|This photo was taken from a video which was too graphic to be linked.|
For anyone who read my post, I advise rereading it. I did some editing and it is more intelligible than it was previously. I'll have to look over my work better than I did before, and now have someone reading over posts before they are submitted. Anyway, onto the crazy shit that is going on in Africa.
Africa is a continent in need of some serious skepticism. I'm not sure they are ready to accept any, but there is a real need. I know this post will be a harsh generalization and I'm alright with that. Not everyone in Africa is guilty of what will be stated below, but too many people are, far too many.
A couple years ago, I was unaware of almost anything that happened in Africa, but then I started hearing about penis shrinking sorcerers and lynchings. Needless to say this was interesting enough to pique my interest. Apparently, mass penis shrinking delusions (Known as Koro) originated in Asian nations and has spread, becoming prolific enough to be included in the 4th edition of the DSM.
I found the proposed definition of a Koro on the American Journal of Psychiatry online and it says that, "Koro [is], a culture-specific disorder consisting of complaints of genital retraction and fear of death associated with genital retraction, has been recognized in Asian cultures in single cases and in epidemic proportions."
The use of the word epidemic is not an exaggeration on the part of the people who proposed the definition. Due, to the weird, interesting and risque nature of Koro it has been pretty well covered and a little searching online turns up quite a few different incidents. If your interested here is one from the Congo where 13 people were arrested while there are others that took place in Benin, Ghana, and Nigeria that were on a similar scale.
While the areas are different the incidents have the same pattern.
1. There is an underlying belief in sorcery and the specific understanding that penis, and even female breasts or vaginas can be shrunk. The belief is so prevalent that people can been seen, discretely, or not so discretely walking while also holding on to their gender specific private areas.
2. This mindset leads people to be worried and suspecting, and it only seems to take one person yelling, "My penis has been stolen!" to bring together a mob to attempt to find the person responsible.
3. The mob then forms and looks for anyone that fits their conception of what a sorcerer would be. In the Congo an apparent sign was someone wearing gold rings.
4. The mob then lynches the person who had been accused which often results in that person being put to death through any of a variety of horrible methods. This usually happens before the authorities can get a lid on the situation, and it has resulted in quite a few deaths.
In short many people in African countries live in fear of their genitals being shrunken, and will kill anyone accused of the act on the spot.
After learning about Koro's I could tell you that Africans are also blaming invisible telepathic bigfeet for the lack of rain during times of drought and it would seem reasonable. The fact is that it just continues to get stranger and more violent from this point on.
The second problem that I recently learn about in Africa is what is happening to albinos. ABC news gives a good summery of what it is like to be an albino in Africa through the story of 14 year old Joyce Charles of Tanzania. Now it would be hard enough to be so different in a tolerant environment, but that is far from what Tanzania is as "In Tanzania, like most of sub-Saharan Africa, people with the hereditary condition are often thought of as having supernatural powers, which makes them a target." As you could see with what happens to people who are perceived to have the power of penis shrinking, being thought to have supernatural powers in Africa isn't a good thing.
Witch-doctors want the body parts because they are believed to increase the powers of the potions they make. Aljareeza tells the story of a man trying to sell an albino's body for 263,000 dollars and while this was at the high end of what someone would pay according to the other numbers I saw it does shows the demand for those unfortunate people. Joyce experienced that craving first hand when the body part hunters came for her. She, like other albino people in Africa, now have to be accompanied at all times.
The BBC notes how in Burundi a six year old's body was found without her arms, legs and head. That unfortunate person was the 6th albino to be found that way between September and November of 2008. Aljareeza gives further information notifying that at least 53 people have been killed there in the last 3 years. While, according to the Red Cross, at minimum 56 albino people have been killed in the last two years between the two nations of Tanzania and Burundi .
The trade seems to be expanding as well as two kids in Swaziland were targeted and killed in front of a group of people for their body parts. Still those numbers don't reflect the true scope of the problem because it doesn't take into account those who have merely been left mutilated after losing limbs to the albino body part trade.
Those two deplorable trends are part of a third larger trend, the African Witch Hunt. Now, when people hear the term Witch Hunt they think of the early modern period, Inquisition and Salem where about 100,000 people were killed in a period of a few hundred years. It's a black mark in history that many thought was over with, but it has begun again in Africa where the persecution of albinos and the worry of Koro are a symptom of a larger system of destructive beliefs. The scale is on the same level as the early modern hunts, but they are taking place in a much different way.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union describes Africa as a a place where, "The belief in witchcraft is strong, common and widespread." The IHEU also tells of many of the tragic events, but I'd I think the many individual news stories do a better job of telling the true story.
The Huffington Post tells the story of Gambian authorities rounding up 1000 'witches' who were then forced to drink an unknown hallucinogenic concoction. People are being rounded up and held for 3-5 days, and some of the people are beaten to the point of near death, two of which have died. This all took place after the president of Gambia's aunt died to what he believed to be witchcraft.
The Epoch Times concentrates on the treatment of child witches in Nigeria where the lucky are kicked out of their homes and the unlucky, "Are doused in acid baths, buried alive or poisoned, others are chained and tortured in churches in order to extract 'confessions' of sorcery." UNICEF is noted as saying the instances of witchcraft persecution is on the rise. It then gives a few specific examples and shows the role of the church as people exploiting and promoting the situation.
The BBC tells about that same treatment of children going on in the Congo. It then tells the story of two parents who are sure that their two children are witches, and a sect that has confirmed that 230 children that have been brought to them were witches. It also notes that 14 000 are estimated to have been thrown out of their homes after being thought by family members to be witches.
And the stories just keep coming, 39 homes burnt in a witch-hunt in South Africa, 5 people in Kenya are set on fire, 843 killed in the Congo gives a small flavor to what has been going on. United Nations, "Officials tracking the problem said deaths ran into at least tens of thousands, and beatings, deprivation of property and banishment and isolation from community life meant victims of "witch frenzy" ran into millions." The scale of the past witch hunt may have already been well surpassed, and little is being done to change it.
How could such a huge problem affecting a whole continent be so roundly unknown? People are dying at a much greater rate than the historical great witch hunt, but the older one still casts it's shadow over the recent on-going's.
When someone asks, 'Whats the problem with a little superstition or belief in magic?' this is the answer. A false belief makes other false beliefs seem plausible and there can be a slippery slope that slides a 'witch' into the fire.
Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic.