Beliefs Brian Pellot: On Freedom Culture Ethics Institutions Opinion

Does ‘religious freedom’ give Tanzanian witchdoctors the right to murder albinos?

Albino Tanzania
Two albino children in Tanzania

At least 75 Tanzanians with albinism have been killed in the past 15 years. Why? Because they are the ghosts of colonialists. Because their mothers cheated on their fathers with white men. Because their body parts are magical.

Albino Tanzania

Two albino children in Tanzania

All of these commonly held local beliefs are unfounded, but witchdoctors and bounty hunters are spinning the last one for profit.

In 2009, a complete set of albino body parts (limbs, genitals, ears, tongue, etc.) sold for about $75,000 on the blackmarket, a staggering sum in a country where most people earn just a few hundred dollars per year.

This ‘magical body parts’ myth is a new one, seemingly manufactured by witchdoctors about a decade ago to bring in more revenue. It’s that same old snake oil story, this time with consequences far more dire. Wealthy buyers are duped into believing that corpse fragments will bring good luck and more wealth. As a result, vulnerable communities are being eradicated to meet demand.

Thousands of albinos in eastern Burundi and northwest Tanzania have gone into hiding for fear of their lives since the current murder spree began in 2007. Their freedoms are evaporating. Their lives are being extinguished.

Tanzania’s government is finally taking serious steps to stop the killings. 225 witchdoctors were arrested this week after their practice was banned in January, and trials are under way to prosecute killers who have long enjoyed impunity. Despite these recent crackdowns, another albino toddler was found dismembered last month.

Albinos aren’t the only Tanzanians dying unnecessarily for supernatural causes. In October, seven people were burned alive for “witchcraft.” Such accusations are often leveled at elderly women and others with red eyes, leading to some 500 lynchings per year. In October, one of the alleged witch killers was himself a witchdoctor. The mind boggles.

Reconciling fundamental human rights can sometimes feel like a blurry balancing act. The right to life and the right to freedom of religion or belief are both enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But if practicing your beliefs involves the murder of another human being for whatever reason you’ve convinced yourself is legitimate, prepare to face the consequences. Your right to manifest a belief doesn’t trump another’s right to live. The right to life is absolute.

About the author

Brian Pellot

Brian Pellot is based in Cape Town, South Africa.

46 Comments

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  • Did… we really need an article to elaborate on why murdering albinos for their body parts is bad??

  • I don’t know how to feel about this issue.

    Are the albinos a minority that is being oppressed, or does their skin give them white privilege that they think should trump the indigenous beliefs of POC? There is a real paradox here that cannot be brushed aside with simplistic moral posturing.

  • Where is Pellot’s condemnation of abortion? Or is he going to tout the bleat that “it isn’t a human until it leaves the uterus”. In other words, the only thing that defines a human is being outside the uterus. So a bus is a human. A hydrant is a human. A manhole cover is a human. Many who pretend to be “authorities” on religion take this tack, as do so many who define themselves as “science” devotees. An eminent demonstration of cravenness on both their parts, since both claim to recognize a force beyond the machinations of society as the basis for truth, God for those who accept religion, nature for “science” devotees, yet both groups refuse to invoke either their absolute sources of truth in defining an embryo or fetus, both choose “the law” suddenly, at that point, at that level, in that issue, to trump their absolute sources!
    But, then, note my own points about abortion. Why don’t women who don’t want the baby at least take it to term and sell it through any of a number of venues for good money? If they don’t want the inconvenience of pregnancy, why do so many wait until the eighth month? And what does become of the material that comes from the abortion, the cord blood, the placenta, the stem cells, the infant tissue? Evidently, many black magic or witchcraft devotees may be making use of it! And, evidently, many abortionists may actually be paying the women handsomely for getting pregnant, then aborting so the abortionist can harvest tissue for any of a number of uses!

  • “In October, seven people were burned alive for “witchcraft.”

    And people ask me why I care what people believe.
    People who believe in God will put His requirements first – and the needs of human beings don’t count.

    Let’s abandon this nonsense.

  • I fail to see how any group consisting of witches, witchdoctors, magic charms, and human sacrifice could today be called a “religion”. At best it is an uncivilized tribe still rooted in pagan, unnatural beliefs with no basis in reality.

