For Tanzania’s albinos, superstition leads to violence

People with albinism in rural Tanzania live in fear of attacks by those who believe their body parts will bring them riches.

Zainab Muhamed’s daughters play in their Dar es Salaam home, where the family fled after unfamiliar men attempted to enter their previous home in southern Tanzania. One year ago, a different group of men arrived here demanding to see one of the daughters, presumably with sinister motives relating to her albinism. (Jacob Kushner/GlobalPost)

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — One October night in Tanzania’s southernmost Mtwara region, a group of men with their faces covered pounded on the wooden door to Zainab Muhamed’s home and told her to open up. They would not say what they wanted — but it was obvious.

Muhamed had just given birth to the second of two daughters with albinism — a genetic abnormality resulting in an absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes that makes the bearer appear extremely pale.

Today, many in rural Tanzania still believe that procuring the arm, leg, fingers, skin or hair of an albino person and brewing it into a potion will make them rich. Tanzania’s deep-rooted superstitions about albinos surfaced in 2006 as a wave of violence against them erupted across rural parts of the country.

Since then, “these myths have resulted in 71 documented deaths in Tanzania, 38 attacks including deaths in other African countries, 32 attempted murders with some victims left mutilated in Tanzania and other parts of Africa,” particularly Burundi and Kenya, according to a 2012 report by the albino advocacy group Under the Same Sun.

Read the full article as it appeared at GlobalPost and NBC News.