Albino killings in Tanzania: Harry Freeland’s ‘In the Shadow of the Sun’
By Jim Treadway
We don’t choose the colour of our skin, or the place where we are born. But for people with albinism in Tanzania, their appearance has made them a hunted, sub-human species.
“We are killed. We are dismembered,” says Josephat Torner, one of the albino subjects in Harry Freeland’s documentary, In the Shadow of the Sun, which had a preview screening at the Frontline Club Monday 26 November.
Since 2006, witchdoctors in Tanzania have made ever louder claims that albino body parts, when used in certain potions or rituals, can cure sickness and bring prosperity – a promotion at work, election to office, or a boom in mining or fishing.
“They call me ‘white medicine,’” an albino child says of schoolyard bullies.
Freeland explained during the Q&A after the screening:
“There’s really three [types of] people responsible for the murders. There’s the people that aren’t in the film at all, that no one’s caught, who are the main people fueling the whole trade … body parts are selling for millions of shillings. So, someone with a lot of money … government officials, policemen, fishermen, people in the mining industry. Witchdoctors have obviously started this rumour … and then it’s the poor people in Tanzania who are carrying it out.”
In the film, Freeland and Josephat travel to a cave to meet a witchdoctor, who admits that he will hide in trees, waiting for the right moment to pounce on an albino. In another scene, an albino friend tells Josephat how a man once leapt from a tree and tried to kill him while he walked alone outside his home one evening.
“There’s always fear,” Josephat said.
Josephat spends his life traveling to places where albinos have been murdered, gaining the support of local chiefs to give talks to their villages.
“If society thinks of me as sub-human,” he explains, “then I need to find a solution, to make them re-accept me.”
“Josephat is so lonely,” Freeland reflected. “No one else really wants to do it. No one else is really doing the same kind of thing he’s doing, he funds it himself. So, he doesn’t get paid that much money, but he, kind of, leaves his family behind, and goes around the country to do those things. I always found that amazing.”
Freeland, Josephat and many others are making an impact. Tanzania’s Prime Minister has adopted two children with albinism, and “stripped all the witchdoctors in northern Tanzania of their licenses [so that] they now have to reapply in what is a quite rigorous process,” Freeland said. Tanzania elected its first albino MP, and the number of killings in 2012 finally declined from the previous year.
Nonetheless, the demand for albino body parts remains.
“Tanzania is definitely the worst,” Freeland said, “but it is spreading into other countries, so in Nigeria, there’s been killings, Mali, South Africa, Burundi. As Josephat would put it, it’s ‘spreading like a fire.’”
More information on future UK screenings and the work of Josephat can be found on the website of In the Shadow of the Sun.