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Home Indian History & Culture The Traditional Healers of Malawi Deny Link to Albino Killings

The Traditional Healers of Malawi Deny Link to Albino Killings

The ban will not go into effect until the plaintiffs pay to publish the injunction in local media for seven consecutive days

  • Traditional healers, known locally as herbalists, say they will challenge the ruling
  • In Malawi, it is common to consult herbalists for ailments such as mental illness, epilepsy and impotence
  • The ban will not go into effect until the plaintiffs pay to publish the injunction in local media for seven consecutive days

The high court in Malawi has banned so-called witch doctors in a bid to reduce demand for albino body parts. Malawi’s albino association has praised the ruling, but traditional healers have vowed to fight it, saying they are not involved in magic or murder.

The high court’s ruling last week stemmed from a complaint filed by three residents of the city of Mzuzu in northern Malawi. One of them said she paid a witch doctor a lot of money after he promised a charm that would make her ex-lover take her back.

At least 20 of the 60 albinos who fled their homes in rural areas to seek protection in and around the eastern Burundian town of Ruyigi are still living under police guard in improvised shelters. Ten men implicated in the trade in albino body parts for use as talismans are currently in the town’s central prison awaiting trial. As in its near neighbour, Tanzania’s Kigoma region, the Burundi Red Cross (BRC) Ruyigi branch played a lead role in coordinating the spontaneous local humanitarian response to the albino emergency last year, providing food, mosquito nets, clothes, building materials for toilets and moral support to the shelters. The BRC is now seeking external support for a broader operation to help reintegrate albinos into mainstream society and reduce their acute vulnerability to hunters, skin cancer, and educational and social marginalization. The picture shows Marie Niyukuri and her albino son, Ephreim, 7, who has an albino sister and eight black siblings. A suspected albino-hunter last year rode his bike straight at Ephreim in an apparent attempt to fake a road accident and make off with the boy’s body. But Ephreim was pulled back by his non-albino friends, and his attacker narrowly escaped being lynched on the spot by vigilant neighbours, jumpy since a small albino boy was snatched and killed in the neighbouring district. Image source: thecircular.org
At least 20 of the 60 albinos who fled their homes in rural areas to seek protection in and around the eastern Burundian town of Ruyigi are still living under police guard in improvised shelters. Image source: thecircular.org

“One of the clients was complaining that the source of the deaths of albinos in the country is these witch doctors because what they do is that they prescribe body parts of albinos, like bones,” said George Kadzipatike, the lawyer for the complainants.

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Those false claims have led to an alarming uptick in attacks on albinos in Malawi in the past two years.

The judge issued an injunction against what he called “witch doctors, traditional healers, charm sellers, fortune tellers and magicians,” and ads for their services.

The ban will not go into effect until the plaintiffs pay to publish the injunction in local media for seven consecutive days.

Herbalists’ response

Traditional healers, known locally as herbalists, say they will challenge the ruling. They say they are not involved in magic or the trafficking of albino body parts.

“To us, it is unfair because there is no way we can combine human body [parts] and something which is going to be consumed,” said Robins Zaniko, the general secretary for the International Traditional Medicine Council of Malawi. “Because what we mainly give out to people is traditional medicine, which is consumable. We give people [medicine] to drink, to eat so that they can be cured from their various diseases.”

Albinistic girl in New Guinea. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Albinistic girl in New Guinea. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

He says no herbalist has been among those arrested in connection with recent albino killings.

Timothy Mtambo, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, says banning all herbalists is not the answer.

“You can’t say we are banning everyone,” he said. “I would say we should have found mechanisms to make sure that we deal with those that are suspected and prove that [they] are responsible, rather than making a decision which is wholesale.”

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In Malawi, it is common to consult herbalists for ailments such as mental illness, epilepsy and impotence.

“There are times when we go to the hospitals [and] they tell us that there is no medication, so we instead go to the herbalists,” said Mbayani resident Enock Chigalu.

At least 18 people with albinism have been killed since November 2014, and five more are missing, according to an Amnesty International report released this month. Amnesty says police have not done enough to investigate the crimes, and the punishments doled out are too lenient. (VOA)

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