NigerianVillageSquare.com, 30 May 2008 Written by Sabela O. Abiddey
Irrational fear, ignorance, gullibility and mass hysteria are common variables in human societies, so also are primordial attitude, preliterate passions, and animalistic tendencies. But, as societies evolve — helped along by education and global interactions that impacts their worldview — such passions and tendencies and beliefs generally lessens, allowing for sensible thinking, rational acts, and science-based existence. A critical observation of modern societies seems to indicate two particulars: a correlation between very high levels of religiosity and irrational fear; and two, a corresponding association between low levels of formal education and irrationality. And no where in the world are the aforesaid more evident and ubiquitous than in the Indian subcontinent and in Africa .
Within the African continent, contagions of the intellect, mass hysterias and crippling urban legends are common. In one country after another, there are confounding tales of everything, i.e. magically induced shrinking brains, missing breasts, missing toddlers, and the missing or shrinking penis. And then there are tales of humans metamorphosing into dogs and cats and hyenas and other animals, or vice versa. Though there are no verifiable accounts of such transmutations, yet, there are Africans who swear by the Bible or the Quran of having witnessed such. There are no impeccable records of supernaturally-shrinking or missing penis or any of the legends that permeates the African society; nonetheless, some Africans go to their graves believing in such nonsensical tales.
In all instances, it has been a case of “somebody said,” “my grandfather told us,” or “my friend’s friend” said or saw it. Such historical figments have been kept alive from one generation to another: wild accounts of animals doing the unimaginable; humans with supernatural ability of biblical proportion; stories of gods and ghosts in the African rivers and forests that rivals and even supersedes any Greek mythology. Sleep paralysis and alcohol induced apparitions that are believed to be the handiwork of witches. In most African societies, clinical depression and other mental challenges are not recognized as illnesses per se, but instead, are attributed and thought of as the handiwork of satanic forces. A typical African does not believe that the mind and the brain can sometimes play games on the human reality; it is a society where everything is possible and nothing is impossible.
Year after year, thousands of Africans are killed after being accused of witchcraft or some other so-called supernatural-crimes. All that is needed, in some cases, is for your enemy, a critic or a no-good family member to accuse you of witchery; punishment can be death, loss of reputation or bodily harm. Understandably, most of such accusations and activities are mostly limited to the poor and the poverty stricken. The aforesaid, like religious stupidity, is generally at its peak in times of rampant economic depression. And most African countries have been in a rut since the early years of their flag independence.
In 1997, there was the case of lynch mobs were “roaming the streets of Senegal hunting down foreigners believed to be sorcerers with the power to shrink men’s penises. Allegedly, a handshake is all it takes.” In January of the same year (1997) in
Accra , Ghana , “seven sorcerers who were accused of grabbing penises were beaten to death by angry mobs. Victims allege that the sorcerers touched them to make their genitals shrink or, in some cases, disappear to extort cash for the promise of a cure.” In Zimbabwe , in 1999, “a prostitute is accused of magically stealing a deadbeat client’s privates, then returning them on payment.” In 2001, “security forces were called onto the streets of Cotonou after a spate of horrendous murders connected with suspicions of witchcraft. All that is necessary to spark off such attacks is for a man to cry out in public: ‘My penis has gone!’ and the mob which quickly gathers attacks the first suspicious-looking passer-by.”
The Nigeria of my youth was widespread with reports of the missing and shrinking penis, missing or shrinking brains and breasts and of course of what in the local parlance was called, Gbomogbomo. Alleged perpetrators were beaten and or killed. Thirty-eight or so years after I became conscious of these phenomenons, no one has been able to prove their veracity, and no one has ever been prosecuted. In March 2006, one of Nigeria’s most prestigious newspapers, Daily Independent, reported that in Patani, Delta State “…three young men have allegedly lost their genitals in mysterious circumstances…the incident occurred in a restaurant after one of them allegedly gave change to a man after eating…”
Recently, the Times of Nigeria (Saturday May 24, 2008) reported that: “Motor bike Taxi drivers…gathered to protest against a client they accuse of using pigeons to steal penises…the suspect’s last victim is a 35 year old Motor Bike Taxi driver named Musa Abubakar. The suspect denies all accusations. Abubakar claims Mohammed Ma’aji had stolen his “family jewels” with the help of a white “spiritual pigeon” hidden in his bag. This spiritual pigeon was wearing a small black tie around its neck…I drove this man to three different places. On our way back to our point of departure, he squeezed his legs tightly around me which made feel sick and weak immediately. I therefore stopped riding to have a look in my trousers and it was gone!” As a result, “The local transport unions of motorcyclists have threatened to take the case to court if the pigeon does not give back the missing penis to its owner.”
Ironically, there are real instances of shrinking penises, but not in the same manner some ignorant and fearful persons think of it. The condition is generally referred to as Koro, or more scientifically, Genital Retraction Syndrome. According to the Journal of Urology (1995 Feb; 153 (2):427-8), “The koro syndrome is a psychiatric disorder characterized by acute anxiety and a deep-seated fear of shrinkage of the penis and its ultimate retraction into the abdomen.” For further information, see “Accusations of Genital Theft: A Case from Northern Ghana .” Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, Volume 29, Number 1 / March, 2005. See also the Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal (Volume 5, Issue 3, 1999: 611-613). Apparently, ‘the shrinking or disappearing penis’ is a pathological fear that the genitals are shrinking into the body, and this belief and feelings occurs only in certain cultures, particularly the Asian and African cultures.
In view of the frequency of the missing penis, missing body parts and the gbomogbomo rumors, fears and repercussions, why hasn’t African governments and universities taken it upon themselves to educate the people about the scientific explanations for such occurrences? How many innocent people have to be killed or maimed before appropriate actions are taken? Even if various African governments and universities are indifferent to the matter, what about the media? After all, the media is there, not just to report on the news and on government and public sector activities, but to also enlighten and educate the masses. The Daily Independent, in concert with other media houses should embark on such laudable endeavor — too many innocent people are loosing their lives over sheer lies and misconceptions. It is in the interest of the country to embark on such a campaign.