The residents of Zanzibar are growing increasingly worried as Tanzania approaches the coming 2010 general elections. The reason is not so much due to political violence, but rather for fear that Popo Bawa will reappear.
The Popo Bawa, whose name is derived from the Swahili words for “bat” and “wing”, first appeared in the neighboring island of Pemba in 1972. Attacks were then reported in the 1980s, 1995, 2000, 2001 and 2005. Each period coincides with either a general election or some other political turmoil, such as the 1972 assassination of the Zanzibari president.
The Popo Bawa is described as a cyclops dwarf with bat-like wings and ears, and sharp talons. It is feared for its nasty habit of attacking men as they sleep; overpowering them, holding their faces to the floor and sodomizing them for up to an hour.
Its presence can often be detected by an acrid smell or puff of smoke. On occasion the Popo Bawa is visible to everyone except the chosen victim. The strangest aspect is that after the sodomisation has taken place, the Popo Bawa instructs the victim to spread the word of this ordeal, or he would be back the following night.
Some attacks were heralded by the sound of giant wings and claws rattling and scraping on the tin rooftops of huts. Others report a metallic ticking sound on their rooftops, much like the tick of a hot car engine.
By day the creature can assume human form, even though its pointy fingers are a dead giveaway.
This ‘bat-like ogre’ has also been known to sexually assault women and children, and victims report that reading the Koran is the only defence against his attacks. However, some Zanzibaris claim that this is a different entity altogether.
During an attack period, hospitals often treat numerous broken bones, bruises and other injuries attributed to the Popo Bawa. At these times, families often sleep together arm-in-arm in front of their houses in an attempt to thwart the demon.
Joe Nickell, an investigator with CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), has compared the Popo Bawa to Medieval legends of succubi (female spirits) and incubi (male spirits) who sexually molested their victims in bed at night.
Scientists think that this phenomenon is a result of a ‘waking dream’ or ‘Sleep Paralysis’, otherwise known in paranormal circles as the ‘Old Hag Syndrome’. This is characterized by paralysis, feelings of floating, something sitting on the chest or back, and hallucinations.
To the Zanzibaris however, the Popo Bawa was created when an angry sheikh released a djinni to take vengeance on his neighbors. The sheikh lost control of the djinni, who took to demonic ways.
Others attribute it to the spirit of a dead whale whose body was maltreated by the locals when it washed ashore. According to legend, a ‘wise woman’ appeared and told the people that they had upset the whale’s spirit, but the people did not believe her until it was too late.
A word of warning for the skeptics: It is reported that the Popo Bawa specifically seeks out those who do not believe in him or doubt his attacks. He does this to prove that he exists and then forces you to run into the street to tell everyone of your ordeal. If you don’t, he will return.
The latest reported attacks happened in Dar Es Salaam earlier this year.