Mass hysteria has broken out in the small southeast African nation of Malawi, where rumors of real-life blood-sucking vampires have become so widespread that groups of vigilante vampire hunters resort to murder to protect their communities.
At least 9 suspected vampires have been brutally murdered in Malawi since mid-September, including two men in the country’s second-largest city, Blantyre. According to police, both were stoned, and one was set on fire. Police have arrested over 140 people in connection with a vigilante group that has been targeting individuals accused of being vampires and sucking the blood of the innocents.
Leaders in southern Malawi believe that the vampire rumors originated in neighboring Mozambique, where the fear of real-life vampires has led to violence in the past. The UN also believes that the vampire hysteria recently spread across the Mozambique-Malawi border, into the districts of Mulanje and Phalombe.
The Daily Mail reports that doctors and other healthcare workers have been targeted by vampire hunters for their use of stethoscopes, which the vigilantes apparently consider a tool used to suck blood. Medics have also been robbed and had their vehicles destroyed, while ambulances carrying patients to the hospital have been attacked, a doctors’ association said. The Society of Medical Doctors in Malawi has stated that it is a case of mass hysteria sweeping the nation.
In a statement, society president Dr. Amos Salimanda Nyaka said, “The initial isolated incidents may have had elements of Shared Delusion Disorder. This is when a dominant individual who is deluded and can have those following him believe and internalize his delusions. Shared delusion is usually confined to a locality.”
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“In view of the magnitude of the problem in that it is affecting many districts and the readiness of many Malawians to internalize these beliefs this presentation would constitute that of Mass Hysteria. It is the considered view of the Society that such bloodsuckers do not exist! This is purely Mass Hysteria,” Nyaka writes.
James Kaledzera, Malawi’s national police spokesperson, told the BBC that police patrols had been stepped up in affected areas, and that they would “arrest anybody who is deemed to have taken part in the killings”.
Malawian President Peter Mutharika has pledged to investigate the killings, which he described as “of grave concern” to the government.
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In response to the vigilante group and the accompanying violence, the United Nations has declared several parts of Malawi as no-go zones, stating the situation was ‘unstable and volatile’. UN Dispatch’s Joanne Lu observed: “The current spate of violence is not without political undertones as well. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party has accused the Malawi Congress Party of being behind the rumors and violence. At the same time, politically motivated violence is erupting in other nearby districts ahead of local elections.”
“However, it’s the cultural underpinnings — the superstitions, myths and cultural belief — that are more worrying to human rights advocates, because those are more deeply ingrained into poor, undereducated rural societies than political alliances, Lu added. “The attacks are alarmingly reminiscent of a sharp increase over the last couple years of attacks on people with albinism, whose bones and body parts are believed to bring good luck in witchcraft rituals.”
Malawi is one of the poorest nations in the world, with low educational standards and access. Belief in witchcraft is widespread, and difficulties are often attributed to magical or superstitious explanations. Another similar case of mass hysteria broke out in the area in 2002, when one man was killed and three Catholic priests were assaulted following a rumor that Malawi’s government was collaborating with vampires to collect human blood.