At What Cost: Superstition Leads To Slaying Of Albinos In Tanzania

Imagine being hunted for your body parts, by those who would carry them as lucky charms.  If you lived in Tanzania, and had albinism, this could be your reality.

I was stunned by the news of horrific albino slayings sometime last week.   The chilling nature of these events inspired me to start writing a short story based, in part, on the terrors of being a Tanzanian albino.  To this day, these people are being hunted for their body parts.  Their organs, especially the genitals, limbs, breasts, fingers and tongue, are sold to witchdoctors for a substantial sum.  These parts are then used in the making of potions and good luck charms, which are believed to bring about prosperity of the buyers.  In recent years, these items are experiencing a surge in popularity, particularly among miners and fishermen, leading to a massive outbreak of attacks and albino murders in Tanzania and neighboring countries.

It seems that albinos, with their conspicuous and unusual appearance, are considered mystical, ‘ghostlike’ beings in Tanzania, and are often suspected of witchcraft by the rural populace.  Nonetheless I find it hard to believe that so many people are willing to purchase the body parts of slain human beings in some kind of superstitious ‘get rich quick’ scheme.  This speaks volumes on the terrible greed of humanity.  Fortunately, this sort of thing is rare enough to shock and horrify most of the world.

If you’d like more information on this crisis, here are some links to news stories:

BBC News: Tanzania Fear Over Albino Killings

Ground Report: Superstitious Albino Killings In Tanzania Must Stop

Now Public: Albino Killings In Tanzania

ABC News: Journey To Tanzania: Reporter Exposes Epidemic of Albino Killings


The Plague Doctor’s Garb

Indigo may have thought he was just a man in an unpainted Venetian nose mask this Halloween.  But in fact, he was following in the footsteps of Medieval Europe’s finest Plague Doctors.


Considered an early form of hazmat suit, a plague doctor’s clothing consisted of:

•A wide-brimmed black hat worn close to the head. At the time, a wide-brimmed black hat would have been identified a person as a doctor, much the same as how nowadays a hat may identify chefs, soldiers, and workers. The wide-brimmed hat may have also been used as partial shielding from infection.

• A primitive gas mask in the shape of a bird’s beak. A common belief at the time was that the plague was spread by birds. There may have been a belief that by dressing in a bird-like mask, the wearer could draw the plague away from the patient and onto the garment the plague doctor wore. The mask also included red glass eyepieces, which were thought to make the wearer impervious to evil. The beak of the mask was often filled with strongly aromatic herbs and spices to overpower the miasmas or “bad air” which was also thought to carry the plague. At the very least, it may have dulled the smell of unburied corpses, sputum, and ruptured bouboules in plague victims.

• A long, black overcoat. The overcoat worn by the plague doctor was tucked in behind the beak mask at the neckline to minimize skin exposure. It extended to the feet, and was often coated head to toe in suet or wax. A coating of suet may have been used with the thought that the plague could be drawn away from the flesh of the infected victim and either trapped by the suet, or repelled by the wax. The coating of wax likely served as protection against respiratory droplet contamination, but it was not known at the time if coughing carried the plague. It was likely that the overcoat was waxed to simply prevent sputum or other bodily fluids from clinging to it.

• A wooden cane. The cane was used to both direct family members to move the patient, other individuals nearby, and possibly to examine patients without directly touching them.

• Leather breeches. Similar to waders worn by fishermen, leather breeches were worn beneath the cloak to protect the legs and groin from infection. Since the plague often tended to manifest itself first in the lymph nodes, particular attention was paid to protecting the armpits, neck, and groin. It is not known how often or widespread plague doctors were, or how effective they were in treatment of the disease. It’s likely that while offering some protection to the wearer, they may have actually contributed more to the spreading of the disease than its treatment, in that the plague doctor unknowingly served as a vector for infected fleas to move from host to host.

(Plague doctor info gleaned from Wikipedia.  Pictures collected from random sources, especially Deviantart.)