An article earlier this week in the LA Times told the tale of a Tanzanian girl named Bibiana who was attacked because she was albino. Bibiana and Tindi Mashamba (also albino) had already lost their mother to asthma and their father to AIDs. Then somebody broke into their house and amputated Bibiana’s right leg and two of her fingers. A local foundation generously brought Bibiana to Los Angeles and helped her get fitted with a proper prosthetic leg, and both sisters now live here.
The Mashamba sisters are very fortunate. Africans still trade in albino body parts, thinking them to have magical or curative powers. There is also the stigma of being an African with white skin; traditional African beliefs say this is witchcraft, something from the devil. How can you be African and have white skin?
I learned about the fear of albinism in Africa because of Salif Keita, an albino who was ostracized in his youth. I wrote in my world music book Rhythm Planet about how he’d go out singing with the birds in the fields, and when somebody heard his powerful voice they told him to join a band. He joined Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako, Mali, named after a small hotel at the capital’s train station. The rest is history, as he is now one of Mali’s most famous singers.
Salif Keita wrote a beautiful song about being albino, a very positive song titled “La Différence” (The Difference). Here are the opening stanzas in French:
Je suis un noir
Ma peau est blanche
Et moi j’aime bien ça
et moi j’adore ça
C’est la différence qui est jolie
My English translation:
I am a black man
My skin is white
and I like this
I love this
This difference is beautiful
Here is Salif doing a solo version of the song:
Here is an unusual choral version of the song:
Finally, there is a gofundme campaign seeking to raise funds for the girls (there is still a lot of $$ to be raised).
June 2018 update: This article appeared in today’s LA Times: