A Journey Through Black Magic

Religion and superstition, modern and ancestral, faith and heresy: simply magic. This is an aspect of Africa whose tails attract and repel us at the same time. It is attractive because a remote reality opens wide in front of us, showing itself overwhelmingly in our futuristic present. We are pushed by a curiosity for the unknown and by that need for knowledge which enchants the listener like dulcet tones of a mermaid. However, while this world of rituals and beliefs is so intrinsic to modern Africa, it repulses us, though our repulsion is derived from an incapability for true understanding. We, prophets and followers of empiricism, are not able to analyse, understand or embrace this world of the occult. It leaves us paralyzed, upset and shocked when we realise that, amongst its many faces, magic in Africa wears also the mask of tragedy.

The roads through the Central African Republic savannah give way to the jungle that, thick and dense like a wall, interrupts the route and our thoughts. It is imposing, green, and a reminder of just how small we humans are who try to hid our fears of magic, rebel groups and armed demons. Near a roadblock made of stones, six men appear from behind the trees and bushes.They have cow leather amulets tied to their bodies know as gris-gris which, according to folklore, can even protect you from AK-47 gunfire. These men are the Anti-balaka warriors (anti, balles de AK), Christian and animist rebels who, with guns and machetes, wage war against the Islamic irregulars Seleka. They stop our car. Their eyes seem glassy and possessed, with their hands of stone holding wooden weapons. They warn us not to take off our sunglasses, since our light eyes are a curse. They kiss their amulets, they are drunk on waragi (African gin) and creeds. The Antibalaka warriors are statuary, occult like a macabre dance, they are one of the many cruel faces of African magic.

Then there is the village of Kavamu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a few kilometers from Bukavu. Her, between 2013 to 2016, a nightmare took place, one that is hard even to imagine, came to be in absolute silence. During this period 44 girls, aged from 2 to 11 years old, were kidnapped in the night, brought into the wood and were repeatedly raped by armed men. They abused them because they were persuaded by a magician that laying with a virgin and spilling her blood is a way to achieve invincibility and prosperity. The culprits, 74 militiamen lead by deputy Frederic Batumike, are now in jail, waiting to be tried with the charges of rape and crimes against humanity. However, these horiffic actions have left a black mark, and nothing can ever make this go away. Beatrice is 11 years old, with deep black eyes, which show a past filled with terrible pain; they seem to scream with anger, breaking the silence of the house where she lives with her grandmother, here in this cursed village. When, under the incessant rain, she crosses through the village, she is greeted by staring eyes and pointing fingers. All alone, and with the scars of the violence atrocitiees committed by dispicable men, she walks through the village of Kavamu, feeling a pain that they all consider her own fault  and her personal shame to bear. She walks without ever looking back, leaving behind her a lost innocence, without a future in front of her. All she has is the present, which is filled with nothing but pure tragedy, which she cannot escape. Yet another face of the African magic.

And then there is an island in Lake Victoria, Ukerewe, a promised land for 80 people who are experiencing discrimination and persecution in Tanzania because of the color of their skin. They are albinos and in this Great Lakes Country they are rejected by their families and wanted by many people who, armed with thousand-year old legends, hunt them to use as sacrifices and to sell their organs on the black market. Albinism is a genetic anomaly that makes skin, hairs and eyes very light, and is more frequent in Africa than in the rest of the world. South of Sahara 1 in every 5000 people is afflicted by this deformity. At the same time, an epidemic of popular beliefs and irrational frenzies have hit a large amount of the population, who have been persuaded that the bones and the organs of albinos have magical properties, leading them to kill and mutilate dozens of these people. Albino’s body parts can be worth up to $75,000 on the African black market. On Ukerewe island,  men, women and children seek refuge in order to escape the brutal nature of these popular beliefs and their own genetic disposition, which seems to be punishing these human beings. They seem condemned, with cynical witchcraft, to be excluded and without an identity. Albinoo Africans live in a world of intolerance, on a continent that needs you to belong to a faith, an ethnic group or a skin color.

Today the organization Ukerewe Albino Society is situated on an island in the waters of Lake Victoria. Ramadhani Khalfan, one of the spokespeople of the association, has been fighting to guarantee fair treatment and social protection to the albino population, says: “Safety is in numbers. People who live together because they have the same difficulties can face them as a team. We opened a clinic and a legal office, but the attacks go on and armed men have even come here trying to commit a massacre”.

These massacres do not only happen here in the Great Lakes region, but also in Uganda, Burundy and above all in Tanzania, where a few days ago 34 people were judged guilty of the murders of albino people between 2006 and 2016. Beatrice Mpembo, lawyer for the public ministers office commented on the news and the problem of the albino persecution: ” In order to fight this plague we need to educate society on the truth about albinos. Often mothers and children afflicted by albinism do not know their own right’s and live in shame. It is necessary to inform and to use culture as an instrument to stop this problem”. The words of the lawyer and the conviction of the murderers are small signs that there is hope for change. Small because in the meantime, we hear news from Kampala about women murdered through means resembling magic rituals.

In Tanzania, albino murderers can be convicted, and rapists can be successfully tried in South Kivu, but on the other hand, hidden by the darkness of the african night, killings, rituals and violence continue. Age-old devils are turning Equatorial Africa into a place of horrors where human beings are the most tangible representation of the inhumane.

Pictures of the black magic in Tanzania by Gabriele Orlini