Overcoming Powers of Darkness in Tanzania

November 14, 2013

Imagine being marked for death because you are an elderly woman with red, swollen eyes. Or if you were born with the genetic condition called albinism in which your skin and hair lack pigment. In either case, if you lived in some areas of Tanzania, your life would be in danger.

This is not the fodder of fairy tales. Witchcraft is a very real and widespread practice in rural villages in this East African nation, where superstition influences day-to-day decisions and fear has led to the needless deaths of thousands of people.

Ingrained in Tanzanian society is the belief that sacrifices offered to one´s ancestors or to other spirits will keep people from danger or misfortune. If an inexplicable event occurs, such as a sudden illness or the death of a child, villagers often assign blame to a neighbor for “be-witching” them.

During the past seven years, over 3,600 people were killed in the country on suspicion of witchcraft, according to Tanzania´s Legal and Human Rights Center (LHRC). In 2012 alone, 631 witchcraft-related murders were reported, many through acts of mob violence.

Witches are believed to have red eyes. That strikes terror in the hearts of poor, elderly women who commonly develop the condition from years of cooking over smoky stoves. The redness results from smoke irritation to the eyes when cow dung is burned as a substitute fuel for firewood.

Sadly, these women become easy scapegoats when something goes wrong in their community. The 2012 LHRC report cited an instance on February 22 of that year in the Katavi region.

“A mob battered and killed three elderly women accused of witchcraft. The crowd blamed the women for a shortage of rain. None of the perpetrators was prosecuted,” the report stated.

Albinos, some 200,000 of them in Tanzania, are another segment of the population at great risk because of false beliefs. They are not considered to be human, and it is thought that they are creatures from the devil.

The belief that body parts from albinos bring power and wealth has led to the savage practice of dismemberment. “Hunters” kill albinos and sell their body parts to witchdoctors, who use limbs and blood mixed with herbs to make potions.

The 2012 LHRC report noted 71 killings and 31 mutilations of persons with albinism, and 15 robberies and two failed robbery attempts of the graves of deceased albinos.

These issues are no longer merely a subject of horror and fascination by Western media. In recent years, political and social reformers within the country are trying to change some of these long-held beliefs in African tribal culture.

While the government is trying to crack down on these practices, the only way to truly break the chains of fear and ignorance is through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. That´s what Christ Alive Tanzania, a ministry assisted by Christian Aid, is seeking to do as missionaries proclaim the power of the gospel over evil, sin, and death by the shed blood of Christ on the cross.