As the world becomes a smaller place thanks to digital technology, it’s becoming easier than ever to pass ideas from one culture to another. Digital streaming means that we can view films that were made in other countries and in other languages. The ease of translation means that books that were written in one language can easily be translated into another, even made available to read online. This has, broadly speaking, been a good thing. People now have access to more information than they’ve ever had in the past, and that information can be used for the purpose of education. Unfortunately, it can also be used for the spreading of misinformation.
As most people know without needing to be told, vampires aren’t real. They’re a folk legend, first recorded in the Europe of the mid-17th century and then made world-famous when Bram Stoker wrote ‘Dracula’ – the novel that inspired hundreds of television shows and movies. Without Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula,’ there would be no ‘Twilight’ film series and no ‘True Blood’ on television. Without Bram Stoker’s Dracula, we probably wouldn’t also have the problem of people in Malawi believing that some of the people living among them are vampires and attacking them – and yet the attacks have now become so widespread that President Mutharika has felt compelled to make a statement on the issue.
We have no way of knowing why belief in vampires and other blood-sucking ‘demons’ has become popular in the modern age. Gambling has recently become much more popular than it once was, so perhaps too many people are playing the popular ‘Vlad’s Castle’ online slots game. If that were true, though, we’d expect other popular casino characters to enter the national consciousness as well. There are dozens – if not hundreds – of online slots based on Irish folklore, but we’re yet to see an increase in belief in leprechauns. Perhaps films, television, and the internet are to blame, or perhaps there’s a cult leader somewhere encouraging such ideas, but the President has made it clear that these beliefs are unfounded, and it’s time for them to stop before anybody else gets hurt.
The story might be considered charming if it wasn’t so serious, and if it weren’t for the fact that the world’s media have begun picking up on the stories and using them to portray Malawi in a bad light. At least twelve people are now known to have been killed by angry mobs who believed them to be vampires, and attacks have now spread to international aid workers and foreign visitors to the country who are wrongly thought to be members of a secretive vampiric cult. In some northern districts, the problem is so bad that the US Embassy has issued instructions to its staff that certain regions are now ‘no go areas.’ There have also been reports of villagers, armed with their own weapons, forcibly stopping cars as they pass through rural areas and performing searches for evidence of vampire activity at gunpoint.
When the US Embassy passed their concerns on to the United Nations, the Malawian government became involved. It’s understood that Marie Jose Torres, the UN’s Resident Coordinator for Malawi, contacted President Mutharika personally and asked him to make a statement on the issue and appeal for calm. Mutharika has done that – and also backed his words with action. So far, it’s been reported that more than one hundred and fifty people have been arrested on suspicion of being involved with the fatal attacks and that more arrests may come soon. The President has authorized the Malawi Defence Force to work alongside the police to ensure that all perpetrators are brought to justice swiftly and that areas affected by violence are patrolled regularly to ensure that the situation is brought under control before anybody else loses their life.
Nobody knows for sure who started the rumor that vampires might be active in Malawi, but the President believes that his political enemies spread the stories in order to cause difficulties for him. His suspicion is that the opposition will be sufficiently frightened by both the stories and the fear of violence to refrain from registering to vote in the country’s next election in July. Whether or not the President is correct in his suspicions remains to be seen, but the multiple fatalities serve as evidence that enough people take the stories seriously for there to be a danger to the public in areas where belief is widespread.
Belief in vampires is not compatible with any religion practiced in Malawi. Whether you’re Christian or Muslim, there are no vampires in your religious texts and no foundation for believing that vampires exist. Like werewolves and zombies, vampires are a creation of European writers looking for ways to scare their audiences centuries ago. A vampire makes for an excellent central character for anybody wanting to write a hit television show or movie, or a popular novel. There was never any such person as ‘Count Dracula’ in real life, though, and nor is there any reason for anybody to suspect that such a person ever existed.
The Malawian police do not have any record of any crime committed that involves a victim being killed and then having their blood drained. If there were a blood-sucking cult in Malawi as the rumors imply, there would be direct evidence of bodies being found, and the stories would have made both national and international news. The complete lack of such reports or other evidence is confirmation that the rumors aren’t true and shouldn’t be believed. Nobody, regardless of whether they’re a Malawian native or a visitor from overseas, has come to Malawi to drink your blood. It’s vital that this belief is challenged wherever it’s seen, and that rational Malawians aren’t tempted to join in with such superstitions or erroneous assumptions. The country suffered enough damage to its reputation abroad in the aftermath of the last election and the fraud allegations that followed it. It does not benefit from having foreign journalists writing stories about Malawians trying to chase vampires out of their home towns. Hopefully, the police and the army will be able to stamp this practice out before it spreads any further.