No one is entirely sure when magical penis loss first came to Africa. One early incident was recounted by Dr. Sunday Ilechukwu, a psychiatrist, in a letter some years ago to the Transcultural Psychiatric Review. In 1975, while posted in Kaduna, in the north of Nigeria, Dr. Ilechukwu was sitting in his office when a policeman escorted in two men and asked for a medical assessment. One of the men had accused the other of making his penis disappear. This had caused a major disturbance in the street. As Ilechukwu tells it, the victim stared straight ahead during the examination, after which the doctor pronounced him normal. “Exclaiming,” Ilechukwu wrote, “the patient looked down at his groin for the first time, suggesting that the genitals had just reappeared."
According to Ilechukwu, an epidemic of penis theft swept Nigeria between 1975 and 1977. Then there seemed to be a lull until 1990, when the stealing resurged. “Men could be seen in the streets of Lagos holding on to their genitalia either openly or discreetly with their hand in their pockets,” Ilechukwu wrote. “Women were also seen holding on to their breasts directly or discreetly, by crossing the hands across the chest. . . . Vigilance and anticipatory aggression were thought to be good prophylaxes. This led to further breakdown of law and order.” In a typical incident, someone would suddenly yell: Thief! My genitals are gone! Then a culprit would be identified, apprehended, and, often, killed.
During the past decade and a half, the thievery seems not to have abated. In April 2001, mobs in Nigeria lynched at least twelve suspected penis thieves. In November of that same year, there were at least five similar deaths in neighboring Benin.
(TC has, as you ought to know, been tweeting "small fates" culled from the Lagos news; lately many of these have been, well, shrinking and/or disappearing fates.) Another juicy bit from the Harpers piece:
in 1984 and 1985, some five thousand Chinese villagers in Guangdong province tried desperately to keep their penises outside their bodies using whatever they had handy: string, chopsticks, relatives’ assistance, jewelers’ clamps, and safety pins.II. A good interview with Devin Johnston -- whose work I've always admired -- about, among other things, warblers:
Lately I've been watching warblers. It's the more esoteric end of birding. They're high up and so small. My friend says it's like the trees are carbonated.(I am not surprised that Johnston is a fan of Basil Bunting.)