Xeni on the road in West Africa: Ritually Stolen Penises and Vaginas – Not a Joke Here.

Jeez, where do I start with this one. So — there is an odd cultural phenomenon in West Africa involving panic over the belief that one's genitals have been "stolen" through witchery. Usually it's reported as "penis theft," but there's a female version too — the belief that witches can also make "normal" adult female genitals shrivel up and dry "like old lady parts."

Pesco has blogged about this before on Boing Boing. During my visit to West Africa this month, I fearlessly followed up on this urgent news imperative for our blog, in person. Bottom line, yes, these mass "penis theft panics" do happen from time to time. Seem to occur more often in Nigeria than anywhere else, but below, a scanned news article from one local newspaper in Benin about a craze in 2006 which left a number of people dead (large size here), and here, a news report about what was probably the biggest-ever penis-thievery-crisis in recent history, back in 2001.

Over dinner in Cotonou this Monday night with two foreigners working in Benin, I heard the story of that big 2001 scare like this:

On a busy November day in a bustling public street market in Cotonou, some Beninese people started shouting that their man-junk had been stolen by a group of men nearby, who happened to be Nigerian. A mob soon formed, things got hysterical fast. The mob poured gasoline on the accused and set them on fire, killing them. BTW, the first rule of being accused here of witchcraft penis theft (or even regular old petty theft) is: run to the police as fast as you can, because a mob will form and try to kill you. After this initial freakout, about 9 more copycat incidents soon followed, in which the accused schlong-stealers were either burned alive or hacked to death.

One of the expats in Cotonou Monday night told me the bittersweet punch line was — the men who claimed their penises were stolen and caused all the mayhem were later apprehended by police, stripped of clothing, and paraded in front of television news crews totally naked, to show that yes, their wedding tackle remained intact and the whole thing was BS.

Someone (either a cop or a TV reporter) on camera asked one of the chained, naked, still-be-penised guys "So! What do you have to say for yourself! Obviously it's still there!"

To which the guy replied — "Well, it was a lot larger before."

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Update: Oh, interesting, there was a Harper's article about this phenomenon not long ago. "A mind dismembered: In search of the magical penis thieves," by Frank Bures (thanks, Nach0s).


(Thanks, Hugo!)