Saturday, January 17, 2009

Muti murders and other nasties

It's Summer School time at the University of Otago. Courtesy of traveling away up north for the holidays I didn't enrol in any papers this year, although I was kindly given permission to gate crash a few of the lectures in this year's Forensic Biology course. Most of the course is a repetition of the one I did last year, but I did want to catch the lectures by visiting South African forensic anthropologist Maryna Stern, from the University of Pretoria.

Listening to overseas specialists always gives you an appreciation of how good we've got it in New Zealand. Here are some scary statistics she outlined about South Africa.

It has a population of around 46 million, plus an estimated 8 million illegal immigrants.

There are 18 000 - 20 000 murders per year officially, and she thought that was on the low side of reality.

There are 150 000 gunshot wound incidents.

14 000 car highjackings.

This is why so many choose to emigrate here!

They bury over 10 000 unidentified bodies every year. These aren't all from murders or foul play. Many are just people who have died of natural causes and have been found. Many people have no official documents, and have never been to a denist, so have no dental records or medical records to aid in identification.

She also talked of the incredible superstitions of the native population and of some of the Muti Murders. Muti means strong medicine, and they believe body parts have inherent powers, and are so targeted for use in medicines. The victims are often children.

It was a fascinating lecture and as I said earlier, it made me appreciate how peaceful life is in our country.

It also brought to mind the Mo Hayder book I read last year, Ritual. This book carries themes of Muti murders and superstition in the immigrant population in Britain.

It got me to thinking would a novel based on this kind of superstitious magic work in a New Zealand setting? Would readers be able to imagine people being murdered for body bits to go in magical concoction in our quiet little island paradise?

Stranger things have happened.

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