    It’s Africa, for heaven’s sake!

  • Besides that, spiritism and anything related to it (such as divination; magic; sorcery; spirit medium; foreteller; inquirer of the dead) is detestable in God’s eyes (Deuteronomy 18:10-12; 1 Kings 21:6; Acts 16:16-18); Galatians 5:19-21).

    Therefore, those witch doctors and their actions are NOT approved by God. Those who are albinos should continue to live, like everyone else.

    In addition, it is not the fault of people that they are born that way. It is the result of inherited sin and perfection that they are born with condition, just as it is with other conditions, such as Down’s Sydrome (such as my twin brother).

    Fortunately, persons with such conditions, even albinoism, can soon look forward to them being eliminated by God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44), and those conditions will pass away and never return (Revelation 21:1-4).

  • “At best it is an uncivilized tribe still rooted in pagan, unnatural beliefs with no basis in reality”
    As are all faith based beliefs.

  • Focus. Not about abortion. About people being murdered. Do you have a perspective that says these albinos are not humans such that their murders aren’t outrageous? If so, state it. If not, find a real basis for commenting on the article instead of attempting to make it another platform for your anti-abortion argument. But, since I’m here, your anti-abortion rants are laughable. “A bus is a human”? “Evidently …” is not evidence.

  • Can you elaborate on “It’s Africa, for heaven’s sake!”? The only things I’m taking from it is a deeply rooted superiority complex and some pretty over the top racism. But surely a reader of the Religious News Service would be above that …

  • You do know that there are religions that do not worship your God nor follow your bible? I’m not saying that I am not appalled by what is described here, but the concept espoused in this sequence of comments that a set of beliefs 1) from Africa or 2) that doesn’t subscribe to the Bible cannot be a religion is detestable. I know you’re entitled to your religious beliefs, but religious freedom doesn’t apply only to those that have the same set of beliefs as you do.

  • Yes, there are many faith-based beliefs that are based on pagan traditions (such as Christmas and Easter) and not Christian teachings.

    There are also unnatural beliefs with no basis in reality, such as in a place of eternal torment for wicked ones after they die. There is only the common grave where both and bad persons are asleep in death, aware of nothing at all (Ecclesiastes 9:5,6,10).

  • So are you saying that it really is okay to murder people because your religion says it’s a good thing to kill other people against their will?

  • I am disrupting the narrative which tells us that it is OK for white cops to kill black people in the streets for entertainment with impunity, but we have to do something about black people killing white-skin blond people in Africa for religio-ethnomedicinal purposes. I am flipping the script on you, utilizing Critical Race Theory to reverse the dominant dialectic of Western “ethics” for the purpose of decolonizing your mind!

  • It’s only racist in your mind. Africa, for all of its ancient history, is still the most uncivilized and ignorant continent on earth. It seems resistant to cultural change or evolving into a society that mimics the world around it.

    The Ancient Egyptian empire still stands as the zenith of African progress….and that ended with Cleopatra.

    It has itself and its citizens to blame for this cultural retardation, for look at the huge leaps in progress by the peoples of Europe, Asia, and the Americas……

  • James, magic and sacrifices are at the core of most religions, as are the unnatural belief systems with no basis in reality. This epitomises religion.

  • SJN,

    “I am disrupting the narrative which tells us that it is OK for white cops to kill black people in the streets for entertainment with impunity, but we have to do something about black people killing white-skin blond people in Africa”

    White cops killing unarmed black people are disregarding THE LAW AGAINST wrongful death and it is right to insist on legal punishment.

    But black Tanzanians are legally permitted to kill innocent black albinos.

    At issue is not white skin vs. black skin but THE LAWS.
    No law should endorse killing innocent people. That is why the attention is on Tanzania.

  • Last I checked, there is no magic or unnatural belief in the Judeo-Christian Faith….only mentions it as sinful practices.

    Don’t bother with a response…. I know your type’s retort by heart…….

  • “no magic or unnatural belief in Judeo-Christian Faith…”

    Oh really? Have you never read your Bible?
    I do get tired of teaching Christians what their bible preaches.

    MAGIC POTION WILL BE MADE ONLY BY THE PRIEST:

    THE PRIEST MUST CATCH TWO BIRDS AND KILL ONE BIRD TO SQUEEZE ITS BLOOD AS A MAGIC SPELL. ONLY THIS WILL RID THE HOUSE.

