Following the release of movies such as Twilight, tweens everywhere wished vampires were real. But in Malawi, Africa, where depictions of vampires are less romantic, the very mention of “vampire” can get one lynched.
The BBC reports that in the small, southeast African nation of Malawi, rumors of real-life blood-sucking vampires have gotten the populace into a frenzy. The rumors of vampires have become so widespread, groups of vigilante vampire hunters have begun murdering based on rumors in an effort to protect their communities.
The first vampire-related incidence occurred on September 16, when three people suspected of being bloodsuckers were killed by a mob. Since then, police have arrested 140 members of lynch mobs who have attacked people believed to be vampires. At least eight people have been killed — including two men — by the mobs. One was set on fire and one was stoned, according to the police. Two others were arrested for threatening to suck people’s blood. Despite all of the chaos, there have been no medical reports of blood-sucking.
The vampire rumors are believed to have been started across the border in Mozambique. There, protesters targeted police because they thought the law enforcement workers were protecting the supposed vampires. The ordeal resulted in a northern town’s administrator fleeing the city.
Some villagers are adamant that human blood sucking is a ritual practiced by those who seek to become rich. They also believe the vampires are difficult to catch because they have magical powers. Dr. Chioza Bandawe, a clinical psychologist at the University of Malawi, said that if community members believe in “mysterious magical explanations for things, then people will tend to attribute their difficulty on what they call bloodsuckers.” He added that for some, bloodsucking represents “the life of the hope being sucked out of them.”
To reign in the confusion, Malawi police have stepped up in affected areas. James Kaledzera, Malawi’s national police spokesperson, said the force would “arrest anybody who is deemed to have taken part in the killings.” A curfew has since been imposed in parts of the south. And earlier this month, the UN instructed staff to move to safer areas. This is important, as medical personnel has also been targeted.
According to the Daily Mail, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers have been targeted by the vigilantes as their stethoscopes are believed to be a tool used to suck blood. Medics have also been robbed, had their vehicles destroyed, and hospitals have been attacked. All of this resulted in the Society of Medical Doctors in Malawi stating that the fear of vampires is causing a mass hysteria to sweep the nation.
Said society president Dr. Amos Salimanda Nyaka, “The initial isolated incidents may have had elements of Shared Delusion Disorder. This is when a dominant individual who is deluded and can have those following him believe and internalize his delusions. Shared delusion is usually confined to a locality.”
“In view of the magnitude of the problem in that it is affecting many districts and the readiness of many Malawians to internalize these beliefs this presentation would constitute that of Mass Hysteria. It is the considered view of the Society that such bloodsuckers do not exist! This is purely Mass Hysteria,” Nyaka added.
Malawi is one of the poorest nations in the world. This means access to education is extremely limited. Because belief in witchcraft is widespread, difficulties are often attributed to magical or superstitious explanations. Progress in the country will prove challenging — but it won’t be impossible.
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