human Rights Watch

The post Albinos Hunted in Tanzania and Malawi appeared first on The Hearty Soul.


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