    “And the Priest shall kill the one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water. He shall take the cedar wood, and the hyssop, and the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird, and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times…
    But he shall let go the living bird out of the city into the open fields, and make an atonement for the house: and it shall be clean.
    (Leviticus 14:33-57)

    Magic potion according to Yahweh:
    bird blood + cedar + hyssop + scarlet = cure for evil.

    This is nonsense. Yet Jesus endorsed it all.

  • So, if some random hobo asks to crawl inside your body for 9 months, suck the nutrients out of your body, greatly impact your lifestyle, cost you money for medical expenses, cause you to miss work, possibly end up homeless, or murdered by someone who doesn’t want the hobo to exist, and then end the 9 months in a deathdefying feat that could kill you both, while ripping your genitals in two, would you agree to it? If the hobo’s life was on the line? Not so pro-life now, are we? 🙂 See, a fetus is a parasite, that cannot exist without impinging on a woman’s bodily autonomy. Demanding that pregnant women do what YOU choose with their bodies is demanding that they have less rights than a corpse. Why don’t you get your nose out of the private lives and BODIES OF WOMEN, and focus them on all the unwanted kids that are currently being beaten, molested, and killed in our foster system. Why don’t you adopt an orphan or 20 and do the world some ACTUAL good? Hell, why don’t you quit derailing the current conversation, and actually help these children, as that is what a pro LIFE person should be doing with their time. Or do their lives matter less to you than a couple of cells that no one wants?

  • “I fail to see how any group consisting of witches, witchdoctors, magic charms, and human sacrifice could today be called a “religion”. At best it is an uncivilized tribe still rooted in pagan, unnatural beliefs with no basis in reality.

    It’s Africa, for heaven’s sake!”
    Let’s take this to pieces now. To begin with, your parting words absolutely REEK of bigotry. Perhaps if the nations whose progress you consider vaunted hadn’t COLONIZED the continent and arbitrarily divided traditional tribal lands because they suited a map better, and then proceeded, post-colonialism, to rape the land and fund despots, maybe Africa would be in better shape, not that your yard stick is so great to begin with…

    Now lets address your drivel about magic and its accompanying people and items being anything BUT a religion. To begin with, paganism is, if anything, FAR more rooted in the natural world than Christianity, as its celebrations are those of the seasons and the forces of nature. What is more real to you than the natural world around you? Your made up faith? Keep in mind, people *did* exist for a long, long time before your religion was invented. They worshipped all kinds of religions, too. Moreover, the things you point to as being evidence of primitive pagan beliefs rather than a *real* religion are quite present in Christianity, as well. What is Jesus if not a human sacrifice? Duh. What is a crucifix if not a talisman, a magic charm against Satan, if the Catholic Church’s dogma on exorcism is to be believed? Your priests and nuns and pastors are no more relevant than witch doctors. The snake charmers of the American South, the healing touch of evangelicals, the holy communion of the Catholic Church, all are simply shamanic rituals, but you think they’re less primitive because YOU, oh pompous modern man, choose to believe in them? Do you really think your personal opinion trumps all of anthropology? You, sir, are a hypocrite, and a bigot, to boot.

  • James,

    Magic and sorcery are commanded by Yahweh, the supposed father of Jesus.
    Jesus insisted that only those who kept such laws
    would go to Heaven.

    There is no reason to believe any of it.

    “The Priest shall use Bird’s blood and magic chants
    to clean your house of the wicked spirits I sent to you.” – Yahweh
    (Leviticus 14:33-57)

    You may say ho hum.
    But others will see that I am correct – this superstitious nonsense must be abandoned.

  • “Does ‘religious freedom’ give Tanzanian witchdoctors the right to murder albinos?”

    Of course it does. It’s their sincere religious belief, and it is sacred. And when you advocate against the murder of albinos when these people are expressing their sincere religious belief, then all you are saying is that you are a religious bigot who hates religion. You’re oppressing them by insisting that they not have the right to murder– with their gods’ approval– anyone they choose.

    It’s exactly like a Christian being forced to provide flowers for a gay wedding. Why do you hate Jesus?

