Mohammed Juma starts to sweat and fidget as he recalls his rape by Popo Bawa, the most feared spirit-monster of the Zanzibar spice islands.
“We believe reading the Koran is our only defense, nothing else,” says the 41-year-old driver and father of four. “But Popo Bawa is real, and well prepared.”
Vacationers on the Indian Ocean islands tend to smile dismissively at accounts in guidebooks of the bat-like ogre said to prey on men, women and children. But for superstitious Zanzibaris a visit from the sodomizing gremlin is no joke.
Although no one ever has seen it, belief in the monster and his unnatural lust is so strong that entire villages will sleep out of doors for protection: Popo Bawa (Swahili for Bat’s Wing) prefers to attack behind closed doors at night.
In huts set amid rustling groves of jackfruit and mangoes on Zanzibar’s Pemba island, victims told Reuters in interviews that they detected a bad smell, became cold and went into a trance in the moments before they felt the creature’s inhuman strength.
Some attacks were heralded by the sound of giant wings and claws rattling and scraping on huts’ tin roofs. Others cringed in terror at what sounded like a car engine ticking over.