Thursday, July 17, 2014

Esteeming the Albinos in Angola


It is increasingly common to find people with albinism in the streets of Luanda, the capital of Angola. Though living in normal surroundings, in the African context, albinos live with constant social misunderstandings, prejudice, and discrimination concerning their medical condition.  

The word albinism (from Latin albus, 'white', is a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes due to absence or defect or an enzyme involved in the production of melanin.  Many forms of albinism are associated with sensitive to light (photophobia) and rapid eye movement.  The lack of pigmentation of the skin causes the body to become more susceptible to sunburn and skin cancer.

In Africa, especially in the eastern area, people with albinism have their lives constantly at risk because of superstition that gave them super-natural powers. Many believe that they are “luck” creatures, hence they are killed so that their organs can be used in witchcraft or so that the perpetrator can “inherit luck” of the deceased. The legs and hands amputated are sold to people who use them as talismans, for according to their beliefs, luck or repel evil spirits. Fishermen put albinos’ hair in their fish nets to succeed in the fishery. Miners hang amulets on their necks made from crushed bones and believe that the powder resulting from the bones, after some time buried, turns into diamonds. Those albinos who die are buried by their relatives in places where the remains cannot be unearth by the wizards’ suppliers.

A report published by the UN says that albinos “are often considered ghosts and not human beings”. In some areas they are also killed and buried with the deceased tribal chiefs so that they are not left alone in their graves. Some politicians want to get an amulet to ensure their victory in the elections. Groups of experts of the UN have spoken out and warned against such behavior. One of them is Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. 


Angola is one of the few countries where prejudices against people with albinism is not as strong when compared to other African countries. They have a normal life, some occupying positions of responsibility within society.  One of the main reasons may be due to the fact that the use of popular skin whitening products is not part of Angolan culture, which creates an acceptance and an inherent mixing index between peoples. With these features, Angola turns out to be a peculiar country in the African context in light of the Angolan behavior of respecting albino's differences, allowing them to feel proud of what they are in their condition, to thus foster a high self-esteem.

Not everything is perfect as expressed by albino Guilherme Santos, President of ADRA. He adds that often the harassment, discrimination and stereotyping arise from family members. Thus, there remains some prejudice in society from psychological baggage which can be overcome if everyone is involved in giving psychosocial support to family members of people with albinism. 

To provide support, that emerges in a natural and spontaneous way, the Volunteer Support Group for People with Albinism in Angola   Grupo Volunt├írio de Apoio a Pessoas com Albinismo em Angola (GVAPAA), has been formed. Comprised of a group of citizens of various nationalities who do not seek legal or financial gain, these individuals joined in order to support Angola albinism in a sustainable manner. They believe that education and informing of the people with albinism as well as their families and their community, is the best and most sustainable way to help. In the same line of action, the Association of Support to Albinos of Angola (AAAA), represented by the acronym “4As” includes all persons who wish to join for the good of the Association. It is a philanthropic organization, of National character and unprofitable. (TAAG Austral Magazine 2014)

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