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A Witch Wants My Private Parts!

In Nigeria, in 1990, interesting rumors spread. Weird, frightening rumors. Magical forces were stealing people’s genitalia. Belief in witchcraft is common in central and eastern Africa, and genital theft sounds like something witches would want to do, right?

In crowded cities, people would have glancing contact with a stranger, then accuse them of theft. The stranger would be blamed, threatened, beaten, and sometimes burned by a crowd demanding the taken genitals be returned. People, of course, try to prevent theft. Men hold onto their penises – either visibly, or with covert pockets. Women hold onto their breasts or walk around with their arms crossed.

The genital theft hysteria didn’t completely die away after 1990. Seven were killed in Ghana’s Accra for penis theft in 1997, Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kinshasha had an outbreak in 2008, and Central African Republic had an unusually rural hysteria in 2013.