Printed: 2020-07-09

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Ritual Killing and Skepticism in Zambia

Leo Igwe

Ethical Technology

June 09, 2015

Zambia has just recorded its ‘first case’ of albino killing. Suspected ritualists butchered a 37 year old albino woman in the eastern district of Lundazi. They cut off her right hand and extracted the teeth from her mouth. In Zambia, ritual murder is on the rise.

Mutilated bodies of persons suspected to have been killed by ritualists were found in many parts of the country. Some body parts - arms, tongues, genitals or skin - were missing. The bodies of a 19 year old boy and a 70 year old woman with missing organs were discovered in Lusaka and in the Western province. Some suspected victims of ritual murder in the Central province had their hands and legs chopped off. Ritual killing is a common practice across countries in sub Saharan Africa including Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Tanzania and Malawi. Why are Zambians – and many people across Africa still murdering people for rituals?

The belief in Zambia is that these body parts can be used to perform sacrifice which can fortify people spiritually or bring good luck and success. People harvest these body parts which are sold or sent to local medicine men who use them to perform rituals. The sale of body parts for ritual sacrifice accounts for the thriving market in Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, etc

Unfortunately many Zambians have not bothered to ask : Can ritual sacrifice really make one rich? Under what conditions will human - albino and non-albino body parts-lips, tongues, genitals and other organs - transform into good fortune – in business and politics? It is not enough to believe that something is so and so. It is necessary to seek evidence for such claims particularly in a situation where such claims can lead people to commit atrocious acts. This is what people across Zambia and Africa need to do. Zambians should begin to question the whole idea of getting rich or winning elections through ritual sacrifice . For instance if these sacrifices were potent as often claimed, why are the local medicine men and women not rich? Why are they not the ones who win during elections? Why are they not the owners of big companies and businesses in Zambia?

Why are they not the most successful in the society? Most of these medicine men are literally poor and wretched. They live in slums or in rural areas or under conditions no one can associate with wealth or success? So the question is : How can they make a person rich when they are poor? How can they make one excel in exams when they – at least most of them- never went to schools? If ritual sacrifice can really protect or fortify people spiritually? Why do the local ‘witch doctors’ and diviners and spiritualists get sick, suffer accidents and die?

Zambians should begin to challenge claims associated with ritual killing and human sacrifice because if these underpinning misconceptions are not debunked, these vicious practices will not disappear. They will not stop. Definitely, it is not all Zambians that believe that money or success can be achieved through ritual sacrifice. There are skeptics and critical thinking people in Zambia. The issue is this: What are they doing? Why are they not speaking out? Why are their views and perspectives not captured in the discourse on ritual killing? What are they saying about the claim that ‘albino eyes, genitals and limbs can make somebody rich? Why are they not providing Zambia with skeptical fortification for people with albinism as against the supposed spiritual fortification which Zambia derive from ritual sacrifice of human body parts? Skeptics in Zambia may not want to speak out because they fear being attacked or persecuted. They fear being branded ‘atheists’ and stigmatized.

But right now putting one’s skepticism at the public disposal is a form of social service. Zambia needs skeptics and skepticism to stop the rising wave of ritual murder. So I enjoin all critical thinking people in the country to muster courage and help bring the flame of rational illumination to this cave of superstition-based abuses.

Clearly the social disease of ritual killing is spreading across the country like wild fire and we need to put in place mechanisms to tackle it. Skeptics in Zambia need to stand up and be counted. They need to make their voices heard.

Arise, all Zambian Skeptics.

Leo Igwe, as a member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, has bravely worked for human rights in West Africa. He is presently enrolled in a three year research programme on “Witchcraft accusations in Africa” at the University of Bayreuth, in Germany.


Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
IEET, 35 Harbor Point Blvd, #404, Boston, MA 02125-3242 USA
phone: 860-428-1837