The cry of a new child filled the air, everyone was happy at the arrival of this precious little life, however when they came out after seeing the baby, their expressions were no longer enthusiastic. Why was that? I couldn't tell, so I decided to take a look myself.
On getting inside, I could see the little baby by the side of her mother with heavenly smiles radiating from her face. However, her skin looked pale, it was paler than that of an average light-skinned Nigerian. Then it dawned on me that the baby was suffering from Albinism, a condition characterized by the lack of melanin pigmentation, the skin, hairs and eyes.
Most West Africans are naturally dark in complexion and that is true about Nigerians too, little wonder why most light-skinned Nigerians are often referred to as "Òyìbó" ( the word used for Europeans here in Nigeria).
It is however a different story for people living with albinism. Due to the extreme condition of their skin, many myths have long been held about them that even civilization and western religion have not been able to eradicate, which explains the reaction of those people who had gone to see the new baby.
In Yoruba land, people living with albinism are called "Àfín". The Yoruba mythology teaches that Obàtálá created the Albinos. Being the god of creation, Obàtálá created human beings out of clay, when he had finished moulding their forms, he would give them to Olódùmarè (the Almighty) who would blow the breath of life into them. One day, however, Obàtálá got drunk and in that state he created the albinos, that is why Obàtálá worshippers are forbidden to drink palm wine and afflict the albinos, hunch backs, the blind, dwarf and crippled as they are considered sacred.
Albinos are believed not to consume salt because of the myth that salt is responsible for the spots and burns on their skins which gave rise to the remark being made about albinos in Yoruba land where people say "Àfín kìí je iyò, ako Isu níi je" meaning "albinos don't eat salt, they'd rather eat a certain specie of yam that needs no salt".
Another common myth about people with albinism is that when a couple engage in sexual intercourse in the afternoon when the sun is high in the sky, the baby born as a result of that might have albinism, this is closely linked with yet another myth that albinism results from adulterous relations between a woman and someone else who is not her partner.
The myths surrounding people with albinism are too numerous to mention and these have been deeply ingrained in the minds of those who believe it. Another myth in some African countries is that having sex with albinos cures HIV/AIDS and that they are the best skilled humans when it comes to sexual intimacy.
In some parts of Igbo land, people with albinism were often viewed as bad luck or curses from the gods and as such they were abandoned at birth in the 'evil forest'.
Sadly, many witch doctors in Tanzania and Zimbabwe have spread, rather dangerously, the myth that body parts of albinos are sure means of wealth, as those parts would be used by the witch doctors to conjure wealth for the individual who makes them available.
Effects of Such Myths
Most African myths do not have horrible negative effects on people, but that is not the same with the effects the many myths about people with albinism have on these innocent ones.
Due to the fact that some see albinos as bad luck, many refrain from being their friends and even touching them. This becomes so hard for teenagers with albinism to make real friends and belong to a welcoming circle, however, when this love isn't there, it forces some of them into self isolation which leads to depression and sometimes suicide.
Additionally, people living with albinism have often suffered segregation and discrimination because of their condition. Some are excluded from games in school, even indoor games that they might be good at, while others find it hard to get good jobs in reputable firms because the companies often do not want to employ them thinking that their presence will drive away customers.
Furthermore, people with albinism have been subjected to despicable name callings like 'Unfortunate European', 'Fake White Man', 'Four Eyes', 'Whitey' amongst others. The effect that such name calling has on them is that it reduces their self worth, making them feel as if they are good for nothing, which in most cases affect their productivity and outlook on life.
Sadly, some uneducated husbands have had to send their wives from the home for giving birth to a baby with albinism, thereby denying the innocent child fatherly care.
Because of the distorted myth about the sexual healing and skills that albinos supposedly possess, they have been victims of rape and attempted rape, but more horrendous is the fact that many of them are being hunted like animals for their body parts because of the myth that it can bring wealth. This trend became so serious in many Eastern countries that the United Nations had to establish June 13 as the International Albinism Awareness Day.
Debunking the Myth
Having discussed some of the many myths surrounding people with albinism in Africa and the effects that such myths have on them, it is imperative that we talk about the truth regarding their condition.
It is equally important to note that thrashing certain myths does not mean that we are losing our culture and heritage, but just like the stopping of twin killings many years ago, debunking some myths which are outdated and a threat to humanity is actually the right course to take.
The skin of people suffering from albinism is never as a result of a curse, nor is it a result of drunkenness by a 'god', instead it is the absence of lack of melanin pigmentation in their skin, eyes and hairs. It is noteworthy that even animals also suffer the same condition too.
Also, people with albinism do actually consume salt. The mineral content of salt in food is essential to the body of any humans regardless of their colour. The burns on their skins is not as a result of consuming salt, rather it is due to exposure to the sun's rays, that is why it is important for them to always have protective clothes that will help shield their bodies from the effect of the rays and also to have protective sunglasses too.
Additionally, the cure to HIV/ AIDS have nothing to do with having sex with an albino. In fact, there is no medical report promoting such an idea as it is not only baseless but also unfounded. Similarly, having great sexual skills is not linked to someone's skin colour or the pigmentation of his eyes and hairs thereby debunking the myth that albinos are great sexual partners.
In all, we have been able to see the various myths surrounding people with albinism, the effects it has on them and information to debunk such myths. It is also vital to note that even though myths play a pivotal role in African history and traditions, not all myths should be acted upon or passed on to the next generation.
In conclusion, while we cherish our history and tradition which includes myths and folklore, let us more importantly preserve humanity.