About the SA Blog Network



Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American
Observations HomeAboutContact

Superstitions Fuel Violence against Tanzania’s Albinos [Video]

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

Being born without skin pigmentation in the U. S., a condition called albinism, does not usually shorten an individual’s lifespan. But in Tanzania, it can be a death sentence. While reporting in Tanzania this past fall as a fellow with the International Reporting Project, I spoke with several people with albinism and medical professionals who serve them. Those interviews detailed the daily precautions individuals with albinism must take, from never traveling alone to finding safe places to live and work. When I met 28-year-old Janet Anatoli in Dar es Salaam, sitting in the shade outside the building that houses the headquarters of the Tanzania Albino Society, she spoke to a small group of reporters about the harsh treatment she received as a child but also of a family and life that blossomed in her adulthood. Richard Costar, who works as a porter in a hotel elsewhere in the country, did not have as bright an outlook when I met with him one evening. He said that fears for his safety continue to hamper his daily actions (see my coverage here).

Under the hot sub-Saharan sun people with albinism are particularly vulnerable to sun damage and skin cancer, but other maladies associated with albinism, including impaired vision and hearing, can also plunge albinos into a cycle of poverty and stigmatization. Although Tanzania has enacted legislation to protect albinos from discrimination it does not appear to enforce these laws. On top of these issues, believers in witchcraft seek out the limbs, bones and hair of albinos for use in amulets said to bring wealth and power to their owners. The United Nations said in a recent report that more than 200 cases of attacks motivated by witchcraft were reported in 15 countries in the past 13 years, although many additional cases go unreported. The attacks in Tanzania have been particularly worrisome – four new attacks occurred this year over a 16-day span, prompting special mention from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Learn more in the below video:


More to explore:

Witchcraft Trade, Skin Cancer Pose Serious Threats to Albinos in Tanzania (Scientific American)

What causes albinism? (Scientific American)

From the words of an albino, a brilliant blend of color (Scientific American)


Written & narrated by Dina Fine Maron
Photos By Dina Fine Maron
Tanzania Map via Tanzania National Parks
“Persons with albinism: Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights” via UNHCR

About the Author: Dina Fine Maron is the associate editor for health and medicine at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @Dina_Maron.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Rights & Permissions

Comments 1 Comment

Add Comment
  1. 1. kulay1990 5:48 am 10/29/2014

    hi people. this comment is not to insult anybody and is just an informational comment.
    have you ever noticed that the OCA2 albinos are the same as white people?! they resemble eachother… it will be more fantastic if you look at the Dravidian (Indian) OCA2 albinos, no difference between them and white people! many of those Indian OCA2 albinos have good eye-sight. they have blondish hair, blue eyes and pale pink skin…
    dont you think that the white race is the product of inbreeding between Dravidian OCA2 albinos?!

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American


Get All-Access Digital + Print >


Email this Article