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Miners' magic: artisanal mining, the albino fetish and murder in Tanzania*

  • Deborah Fahy Bryceson (a1), Jesper Bosse Jønsson (a2) and Richard Sherrington (a3)

A series of murders of albinos in Tanzania's north-west mining frontier has been shrouded in a discourse of primitivism by the international and national press, sidestepping the significance of the contextual circumstances of an artisanal mining boom firmly embedded in a global commodity chain and local profit maximisation. The murders are connected to gold and diamond miners' efforts to secure lucky charms for finding minerals and protection against danger while mining. Through the concept of fetish creation, this article interrogates the agency of those involved in the murders: the miners who purchase the albino charms, the waganga healers renowned for their healing, divination and sorcery skills who prescribe and sell the charms, and the albino murder victims. The agrarian background, miners' ambitions and a clash of values comprise our starting point for understanding the victimisation of albinos.

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Deborah Fahy Bryceson, a sociologist/geographer and graduate of the University of Dar es Salaam, lived in Tanzania between 1971 and 1981 and has continued since then to work with University of Dar es Salaam colleagues on Tanzanian rural and urban subject matter. Jesper Bosse Jønsson, a geographer, has worked in Tanzania for ten years on rural livelihoods and unfolding developments in mining, both as an academic and NGO representative. Richard Sherrington, an anthropologist, has researched development and mining issues in Tanzania since 2000, specifically artisanal diamond mining in Mwanza and Shinyanga. We are grateful to Ray Abrahams, Simeon Mesaki and Koen Stroeken for elucidating comments during the article's preparation and to unnamed referees for their criticisms of our paper.

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