Sunday, February 22, 2015

Popobawa - Zanzibar, Africa

Okay, I'm going to give a content warning here: This entry is probably not fit for younger readers, people who are sensitive to discussions of sexual assault, and it is definitely not fit for twelve-year old boys who will just use it as an excuse to crack inappropriate jokes about anal sex*. You have been warned.

Also, I can see some readers getting into a racist "oh, these primitive Africans" rant, and I'll talk about why you shouldn't be so confident in the Commentary section.

There is something haunting Tanzania.  Called the Popobawa - a bat-like creature that is said to sexually assault people in the night. In addition to these assaults, it is also said to generally haunt the home of its chosen victims, making noise, moving objects, and trying to frighten them. Once it has gotten it's fill of terror in one home, it moves on to the next one, usually in the same neighborhood.

Although the Popobawa may attack anyone in the household, it is alleged to prefer to anally rape men, and then threaten to return to repeat the action if the men do not tell others about the attack. As a result, men who have been attacked must confess the violation to others, compounding the trauma of the event.

Popobawa, which appears to translate to "bat wing" in Swahili, is a shape-shifter and can appear in many forms, but it's natural form is said to be that of a large bat-like creature with one eye and a gigantic penis, though this "natural form" may be more a creation of western media than an aspect of the Tanzanian folklore regarding the creature. In Tanzanian folklore, it appears that the creature has no true shape, and that the name refers to the shadow that it casts when it appears. The creature's appearance is said to be accompanied by scraping noises on the walls and roof, and a sulfurous smell.

The Popobawa prefers to attack people in their homes when they are alone, and so, during Popobawa panics, many men choose to spend their nights outdoors, sometimes in the streets (often the only open place in some of the crowded towns and cities), which has led to fatalities from automobile traffic.

It is also said that the Popoabawa may be frightened away by gatherings of people, or by recitations of passages from the Koran.

The origins of the Popobawa are unclear. While many people in Europe and the Americas like to think of it as a cryptid (that is, a creature not formally discovered by science but alleged by believers to exist, a'la Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster), it's pretty clear that the people of Tanzania consider it to be a spirit or demon of some sort. One story holds that a sheikh (a respected member of the community with informal authority) summoned a djinn (an spirit in Islamic folklore, in many ways comparable to the demons of Christian folklore) in order to attack neighbors with whom he was having difficulties, but that he lost control of the djinn and that it is now loose as the Popobawa.

*I was a twelve-year-old boy once. I know how you work.

Commentary:  Okay, let's get the first thing out of the way - I know that there are people reading this and thinking "oh, those primitive/superstitious Africans/Muslims! They have such dumb beliefs!" To which I will point out that panics regarding spectral sexual assault are not in any way unique to Africa or to the Muslim world. Christian and general European folklore is filled with stories of spectral rapists - Succubi, Incubi, "old hag", and many a faerie story - not to mention more recent stories about aliens abducting people and subjecting them to various sexual probes and experiments. And massive panics regarding this sort of thing are not unheard of in the west - consider the amount of claims of "Satanic Ritual Abuse" that appeared during the late 1970s and early 1980s. So, if you are inclined to look at this as a sign of gullibility or foolishness in a poor and underdeveloped part of the world, just be aware that your own culture is perfectly capable of producing very similar things.

Alright, that rant done, it's time to talk about this story. We have a story about a creature that goes about terrorizing households, and sexually assaulting members of the household (though allegedly prefering the male members). Let's assume, as I am inclined to, that this is all folklore. What does it mean?

Well, a number of different hypotheses have been put forward. Including:

- That this story is used to describe or cover up actual sexual assaults.

- That this story simply reflects a local variation on folklore surrounding the phenomenon of sleep paralysis.

- That this story reflects feelings of male inadequacies in a changing and poor region of Africa, with the metaphorical rape being used to metaphorically describe fears of emasculation.The insistence by the creature that mean admit to their violation in order to prevent further violation seems very much in line with this.

- That the story reflects fears of political instability. In fact, Popobabwa panics, during which many people report encounters and men often take to sleeping outdoors, typically accompany elections.

- That the story is a metaphorical discussion of Zanzibar's past as a slave market used by Arab traders. While plausible, the Popobawa first appeared on the island of Pemba in the 1970s, and so it seems unlikely that it would reflect directly the experience of 19th century slaves and slave traders.

Of course, none of these explanations are exclusive of the others, and it may well be that the Popobawa is a folkloric conglomeration of the anxieties, concerns, and very real assaults experienced by people living in Tanzania. It would appear to be a way in which ghostly folklore represents real-world issues, a phenomenon known the world over.

