The Outstater

January 19, 2024

The ‘Popobawa’ Election Analysis

ALL OF US in the field of political commentary have been searching these past few years for similitude to the current predicament. Although the presidential election is upon us and time is short, I think I’ve found it.

First, please know that my associates at the foundation have done their best. The economists have presented compelling economic models, one right after another. Our book reviewer has scoured the historical and religious texts for profound examples. Our philosophy professor has pointed us to the ancient principles and the divergents therefrom.

With all respect, though, I found none sufficient. These scholars — because they are credentialed and knowledgeable — cannot be expected to capture a zeitgeist that is flippant and ignorant. That’s my job.

I am leaning toward the 1995 Popobawa Hysteria of the Zanzibar archipelago. I can spare you a  detailed analysis by quoting a brief summary, albeit a bit Hunter Thompson-esque. It is from the treatise, “Panic in Zanzibar: Nocturnal Sodomy and Demon Bats.”

As you will note, I believe in careful citations, a practice falling out of fashion. But see if you can connect the dots to current headlines on your own, filling in the names that correspond to the players in our own particular hysteria. The summary is from a Jan. 19 column under the name Stone Age Herbalist published in the Gray Goose Chronicle:

“It started on the island of Pemba and later spread from there to Unguja and Zanzibar town. Men, women and children described being assaulted by a shape-shifting spirit, Popobawa, and on the larger island reports were rife that adults of both sexes had been sodomized by this malevolent entity. In order to avert its nocturnal attacks many people resorted to spending the night huddled together in anxious groups outside of their homes (primary caucuses?). On both islands the panic produced incidents of collective violence, when strangers suspected of being manifestations of Popobawa were attacked, beaten, and in some cases killed by the angry mob. Efforts to calm things down were largely intellectual, not least because most Pembans and supporters of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) believed that the ruling CCM (Chama cha Mapinduzi) party was itself responsible for bringing Popobawa to the islands in order to divert attention away from politics in the run-up to the country’s first multiparty elections.”

Lest you missed this in your multi-cultural history class, “popobawa” is a Swahili name which translates literally as “bat wing.” This is a description of the shadow cast by the spirit. It does not refer to the actual form, which, as in the case of our own hysteria, is shifting. (Credit to, last viewed today).

A professor of African Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin adds a final detail to the Popobaw story, a pertinent one. Katrina Daly Thompson (no relation to Hunter) tells us there is a Swahili proverb in Zanzibar, Lisemwalo lipo; ikiwa halipo, lipo nyuma linakuja. In case you need that translated, it means what is talked about exists, and if it doesn’t exist right now it’s not far away.

“For some Swahili-speakers, talk about Popobawa is evidence for his existence,” Thompson says, “which is thus taken for granted.”

Sort of like our CNN. —tcl


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