Trade in Human Body Parts: Part of Human Nature?

Published on 16th February 2009

In Africa, especially in Nigeria, human sacrifice is no longer as common as it used to be. Those in the know, know where to go to partake in such activity. Human sacrifice may come by way of beheading, burning or burying the victims alive. Indeed, there are several rituals surrounding human sacrifice, all of which are beyond the scope of this treatise.

Most human sacrifices are done for religious reasons -- to appease or please deities and spirits.  As horrendous as it sounds, human sacrifice is actually not a new phenomenon: it has been taking place from the beginning of time in all cultures through all ages and civilizations.

The Mayans, Aztecs, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Chinese, Japanese, Indians all engaged in human sacrifice. And indeed, the Bible holds sumptuous accounts of human sacrifices. The uninformed and the prejudiced in modern times are wont to think that human sacrifice originated in Africa (they point to Africa when they have something bad and unpalatable to say about humanity).

But beyond human sacrifice for religious purposes are the procuring, buying, and selling of human cadavers and body parts for magical and scientific reasons. It doesn’t matter what part of the world you are, there is a market nearby for buyers and sellers. Whatever you want and however you want it, they are all available for a price.

In China, it is alleged, the executed are sometimes harvest for their body parts. In India, some very poor and very miserable people willingly sell body parts just to make ends meet. However, in Britain, Germany, the US, and Canada, Australia and France and other countries, body parts are harvested for scientific reasons.

In countries where body parts are used for scientific purposes, here is the going rate for some parts (which are subject to the laws of demand and supply and other market forces): $3000 for a cornea; $80 for a patch of skin; $2000 for a kidney; a torso in good condition is almost $5,000; a spine $3,500; and a knee $650. A box of fingernails and toenails goes for as much as $5,000. 

In today’s Nigeria, body parts are sold and bought mostly for fetish and magical reasons. And most of the originating markets for body parts are to be found in the western and eastern part of the country; still, there is almost no part of the country where one couldn’t find whatever part one was interested in.

Even so, there are specific ethnic groups (such as the Ijaw ethnic group in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria) where it is culturally and religiously forbidden to engage in human sacrifice and/or to trade in or violate dead bodies.

And indeed, there are people who believe that money and fame and good fortune can be acquired if certain parts of the human anatomy are consumed or sacrificed; there is the believe that supernatural commands can be effected if certain body parts are altered.  Legends abound about market women who use body parts as part of their trading strategy.

It could be true or perhaps mere fabrication, but there is the story of a popular pepper soup joint in Port Harcourt, and others in Lagos, Aba, and Akure where it is alleged that the owners uses bits and pieces of human liver and human heart as spices.

You ought to know that if your loved one suddenly and inexplicably disappears and has not been seen or heard from for more than 30 days, it is possible he or she has fallen victim to body raiders and body snatchers.

There was a time in Lagos and Ibadan when the Gbomo Gbomo phenomenon was very common. In Nigeria, people disappear every single day not to be seen alive again. In some instances, the corpses may be seen -- but without vital body organs.

There are some parts of Nigeria you don’t venture into without adequate security; there are alleys you just don’t walk into without necessary protection. You just don’t do it. If your vehicle breaks down in the wrong part of town or if you take the wrong turn, you just might fall into the hands of body raiders and body snatchers.

There are fake clinics and mortuaries doubling as slaughterhouses. In some parts of Nigeria, it is neither uncommon nor surprising for corpses to disappear from mortuaries, cemeteries, hospital beds and funeral homes. One really has to be vigilant; otherwise, the body of a loved one will disappear even before the body is cold and stiff. A friend told of how cemeteries are being raided - not just for jewelries and other saleable items - but mostly for body parts.

It’s been said that the liver, tongue, brain tissues, kidneys, lungs, and the eyes are much wanted; but the most priced parts are the breasts, private parts, and the heart - all of which can be bought in some not so discreet markets the way beef and chicken and goats are sold and bought.

Because of the activities of body-raiders and body snatchers, some families have taken to desperate measures: if the bodies are to be interned in the general cemetery, the burial is done almost in secrecy or the bodies are entombed in “bomb shelters.” Others have taken to burying the dead inside the deceased's compound or private cemeteries.

You don’t want to bury your loved one only to find out 24-72 hours later that his or her body has been harvested. Famous, rich and popular Nigerians are especially at risk because of the belief that their organs will allow for the same fortune the deceased had while alive.

But really, no part of the human body is a complete waste. And in fact, aborted babies are also sold; but the late-term aborted babies are much in demand. In most western countries, a trader in body parts can make upward of $500,000 a year.

Unfortunately, body parts are almost free in Nigeria and other African countries as snatchers and harvesters are primarily concerned with voodoo and magical use of such organs.  

It is said that if a woman mixes her juice in a man’s food or drink and is consumed, the man will love her forever. How in the world did Nigerians come to this sort of belief?  Amazing!

Note: This essay was first published on Sunday, 29 April 2007. It is being republished because of recent events in Lagos. Please see: Inside human parts market in Lagos (Sun Newspaper).


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