The Reality and Myth of Albinism in the Yoruba Ethnic Group

“If you like, pack the hair. Just come and give me part of  the money when it finally works for you.” Adedayo chuckled at the barber who had made a statement about the possibility of getting rich if he used his hair for rituals. Adedayo thought back to the other times he had heard people say how his bones or hair would help generate wealth because of the color of his skin. And he wondered how myths like these flow from one generation to another, no matter how educated people claim to be. Like Adedayo, there are statistically other 2 million Nigerians who have faced discrimination from cradle to grave because of the difference in their skin color. Now lets look at the myth of Albinism in the Yoruba ethnic group.

Myth of albinism
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Gotten from the Latin word albuswhich means “white”, albinism is a rare genetic condition that causes the lack of pigment in skin, hair, and eyes and is sometimes accompanied by visual impairments. It is caused by a defect in one of our several genes that distribute or produce melanin, the pigment that gives the eyes, hair, and skin their coloring. This lack of melanin causes babies to be born with pale white skin and white, blonde, or, in some cases, brown or ginger hair. 

Nigeria is estimated to have one of the highest albinism prevalence in the world which is about 6 million. In Yoruba land, (the South Western part of Nigeria), mythical beliefs are prevalent over scientific reasoning behind the causes of albinism. There is also a common misconception in the Yoruba ethnic group that albinos are majorly illiterate or barely educated. This is due to the conception of their birth, their health, and, their lifestyle. The purpose of this article is to sensitize people about albinism while debunking some popular myths surrounding it. 

Myths of Albinism and the Reality

  1. Birth: The mythology behind the birth of albinos varies among different societies. 

Coming down to Nigeria, West Africa, their mythology is quite different. The Yourbas believe that Albinos were created by Obatala, an Orisa(god) while he was drunk. Their belief is that Obatala was the god who created humans while Olodumare (Almighty God) breathed life into them. One day, Obatala went drinking and got drunk, and in that state, he created the albino. Folklore has it that the Albinos were the dearest to him and were given sacred positions in his shrine.

This ethnic group also believes that copulating with a woman while she is on her menstrual period or when the sun is scorching can also lead to the birth of an albino. Lastly, they also believe that making jest of an albino by a woman can lead to the birth of one herself.

From the above reasons and causes of albinism, it can be seen that albinos are seen as a punishment or a curse caused by an act of either or both of the parents. This has led to the constant stigmatization suffered by them.                                                     

But,  what is the truth? 

Albinism is caused by a genetic mutation that affects the production of a pigment called melanin. In humans, there is a cell called the melanocyte that is responsible for giving skin, hair, and eye pigmentation. In albinos, the melanocytes are present, but genetic mutations interfere with their pigment production. Or their ability to distribute it to keratinocytes, the major cell type comprising the epidermis, or outer layer of the skin.

Albinism is the direct result of a defect in one of the genes responsible for the production and distribution of melanin. The reduced skin pigment leads to an increase in skin sensitivity to sunlight and other environmental factors. Additionally, the reduced or lack of pigment in their eyes is associated with photophobia and other related visual impairments.

2. Albinos and Salt:  Àfinkòkinjẹyọ̀ is a popular saying by the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria which means “Albinos do not eat salt.” They also believe that albinos eat only a particular type of yam that does not require salt when cooking. From various research, it can be concluded that the reasoning behind this statement is the assumption that their intake of salt causes the dark patches that can be found on the skin of some albinos. 

Again, that is just a myth and highly untrue. The nature of albinos’ skin makes them highly prone to the harsh effects of the sun which causes sunburns, hence, the black patches. There is no relation between their skin and salt intake. Medically, salt consumption has become imperative for them because it is an essential dietary requirement. A person deficient in salt could end up with iodine deficiency that could cause goiter or hyponatremia. A condition characterized by low levels of sodium in the blood.

3. Albinos’  defective eyesight

 It is a common idea that Albinos cannot drive or see things properly, especially when it is sunny. While this may be true for some, it is not true for all. People who have albinism have little to no pigmentation of the iris or on their eyelids which protect the eyes. Since pigment in the eye absorbs light and helps tolerate most kinds of bright light, the lack of pigment in these structures makes albinos very sensitive to light and this is called photosensitivity. This defect is best managed from birth and determines the strength of each eyesight.


Albinos have been constantly stigmatized and bullied in places of work, education centers, and even situations that require access to basic amenities. In worse cases, some are rejected by their family and society for fear of bad luck. It can be so extreme that in some specific Yoruba areas, the birth of albinos is banned and their visits to such places are prohibited.

An occurrence of a genetic mutation has led to the death, amputation, ostracization, and discrimination of albinos. This is because of the prevalence of these myths rather than the facts about albinism. There should be constant sensitization of the general public about albinism by both governmental and non-governmental organizations. These, among other effective solutions, can bring an end to the myths about albinism. 

Omolade Madeenah

Madeenah is a freelance writer with great interest in beauty, skin care and community-focused literature. She loves the smell of new books, freshly brewed coffee and children’s smiles. When she is not writing, she is sticking her head in law books or taking pictures of random objects.