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Dr. Leo Igwe 2 on White Skin in Albinism and Misrepresented Anthropology


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/01/06

Dr. Leo Igwe is the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement and former Western and Southern African representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, now Humanists International. He is among the most prominent African non-religious people from the African continent. When he speaks, many people listen in a serious way. He holds a Ph.D. from the Bayreuth International School of African Studies at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, having earned a graduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Calabar in Nigeria.

Here we talk about Western anthropological, NGO, and journalistic misrepresentation of albinism.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Skin colour is a spectrum. A spectrum determined by the range of melanin content in the skin or not. Albinism represents total lack. How have Western anthropologists misrepresented albinism to the international audiences, African and non-African alike?

Dr. Leo Igwe: What western anthropologists and their NGO/journalist counterparts have misrepresented is the attack on people living with albinism. They have designated such attacks as ‘witchcraft’ murders. They have conflated two cultural epistemologies, the epistemology of money/wealth ritual (Ogwuego) and the epistemology of witchcraft (Amusu). One epistemology is predicated on what people know about the body parts of persons with albinism and the other is factored on what people know about alleged witches’ ability to harm others through occult means. In explaining African socio-cultural phenomena, western anthropologists have merged the naturalist and the supernaturalist epistemologies. In fact, there is seldom any allusion to any form of naturalism in the explanation of Africa, or any thing African. Going through many anthropological texts, it is as if the naturalistic is unAfrican, while the supernaturalistic, the magical and the occult are essentially African.

The classical tragedy is that western anthropologists take witchcraft as a gate keeping concept, that is, the frame to study, understand and explain Africa, and everything African. And this constitutes the mother of all misrepresentations in the anthropological discourse. In fact the misrepresentation of the killings of persons with albinism as witchcraft killings or the designation of traditional African medicine as an exercise in witch doctoring draws from this fundamental misrepresentation by western anthropologists. The time has come for a paradigm shift away from witchcraft as a gate keeping concept to a new paradigm where witchcraft is a concept, not the concept for the study of Africa and any thing African.

Jacobsen: What has been the impact of the acceptance of the misrepresentation by the African public and the African intellectuals, and political and theological personalities?

Igwe: The major impact is massive loss of local knowledge and concepts and the tendency to paint everything African with the brush of witchcraft. Many have embraced the facile explanation of any phenomenon as a manifestation of witchcraft. African medicine is taken to be a form of witchcraft. African religion is witchcraft. Even ‘African science’ is witchcraft. This misrepresentation has not been useful and resourceful in highlighting changes and transformations in African societies. It has continued to perpetuate an imbalanced explanation of Africa. The misrepresentation has negatively impacted the ability of the African public and intellectuals to be very nuanced in explaining Africa, and in situating African social or cultural phenomena. It has implicitly invested more power and authority in studying and interpreting anything African on western anthropologies and anthropologists than their African counterparts.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Igwe.

Igwe: You are welcome.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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