A journey through black magic

Creed and superstition, modern and ancestral, faith and heresy: simply magic. This is an aspect of Africa whose tells 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 the curiosity for the unknown and by that need of knowledge which fascinates the chronicler just like the mermaids singing. However, in the same way this world of rituals and beliefs intrinsic to modern Africa repulses us because of our incapability of truly understanding it. We, prophets and followers of the empiricism, are not able to analyze, understand and embrace the world of the occult. It lets us paralyzed, upset and shocked when we realize that, among its many faces, magic in Africa wears also the tragedy masks.

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The roads of the Central African Republic savannah give away to woods that, thick and dense just like walls, interrupt the route and the thought. They are absolut, green, they remember to the human beings their smallness and hide inside them fears, magics, rebel groups and armed demons. Near a roadblock made of stones six men appear from behind the trees and the bushes.They have cow leather amulets tied to their bodies. They are called gris gris and, according to the tradition, they protect from the kalashnikov shots. These men are the Anti-balaka warriors (anti, balles de AK), christian and animist rebels who, with guns and machetes, waged war to the Islamic irregulars Seleka. They stop our car. They have glassy and possessed eyes and with their hands of stone hold wood weapons. They warn us not to take off our sunglasses, since our light eyes are a curse. They kiss the amulets, they are drunk of waragi (African gin) and creeds. The Antibalaka warriors are statuary, occult like a macabre dance, they are one of the many faces of the cruelty of the African magic.

Then there is the village of Kavamu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, few kilometers away from Bukavu. Here from 2013 to 2016 a nightmare, hard even to imagine, became true in an absolute silence. During this period 44 girls, from 2 to 11 years old, have been kidnapped in the night, brought into the wood and repeatedly raped by armed men. They abused them because they were persuaded by a magician that laying with a virgin and pouring her blood is a way to get invincibility and prosperity. The culprits, 74 militiamen lead by deputy Frederic Batumike, are now in jail, waiting to be tried with the charge of rape and crimes against humanity. However, in the meantime a black mark has been impressed, and nothing can ever delete it. Beatrice is 11 years old, she has deep, black eyes revealing a terrible pain; they seem screaming with anger, breaking the silence of the house where she lives with her grandmother, there in the cursed village. When, under the heavy rain, she goes toward the fields she is held up by everyone. Lonely, with the mark of the violence committed by the atrocious male madness, she walks through the village of Kavamu, feeling a pain that is considered as a fault and a shame by the others. She walks never looking back, leaving behind her a lost innocence, with no future in front of her. She has just a present made of pure tragedy, and she cannot escape it. 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 the Great Lakes Country they are rejected by their families and wanted by many people who, armed with thousand-year old legends, haunt them to make sacrifices and sell their organs on the black market. Albinism is a genetic anomaly that makes skin, hairs and eyes very light, and it is more frequent in Africa than in the rest of the world. South of Sahara 1 person out of 5000 is afflicted by this disease. At the same time, an epidemic of popular beliefs and irrational frenzy hit a wide population stratum, persuading it that the bones and the organs of the albinos are magic, and pushing it to kill and mutilate tens of these people. Albinos’ body parts can be worth up to 75.000$ on the african black market. On Ukerewe island women, men and fathers with their children seek refuge to escape the brutality of the popular beliefs and the genetics itself, that seems to make fun of the human beings condemning them, with a cynical witchcraft, to be excluded and without an identity. White Africans in a world of intolerance and need of belonging to a faith, an ethnic group or a skin color.

Today the organization Ukerewe Albino Society is placed on that land in the waters of Lake Victoria. Ramadhani Khalfan, one of the spokesperson of the association, fighting to guarantee treatments and social protection to the albino population, says: “Safety 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 it also happened that armed men disembarked here trying to make a massacre”.

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The massacres do not happen only in the Great Lakes region, but also in Uganda, Burundy and above all in Tanzania, where few days ago 34 people were judged guilty of the murders of albino people between 2006 and 2016. Beatrice Mpembo, lawyer of the public minister office commented on the news and the problem of the albinos persecution: ” In order to fight this plague we need a hard work of society education. Often mothers and children afflicted by albinism do not know their rights 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 feeble signs of hope for a change. Feeble because in the meanwhile we hear news from Kampala about women murdered with a methodology that remembers the magic rituals.

If in Tanzania the murderers of the albinos are convicted, and the rapers are tried in South Kivu, on the other hand, hidden by the darkness of the african night, killings, rituals and violence go on. Timeless devils are turning Equatorial Africa into a place of horror where the human beings are the most tangible representation of the inhuman.  

Pictures of the black magic in Tanzania by Gabriele Orlini