Demystifying albinism through art and social work
12 April 2018
People with albinism have it rough in Africa, to say the least. There have been instances of kidnappings, maiming, and murder. Such incidents keep on happening because illiterate people believe that an albino’s organs hold magical powers that will be useful in witchcraft potions.
What is Albinism and how is it seen in Africa?
Albinism is a congenital disorder where people lack skin pigmentation. This can be a partial or complete absence of melanin in the skin, eyes, and hair of the sufferer. The condition stems from a defect in the genes that provide or distribute melanin pigmentation to the body.
Visual impairment is common among albinos since their eyes are sensitive to light. Raymond Boissy, a dermatology professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine explained the condition by saying that “People with albinism are legally blind because photoreceptors, cells in the retina that detect light, get oversaturated with light and send confusing messages to the brain.”
Their pale skin is also prone to experiencing premature skin aging. Albinos are at a high risk of developing two types of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma because their skin is unable to block the UV radiation of the sun.
African Albinos don’t only risk health issues but also have to deal with the negative stigma surrounding their condition. Rural African communities specifically in Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania, kidnap, maim and even kill albinos for the sake of getting hold of their body parts. These people think that the organs of albinos have magical powers and they mainly use them in creating witchcraft potions. In regions where illiteracy is rampant, it is not surprising that people believe in such nonsense. In Tanzania, 75 people with the condition have been killed since 2000. Toddlers and teenagers are at higher risk of abduction than adults but “hunters” will attack any albino within reach.
Art exhibition to demystify albinism
In order to debunk all the superstition and stigma around Albinos, Nigerian photographer Damilola Onafuwa held an exhibition entitled “Angels among men” with the help of Onome Akinlolu Majaro Foundation (OAM). This photography exhibition that took place in Lagos and ended on February 15, 2018, aimed to showcase the lives of African people with albinism.
According to Damilola Onafuwa, his portraits exist to educate and raise awareness among his fellow citizens. He also explained that the name of his exhibition “does not intend to fetishize or refer to people living with albinism as literal angels or as superior, it rather refers to everyone who has chosen to rise and live above stereotypical judgements against people of a different race, colour or gender; people who choose not to be limited by short-sighted and shallow standards of men, but treat all with a scale of equality.”
The exhibition intends to portray albinos in a different light than that of being hunted or killed by “witch doctors”. The goal of the snaps taken by Onafuwa is to celebrate people with albinism who succeeded in their lives despite the negative odds. Damimola’s work partner Mrs. Onome Akinlolu Majaro stated that the exhibition will be presented in different locations around the world.
Mozambique’s forum against Albino trafficking
On May 2017, Mozambique hosted a two-day forum to fight against the trafficking of albinopeople. The forum was organised by the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UNICEF. It was held in the form of regional workshops that attempted to find proper solutions to protect albino people and stop human trafficking in the Southern African area. The forum targeted the issue of albino people in Mozambique, Malawi, and Tanzania.
These three countries worked on creating relevant policies and a cross-border collaboration to fight the trafficking of albino people and their organs. Katharina Schnoering, IOM Chief of Mission in Mozambique stated: “A regional approach like this that complements national efforts in Mozambique, Malawi, and Tanzania is the only way we will improve cross-border coordination and investigation to protect people with albinism.” The IOM and UNICEF work tirelessly with these countries’ governments to improve the situation of people with albinism.