Sources: Podcast, BBC NewsWikipedia, Center for Inquiry, Cryptid Wiki, The Demon-Hunters Compendium,

Haunted Spooky MacBook of Spookiness!

It's been far to long since last I posted here. But it's a cold, overcast day, my wife and daughter are off doing fun stuff, and I am sitting calmly in a coffee shop, as I was during so many of my early entries onto this blog, and so it seems an excellent day to post a new ghost story.

This one is rather silly, but I think it's a mark of things to come for ghost stories, and as such, I am happy to have a chance to write about it.What we have here is something that sounds like it came out of one of Roger Corman's lesser attempts: a haunted computer.

A seller posted this to Ebay, trying to sell his old 2007 MacBook, claiming that it was haunted. I am just going to quote the Ebay page here:

Well, I took the computer home (still in perfect working condition) and, folks, this is when things started to get downright weird. First, I noticed that ALL of my songs in iTunes had become scary or haunted. Second, the desktop background was changed to a scary photo. The following week, we (my wife, Barbie, and I) noticed some of our stuff around the house had been mysteriously rearranged. One night, we went out to dinner with my wife’s parents and their friends and some people from my wife’s work and some of their parents. When we came home, my baseball cards were all out of order and my wife’s rare American coins were in total disarray. To make matters spookier, I occasionally saw the computer levitating. In some cases the screen and keyboard would open and shut quickly, as though the computer were attempting to speak.
The computer was levitating and flapping it's gums....Uhh...Okay...

Also, the computer has taken to writing...but not on it's screen:

The way he communicates with us is by grasping a pen between the keyboard and monitor and writing on pieces of printer paper from our home office...As such, I am given to believe that this ghost may have lived in a time before computers, for he appears to be quite unaware of the purpose of the machine he inhabits...

Lest you be concerned about the presence of an evil computer (it is a Mac, just get used to the evil*), the seller assures us that the computer "is NOT haunted by a demon or "devil man" negative entity." In fact, the computer has vacuumed Ken's home (the seller must be Ken, he's married to Barbie, after all), helped in his son's talent show, and apparently helped Ken and Barbie get through a rough patch in their marriage.

Oh, and if you are concerned that this is just a joke on the part of Ken, no worries - it comes with a certificate provided by a psychic proving that it's haunted! So you know it must be legit! Self-proclaimed psychics** are never involved in scams, after all!

*Don't worry Apple-eaters, were it a PC, I'd be making snide comments about Microsoft. But I don't make any negative comments about Android, because I do not want to anger our new overlords in the event of the inevitable Android uprising. ALL HAIL SKYNET!

**I was about to make a comment about how all psychics are self-proclaimed. Then I remembered a guy named Ben who I knew in college. Ben convinced himself that I was psychic, for reasons too stupid to go into (though the short version is that I knew amazing things about people, and Ben couldn't accept that I knew them because people told me things because, unlike Ben, I wasn't a, I must know them due to being psychic and not from practicing my amazing not-an-asshole-powers). So, sometimes psychics aren't self-proclaimed, but instead proclaimed by idiots.

Commentary: Hotels and restaurants have known for a very long time that claiming a haunting can drive up revenues, and ghost story connoisseurs will know that we have a long history of haunted objects. This isn't the first attempt to sell a "haunted" object on Ebay (an earlier attempt, which was itself probably not the first attempt, was the alleged "Dibbuk Box"). So, this is likely an attempt to make a large profit while offloading an obsolete piece of equipment. At the time that Cnet ran their story on it, the laptop had a bids up to $6,200 - for an 8-year-old laptop. So, it would appear that this is working.

However, I'm particularly charmed by the way in which Ken is so obviously trolling believers. Changing music to "scary" music? Loading Edgar Allen Poe stories? "Devil man" entities? Psychic guarantees of haunting? I mean, yeah, to most of us these are all signs that Ken is joking - he's practically begging you to see the joke! Hell, he placed THIS photo in the listing:

Nonetheless, I have come across a few folks who seem to believe this nonsense. So, I guess it's once again an example of the internet proving just how gullible people can be. Good luck, Mr. Gorsky!

Of course, I am frustrated by the fact that I didn't think of this first, and now I don't have a way to make huge amounts of money off of my old Dell laptop.

Sources: ABC News, CNet, Time (although the laptop appeared on Ebay and the ad is here, the ad is likely to vanish after the sale, so I have settled on the less transitory sources for this entry)