KEHINDE OYETIMI reports on the progress made by pro-albinism campaign groups and the persisting cultural name-calling foisted on albinos.
HE enjoyed the preferences he was given as a child, from the toys that littered his room to the privacy of habituating in the make-believe world that surrounded him. When he was taken to gatherings, he revelled at the consistent gazes of both adults and the young. He would laugh and giggle at the rush to carry him by those he deemed his various admirers. He became accustomed to such. Even at religious gatherings, Buchi would usually wonder at the special attention as he sat among his peers at the children class. Buchi became boisterous as he grew from his toddler reality to his pre-teen years. Whenever his parents had guests and would not give him the needed attention he required, he would sidle to the sides of one of their guests and the effect was spontaneous. Everybody would exclaim
“Look at this European in this house! Isn’t he lovely?” His face would cake into a half-repressed smile. “At least they have noticed me,” he would remark to himself and then sit smugly on one of the willing laps of his parents’ guests.
But the genial demeanour that he enjoyed from both close family friends and relatives was lost when he had to start school. At quite a tender age, he had started to understand the debilitating effects of being ostracised. Buchi searched in vain to find the benignity that spiced his world as a toddler. He began to question his humanity. At first, he couldn’t understand the reason for his being isolated by his friends. He had assumed that part of the factors that endeared him to people as a child was the colour of his skin. He was an albino. He had the coloration of the early evening sun—the yolk of a boiled egg.
Gradually, the pains of realisation began to dawn on him. He understood why he got special attention as a child but did not understand why he had to be different. He fought through various means to alter his marginalisation through life. His determination to excel, to prove his humanity, to dispel the cultural innuendos that traumatised his personality began to sum up as he aged. He took up daunting tasks after he graduated from the university, drifted across many fields of human endeavour—all to substantiate the verity of his person, to upturn the madness of a primitive assumption.
Welcome to the world of albinos...a blissfully painful world that has attracted more attention than anything, especially as they have been made to suffer in some countries.
In Nigeria, there are concerted efforts to give special recognitions to individuals living with albinism. These efforts appear to have been yielding semblances of the desired results. Recently, it was reported that the albinos who sat the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) were given extra-time because of their visual impairment. The same gesture was reported to have been extended by the National Examination Council (NECO).
Speaking with Sunday Tribune, Jude Nwabuokei, a peace and conflict analyst, stated the multidimensional struggle for societal acceptance that he and many other albinos daily go through. According to him, “ As a child, I can still remember asking my mother why my skin colour was different from that of other kids, and the response I got was that God probably loved to work with lots of colours, varying from very black to very white. However, as I got older, particularly during my pre-teen years, I would hear children and sometimes full-grown adults chanting “Oyibo pepper, if you eat pepper you go yellow more more”. Along with other expressions like “unfortunate european”, Afin o kin je’yo”, Bature, Ebo, Obobo, Onyeocha, Nwokeocha, and a host of other unprintable terms.
“But the major area where I felt the pangs of albinism was in my sight. Due to the lack of melanin in the skin and in the eyes, it resulted in shortsightedness which has often made me a butt of jokes all through my primary and secondary shool years. Albinism is not disability. Hence, I believe that what albinos need is inspiration and empowerment, not pity. For albinos who are from poor backgrounds, such legislative recognitions will be good for them.”
For Mrs Esther Ayim, a mother of an albino, “giving birth to an albino was viewed as my undoing. When I gave birth to my son, and I saw that he was white-skinned, I was taken aback. I had to ask the nurse, “is that my son?”, and her response was “no, he’s my son, hold your pikin jare!”. But after thinking it through for some time, I accepted the fact that he is my son because I’m light-skinned and so is my husband. Also, my father is very light-skinned and so is my mother-in-law, who as well as being light-skinned, has green eyes. So for me, giving birth to an albino son was no big deal.
“One thing I always told my son was that, he had a delicate skin and was not made for hard labour. Hence, I engaged him in reading and indoor games that would not make him get exposed to the sun. As a teacher, I made sure that I groomed him properly in writing and speaking and he is the better for it today. He’s always known for academic excellence and I thank God for giving me the grace to raise him well.”
Tolu Fagbure, an albino but also a successful theatre and media arts practitioner, gave Sunday Tribune his story. “ I am the first born and I heard stories of issues about me being a bastard from my paternal family but the ‘shut-up’ came for them when my brother came three years later; an albino but looked like my dad from birth and we have both grown to look like him except for the colour. People also didn’t want to serve me food with salt until I asked them very frankly if they could eat rice or yam without salt.
“I am fast becoming a brand in my career (Theatre and Media Arts); a strong force. People expect to intimidate me but they always meet a shocker, as I end up intimidating them and that’s why I don’t participate in this legislative recognition thing because, then, dwarfs will demand for special recognition; fat people will also fight, even very tall people will have to then start to fight. I would rather say all this noise should be channelled to mentoring and development,” he said.
Culture expert, Abiodun Bello, opined that societies are still replete with beliefs that are injurious to albinos. For him, “I’m aware that cultures in West Africa and South-Eastern Africa (e.g Yoruba and Malawi) believe that albinos are spirit beings. The Yoruba, for instance often refer to them as ‘osha’, same with Malawi and Tanzania’s perceptions that albinos are most potent for certain rituals for money or to cure some diseases. It is sad but these realities are still with us.”
Dr Mofeni Adeoti of His Mercy Hospital, Ajegunle, Lagos, told Sunday Tribune that “Excessive exposure of a person with albinism can lead to skin cancer. Albinos should wear opaque clothes and sunscreen.” He advised that individuals with family history of albinism should consider genetic tests.