I am a huge fan of the Folklore Podcast. I find the host, Mark Norman, to be an eloquent writer and speaker and his podcasts contain some incredibly detailed pieces of research. Recently he uploaded a show on vampires and their folklore, but shortly after this first of two episodes there was an outburst of mob violence in Malawi that saw nine people killed as suspected vampires. It is believed this panic was caused by a combination of the prevailing distrust in UN/WHO health officials and local superstitions, amongst other things. I mentioned this in a post to Mark and he asked me to provide him a short piece for his podcast. Please find below the link to this episode, as well as the transcript of my small contribution.
Link to listen here: http://thefolklorepodcast.weebly.com/…/episode-30-vampires-…
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“Africa is vast. So vast it can encompass the entire United States, China and many other countries easily within its borders. There are easily thousands of cultural groupings, languages and mythos sited throughout the continent. In modern times, many of these groupings have melded and mixed with each other and with outside influences, mostly thanks to colonialism and the legacy thereof. Influences such as the Christian and Islamic religions which, along with their teachings and prejudices, have also brought their demons and boogeymen. Now, it should be noted that of course Africa has its fair share of monsters and legends which were around long before any cultural incursions or melding, but where Africa is unique is the sheer scale of the mixing that has occurred with the local and foreign mythos and beliefs, forming a modern Africa which finds itself torn between traditional and foreign beliefs and the modern, secular world.
Many countries in Africa find themselves on the receiving end of foreign aid relief. In many cases, this relief is not seen as a boon at all but rather a repeat of the colonial legacy which ravaged the continent less than 100 years ago. As such, many locals view modern medical applications by aid workers, especially those of the UN, as intruders at best and at worst as active participants in harming their physical and spiritual health. Traditional medicine and beliefs are still strong in many parts of the continent, in part due to a lack of education and access to modern conveniences, and due to continued corruption and greed which often leaves a country sucked dry of resources by foreign powers via the presidential and corporate gatekeepers.
As was the case barely two hundred years ago in Europe and the early US, witch-hunts are a fairly common occurrence as the populations seek to remedy their powerlessness and poverty in any way they can. This is often in the form of violent outbursts aimed at destroying what they believe to be harming them, which more often than not devolves into “monsters” in the form of either weak or suspicious members of a town or village or, as has just happened in Malawi, the hunting of so-called vampires. The distrust of UN personnel, and especially medical personnel, and the belief in witchcraft is so strong that simple rumours can often spark massive violent surges of roaming vigilantes. It is difficult to say exactly what sparked it this time, but it seems that the rumour of blood-suckers may have been triggered by UN or WHO doctors taking blood for tests from local residents. This eventually grew into a full-fledged panic and the violence was a natural extension of that.
It is very easy to scoff at these occurrences or to label this as “savage Africa”, but let’s not forget that many well-educated people in so-called “civilised” societies often believe that things like music or movies can physically or spiritually harm a person and may even contain demons. All of us are not so removed from such behaviours as mob-killings of supposed monsters as we might think. It is important to understand the context behind these events so as to not only understand why they are happening in a Modern Africa, but why they happen at all, globally-speaking. Witches, vampires and monsters are all lurking in our imaginations and it only takes the flick of a light-switch to bring them to the fore for many people. Add to that a lack of resources, a legacy of oppression, religious fervour and a general sense of powerlessness and you have a recipe for instant chaos.”