  • So you think the “witchcraft” referred to in a 12th century BC middle eastern culture is the same as the type of witchcraft practiced in Tanzania? Really? And if so, wouldn’t that mean that you support the biblical position in condemning this type of activity?

  • @Daniel,

    Jesus said:
    “Follow the Commandments..” (JOHN 1:17)
    “For truly, I say…not an iota, not a dot, will pass the law…” (Matthew 5:18-19)

    WHICH COMMANDMENTS?

    “THOU SHALT NOT SUFFER A WITCH TO LIVE” – GOD (Exodus 22:18)
    “KILL HOMOSEXUALS” – GOD (LEVITICUS 20:13)
    etc…

    “Bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King and execute them in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    Jesus is a dangerous, despicable phantom from ancient times. Not a good person at all.

  • Daniel,

    Your assertion that witchcraft is somehow not relevant to the teachings of Jesus is hogwash.

    500,000 witches have been killed in the name of your Jesus in the last 2000 years. Christianity never met a superstition it didn’t agree with.

    Jesus is one of the most wicked man-made ideas ever constructed. You are free to believe in it but don’t think it is either benign or good for you.

  • @Richard,

    Where do you think Christians ever got the idea of burning witches?
    From pagans!?

    Christianity, and the superstitious preachings of Jesus are directly responsible for witch burnings. These children are victims of Jesus nonsense.

  • Yes, Max.

    Witchcraft killings were common in the ancient world, and long preceded Christ. You can find witchcraft penalized (often by death) in the law codes of ancient Egypt and Babylonia (as far back as 1,800 years BC in the code of Hammurabi). It even continues today in non-Christian countries, such as Papua New Guinea, India, Saudi Arabia and others.

    The Twelve Tables of pagan Roman law had provisions against evil incantations and spells intended to damage cereal crops. Livy reports that in 331 BC, 170 women were executed as witches. . In 184 BC, about 2,000 people were executed for witchcraft and in 182–180 BC another 3,000 executions took place. The scale of the witch-hunts in the Roman Republic in relation to the population of Italy at the time far exceeded anything that took place during the “classical” witch-craze in Early Modern Europe.

    Wolfgang Behringer served as chair in early modern history at the University of York (UK) from 1999 to 2003, and is now professor at the Saarland University (Germany). He published “Witches and Witch-Hunts: A Global History Persecution” in 2004. He notes that persecution of witches continued in the Roman Empire until the late 4th century AD and abated only after the introduction of Christianity as the Roman state religion later in the fourth century.

    The church, in other words, inherited anti-witchcraft pogroms from Greece and Rome, and actually reduced them when it came to power. True, the church did not eradicate the evil (and in some places in Europe had later flare-ups of this tragedy, but the church actually killed less in its 2,000 year history than Greece and Rome did in a few hundred years.

    Behringer puts the total number of witches killed at around 50,000.

    Ronald Hutton revises the figure to approximately 40,000.

    To speak of 500,000 witches killed by the church is to be off by an order of 10.

  • Richard, I don’t think facts or logic sway Max too much. After all, this is a man who criticizes Christianity for going after purveyors of witchcraft, and then says “Christianity never met a superstition it didn’t agree with.” Wow.

  • @Richard –

    500,000 people have been accused of witchcraft and killed for it.
    Each of the plagues of Europe were blamed on witchcraft and TENS OF THOUSANDS of people were burned alive for it. The records from the period of the black death alone exceed 200,000 in England.

    @Brianthedad –

    Christianity never met a superstition which it didn’t believe was real. Look it up.

    To believe that a person can be a witch – is insane. This will come as news to both of you but WITCHES AREN’T REAL AND WITCHCRAFT IS 100% SUPERSTITION.</b.

    There is no such thing as a witch. All those people who were burned alive by Christians died for NO reason.

  • Yes, Brian, I believe you are right.

    First he repeats some made up figure without bothering trying to refute the only numbers which come from a scholar, which shows he is off by a factor of 10.

    Nor does he bother reply to the experts which flatly showed how foolish his main point (that Jesus somehow was the source of witch hunts).

    And he switches from “christianity never met a superstition it didn’t like” to “christianity never met a superstition it didn’t believe in”, as if those were the same thing. Never-mind the fact that most of the church fathers (like Augustine) felt that witchcraft was simply deception.

