Stephane Ebongue fled Cameroon because of the colour of his skin – his albinism made him a target for those who believe such people have special powers. Years later he returned home to confront a witchdoctor, and to question him about the practice of using human body parts in “magic” potions.
Stephane Ebongue stands nervously at the edge of a forest trail, dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase. His dark sunglasses are a necessity because he has albinism, but they also hide his nervousness. “My heart is beating fast. I have never come to a place like this before,” he says.
This is the day he hopes to find answers he has spent years searching for. The trail leads to a witchdoctor who trades in albino potions.
“I would like to find out why albinos keep getting killed. Maybe the secret lies at the end of this path,” he says.
Ebongue is a journalist, a rational man who deals in facts. He does not believe in magic, yet he is deeply unsettled about this meeting.
Across Africa, in countries such as Tanzania, Malawi and Ebongue’s own country, Cameroon, there is a belief that people with albinism bring luck or have magical powers. This has devastating consequences for those with the condition.
“It is believed that parts of an albino, such as their heart, hair or fingernails, are important to make magical potions – for instance to fertilise the soil, to become invincible, to win political elections or a football match,” says Ebongue.
“This is why albinos are killed and mutilated for the parts of their body.”
According to a recent UN report, such body parts can fetch prices from $2,000 for a limb to $75,000 for a “complete set” – a whole body.
Ebongue was 15 when his older brother, Maurice, who also had albinism, went missing 30 years ago.
“He went out one morning and did not come back,” says Ebongue.
Days later the family found the 18-year-old’s body in some bushes. He had been mutilated. “His stomach was opened – I don’t know what was missing inside,” says Ebongue.
Ebongue’s parents tried to give their two sons with albinism a normal childhood – they treated them the same way as their other children – so it wasn’t until he first went to school that he realised he was different. His classmates would ask him, “Why is it that you are white and we are black?”
“They were coming to touch my skin thinking that I had put talcum powder on there,” he says.
Categories: Africa, Superstitions, The Muslim Times
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