A vampire scare in Malawi has at least eight dead and the United Nations evacuating some of its staff, Reuters reports. The southeast African nation, bordered by Mozambique, Zambia, and Tanzania, is one of the poorest countries in the world. A recent resurgence of fear of vampires in the two southern districts of Phalombe and Mulanje has triggered violent lynch mobs to attack and kill those accused of vampirism.
“These districts have severely been affected by the ongoing stories of blood sucking and possible existence of vampires,” the United Nations Department of Safety and Security said in a released security report. The U.N. has relocated some but not all of their staff in the two rural districts due to safety concerns, and is closely monitoring events in the area as they unfold.
The same report said the mobs set up roadblocks to trap vampires, and that the vampirism rumors might have originated in northern Mozambique. It recommends the “temporary suspension of U.N. activities in the area until the situation is normalized.” Non-government organizations (NGOs) providing aid and resources to the area have also pulled out.
Belief in both witchcraft and the real life existence of vampires is widespread in rural Malawi, with the latter superstition perpetuating paranoia and violence, and not for the first time either. During a devastating famine in 2002, vigilante retribution erupted after a viral rumor circulated the idea vampires were secretly working with the government to collect blood for international aid agencies.
Women and children claimed they were the victims of blood thieves, and terrified villagers abandoned their fields. Malawi government leaders publicly denied both the existence of vampires and the conspiracy, which they said was a malicious story created to undermine the government. Unsatisfied, the vigilantes took the law into their own hands, publicly stoning to death a man accused of being a vampire. Three Roman Catholic priests were beaten and detained overnight by an entire village.
People accused of vampirism are not the only victims. In Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania, people with albinism are regularly murdered and dismembered, their body parts sold for witchcraft rituals. Amnesty International reports the situation as a “human rights crisis” because Malawi’s albino population faces possible “systemic extinction.”
As the U.N. human rights council’s expert on albinism and an albino herself, Ikponwosa Ero reported last year that albinos are targeted because of a superstitious belief that their body parts “can increase wealth, make businesses prosper, or facilitate employment.” In addition, there is a driving economic motivation.
“Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries and the sale of body parts of persons with albinism is believed to be very lucrative,” said Ero.
Sanguivoriphobia is the fear of vampires, with the direct translation meaning “fear of blood eaters.”