    And then he just engages in another drive-by insult (“this may come as news to both of you”) before he changes the argument.

    Hatred and logic don’t mix.

  • “Hatred and logic don’t mix.”

    Why don’t you explain that to your Jesus?

    JESUS – HATE THOSE WHO LOVE YOU
    “Hate your parents…hate your life” – Jesus (Luke 14:26)

  • @Richard,

    “THOU SHALT NOT SUFFER A WITCH TO LIVE” – GOD (Exodus 22:18)

    Your first reckless mistake is to overlook the fact that the New Testament is NOT where the decree was set forth. We are not only talking about the 50,000 to 100,000 witches burned to death during a few years of a few plagues! The entire world of Christianity has been burning witches in every country on earth – and before them, the Jews burned witches for hundreds of years!

    Number of witches killed in history?
    “… 600,000 would not shock me.”
    – Greg Laden PHD, Anthropologist & Historian, Science.com

    2.
    Your second reckless mistake is to be defending witch burning at all!
    There is no such thing as a witch – your religion is responsible for repeatedly exploding into mass murder over stupid superstions.
    Those same superstitions are clearly alive in your mind!

  • HI Max
    You said, “Your first reckless mistake is to overlook the fact that the New Testament is NOT where the decree was set forth. We are not only talking about the 50,000 to 100,000 witches burned to death during a few years of a few plagues! The entire world of Christianity has been burning witches in every country on earth – and before them, the Jews burned witches for hundreds of years!”

    Your reasoning is hard to follow, here. You were the one who tried to tie Jesus to witch hunts. Also, the code of Hammurabi predated the Torah. Are you trying to make the point that the Torah somehow influence Greek and Roman and Indian thought in this area? You would have to prove a claim like that.

    “… 600,000 would not shock me.” – Greg Laden PHD, Anthropologist & Historian, Science.com

    This is unfortunate. First, you misrepresent his credentials. To make a tally of this kind, one would need to be a historian specializing in European history. His blog says he is “a biological anthropologist and science communicator.” Greg Laden’s is not a historian (your claim notwithstanding) and his area of expertise is Africa and America. In other words, it would be fallacious to take his opinion over the European historian I quoted above, even if your quote was contextually accurate.

    But, it’s not. The first two sentences give the warning: “Please pay attention to the comments at the end of this post. Historians of the era tend to deeply disagree with what I say here.” In other words, he got pushback from actual historians. He later goes on to try to justify a higher number than they give. It does that by claiming that while perhaps only 60,00 cases are known (depending on definitions) he is going to increase that tenfold because sometimes cases are not reported. This(!) is the basis for his sentence, “If the numbers add up to 60,000, than 600,000 would not shock me.” But even he goes on the very next sentence to say, “Nor am I proposing such a large number.”

    He then tries to justify a somewhat higher number by telling the story of the Stedinger Crusade, in which he bases on a reading of Charles MacKay’s “Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions: Part I” published in 1841. As one of the commentators points out (and Laden is not able to answer): “Your passage on the Stedinger Crusades is complete rubbish. They were attacked as heretics not witches and sensible sources give the total death toll as 5000 and even that is probably too high as an estimate of the entire population of a largely marsh area in the 13th century. 19th century history books are unfortunately often closer to being fantasy novels than real academic history.” In other words, Laden’s exhibit A fails to substantiate his point.

    To sum up, you mis-state his qualifications, you take his words out of context, you fail to see the blatant weakness in his argument pointed out on the page, and you still haven’t answered the actual expert who said that witch hunting predated Christianity, and only slowed down after the Church began to have more influence.

    You said, “Your second reckless mistake is to be defending witch burning at all! There is no such thing as a witch – your religion is responsible for repeatedly exploding into mass murder over stupid superstions[sic]. Those same superstitions are clearly alive in your mind!”

    So your argument is that anyone who takes you to task for baseless assertions, distorting history, lying about credentials, changing your argument when it is shown to be completely illogical and for generally acting with hate and not reason, is, therefore, defending witch burnings? Really? If you claim 8 million Jews were killed by atheist regimes in the 20th century, and I correctly point out it was actually 6 million, does that mean I’m justifying killing Jews?

    I’m done here.

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