Africans With Albinism Hunted: Limbs Sold on Tanzania's Black Market


Mariamu Staford, a soft-spoken, 28-year-old single mother from rural Tanzania, has earned a grim distinction: She is one of only a half-dozen people with albinism -- a group that has faced discrimination in East Africa -- to survive a brutal attack by criminals wanting to sell the limbs of albinos on the black market.

In her first interview with American journalists, Staford greeted ABC News with a shy smile, wearing a short-sleeve blouse that revealed the scars of her ordeal.

Tanzanians with Albinism Hunted

In the fall of 2008, men armed with machetes entered her hut while she was sleeping and began cutting at her arms in a gruesome attempt to amputate them, Staford told ABC News.

Click here to find out how to help Tanzanians with albinism

"In the middle of the night, a group of men stormed in and said, 'We are going to cut your arm off, and if you scream we'll cut the other arm off,'" she said. "And then they started to chop my right arm off. And because I was screaming, they also started to do the same with the other."

VIDEO: Mizengo Pinda tells ABCs Juju Chang his government is trying to stop attacks.
Tanzanian Premier Discusses Albino Attacks

After her attackers fled, it took six full hours for Staford to get medical treatment. Five months pregnant at the time, she lost both arms and her unborn child.

A devout Christian and member of her church choir, Staford was caught up in a grisly trade inspired by a renegade set of witch doctors; they claim potions made of the blood, skin or bones of an albino can make people wealthy and bring good luck.

We spoke just outside the two-room mud-floor building, where she lives with her parents, four young siblings and her son, a toddler. Her artificial limbs, donated by a well-wisher, lay discarded because they were painful and cumbersome.

Despite Tanzania's reputation as a tourist mecca known for safaris and visits to Mount Kilimanjaro, people with albinism are being hunted down like animals. Since 2007, 57 Tanzanian albinos, including children, have been murdered by gangs of men who hack off arms, legs or genitals. To date there have been 66 confirmed attacks, but many more cases are believed to have gone unreported. The country has one of the largest populations of albinos in the world – as many as 150,000 according to some estimates -- and they are being targeted for their white skin.

Poverty, Prejudice, Superstition Spur Murders

Officials say ignorance, prejudice, traditional beliefs and poverty are behind the epidemic of albino killings. In a country where per capita income is $442 a year, the limb of a person with albinism can fetch almost anywhere from $500 to $2,000.

It doesn't help matters that many in Tanzania still live according to superstition. For decades, people with albinism have been thought of as ghosts and bad omens. It is also believed that albinos don't die; they just disappear.

"I was always hearing these tales, people here believe that albinos do not die, they disappear so I was always wondering how I am going to disappear," Staford said.

The idea that the body parts of albinos can bring wealth is a recent phenomenon. Some have been known to use human hair from albinos woven into fishing nets for good luck.

At the Mwanza homestead of witch doctor Jackson Kanyerere, who offers his patients medical and spiritual care, he told ABC News that the person who started this superstition wasn't even a witch doctor.

Click here to read one repoter's journey to investigate albino killings

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