I travelled to Mungele this morning, as usual. Initially nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The staff greeted me with smiles, handshakes, and "bonjour"s, as they do each morning. The niceties, however, were followed by a gruesome and disturbing story. Last night a 4 year old local girl was murdered. The killers used machetes to cut off her arms, legs, and head. They carried away her internal organs and stuffed her disembowelled trunk into a cloth bag. Her remains were discovered 300 meters into the jungle, about 3 kilometers from Mungele. She was an albino.
Albinism is a hereditary disease. Inheritance is autosomal recessive, meaning if a person carries only one abnormal gene they are not affected. A person manifests the disease if they have both genes abnormal, one inherited from each parent. People with albinism lack melanin, the pigment that darkens our skin and protects it from sun damage. Their eyes also lack pigment. In animals with albinism, the blood vessels of the retina show through, making the eyes red. In humans, red eyes are more rarely seen. People with albinism have a higher incidence of problems with visual acuity and other ophthalmologic disorders as well as a higher susceptibility to sun damage. Otherwise they are generally as healthy as those who have normal pigment.
For several years there have been reports of witchcraft-related killings of albinos in Africa. Body parts of albinos are used to make potions, believed to confer wealth on those who ingest them. In late September 2009, three men in Tanzania were convicted and sentenced to hang for the murder of a 14 year old albino boy, his body mutilated by machetes.
As with most horrors, the locals of Mungele are quick to blame "others" for the local girl's murder. I've heard theories of "people from North Kivu" (the next province, 20 kilometers away) and "people from Tanzania." No one wants to entertain the thought that a local person could be capable of such horror, especially against their own neighbor, yet no strangers have been seen in the area. This is a tiny community and it is difficult to believe an outsider could infiltrate the village and abduct someone without notice. The police from Lubutu are investigating.