Witch Doctors in East Africa Arrested in Albino Killing

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Last week an albino woman in a rural area of the East African country of Tanzania was murdered for her body parts. Two witch doctors have been arrested in connection with the death, though it’s not clear whether the pair committed the crime themselves or hired others to mutilate the woman.

According to a news report from Australia’s Skynews:

“Munghu Lugata, 40, was killed after attackers hacked off her left leg above the knee and chopped off three fingers on Monday… Charles Mkumbo, police chief of the Simiyu region in northwestern Tanzania, said a man and a woman, Gudawa Yalema and Shiwa Masalu, had been arrested.” Under the Same Sun, a foundation created to help albino victims in Africa, issued a statement adding that “‘Her grossly mutilated body was discovered outside of her home by her own niece’ and that ‘more than 70 albinos have been killed since 2000, with a similar number suffering violent attacks.’”

In Africa, witch doctors are consulted not only for healing diseases, but also for placing (or removing) magic curses or bringing luck in love or business. The belief and practice of using body parts for magical ritual or benefit is called muti. Muti murders are particularly brutal, with knives and machetes used to cut and hack off limbs, breasts, and other body parts from their living victims.

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Vicky Ntetema, a Tanzanian journalist who went undercover for a 2008 BBC News investigation into this practice, explained that the murdered albinos’ “bodies are left limbless and sometimes with a huge hole in the neck, from where blood would have been drained. Families not only grieve because of the loss of their loved ones but are also shocked at the state in which the bodies are left by these murderers. As if that is not enough, they have to bury their dead in the house, guard the graves on their farm and or build them with stones, metal bars and cement to prevent the killers from stealing the body parts.”

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Though the two witch doctors accused of Lugata’s death have been arrested, many Africans believe that police, politicians and judges are hesitant to pursue muti murders because belief in witchcraft is so widespread. It’s possible that some of the judges believe they gained their positions in part because of magic.

Last year the second-largest hospital in the Southern African country of Swaziland was accused of operating a black market in human body parts used in magic spells. The situation for albinos in East Africa has improved in recent years, and most traditional healers there do not engage in muti. Still, the belief that body parts can aid in magic rituals has been a part of African culture for centuries, and such superstitions remain a very real threat.

Photo: An albino woman in Tanzania carries ceramic pots she sells for a living in Ukerewe, an island on Lake Victoria, near the town of Mwanza, a safe haven compared to other parts of Tanzania. Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

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