The Malawi vampire folklore: We have been here before

I felt compelled to say something about the “Opopa Magazi” (Vampire) trending story.  Malawi is always in the limelight on not so good stuff – if it’s not the vampire story, it’s Albinos or cash-gate or the “human hyena” infecting women with HIV and the list goes on and on!

At least nine killed as ‘Vampire’ mania spreads in Malawi
 The Sociologist in me asks – why are we back to the centuries-old Opopa Magazi story in Malawi in 2017? Why have we let this happen again to the extent that some innocent lives have been lost?
During our childhood we heard about several similar famous stories: “chimunthu chachitali chikumayima kumanda” (a tall ghost standing at the graveyard), “Opopa magazi” (Vampires) “gule amagona kumanda” (ghost dancers that live at the graveyard) “anapwere stuff” (albinos) etc
While commentators on legal, health, economic, political, psychology, and other issues are several, I have not seen many who are trying to weave the day to day local issues into a modern sociological perspective.
Where are the Sociologists in Malawi?
Several things happening in Malawi such as the “albino”, “vampire” issues require sociological explanation and interpretation and in addition to the other aspects such as legal, to generate ways of combating them.
These issues are embedded in the Malawian society values, norms and culture.
The norms and practices of the general Malawi society have not significantly changed with time. Gossip, rumour mongering, pull down syndrome, and many more have mostly remained at the core of society.
Major channels of sharing gossip, rumours etc have mostly remained by “word of mouth” with some social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp playing a role somehow.  All these are good ingredients for creating an environment conducive for stuff like the “Opopa Magazi” stories to thrive and spread from community to community easily and at speed.
If you will notice, some of the communities that are now affected by vampires have been the same communities with similar experiences in the past. You will also notice that various communities across the country have their own stories – some about “kuchotsa nyanga/ufiti” (witchcraft) gule ogona kumanda” (ghost dancers)  etc along the same line but slightly varying on their impact and on how the community embraces and reacts to them.
The vampire stuff fits fully into the category of what Sociologists call a “Folklore” or “contemporary legend” but generally called “urban legend”, “urban myth” or “urban tale”.  These are fictional stories that someone propagates about an issue (such as “opopa magazi)” happening to a friend or a friend of a friend and spread across a community or communities mainly by word of mouth.
In such stories, you will hear about this happened to someone else and not to the one narrating. You never hear it directly from the victim.
I am not sure whether any journalist or anyone reporting on this has seen a victim “wopopedwa magazi”- if anything you just hear about the one suspected of “kupopa magazi” (the vampire) being attacked or killed.
Most of these innocent people who do not even know how to suck blood. No one has come forward with a jug full of blood as evidence that they suck blood.  And most important, no one has clearly mentioned about what they do with the blood. Sell? How much? To who? Where do they sell?
These contemporary legends are dangerous mainly because they talk about issues that might affect several people or the whole community (wopopa magazi – Vampire) and generate fear, suspicion and distrust in communities.
These must be addressed as quickly as possible once they come out in a community. Delays always lead to situations as witnessed in Blantyre where the police and the army had to intervene.
Delays will ensure that similar stories will resurface in the near future.  It just starts with one fella- that run 3 kilometres being chased by vampires.  One of the people chasing him seems to be the owner of that maize mill.
There are several ways that could have been done to debunk them though.  Maybe, these failed – I am not sure. However, I am sure we have educated sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunties, fathers, mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers with some links to all affected communities.
Did any call or talk to any of their family in affected communities to explain that there was no vampire?  Did the president or other people in authority talk about this explaining the facts about vampires? To what level were the OpinionlLeaders involved? Or were they part of the story, too?
If the educated folks believes in this vampire story too, then Malawi is doomed!

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4 years ago

I’m sure there are many people who are trying to understand this shocking phenomenon. I suggest that they read ‘Speaking with Vampires: Rumor and History in Colonial Africa’ by Luise White, published in Berkley by the University of California Press in 2000. Although some of the writer’s research methods are slightly suspect, her book does provide valuable insights.

Hlabezulu Ngonoonda
Hlabezulu Ngonoonda
4 years ago
Reply to  Thitherward

Thitherward, is the book available at Times Bookshop or Malawi Book Service or University Bookshop? What is the cost price? Diseases that plagued our ancestors have largely played a significant part in the creation of stories of vampires and bloodsuckers. For hundreds of years, vampires were scapegoats for diseases. Their incidences were greater in remote communities that had less frequent contact with the outside world. The isolation of these communities from the civilized ones, contributed to the spreading of the stories. When calamity struck, many would point the finger at an undead spirit preying on the living. Yet people failed… Read more »

4 years ago

Hlabezulu Ngonoonda, if you find the book at Times Bookshop or Malawi Book Service, please let me know!

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