In A Nutshell
In 1995, widespread panic gripped the residents of Zanzibar: They were convinced they were being assaulted by an evil spirit they dubbed “Popobawa.” The name, Swahili for “bat wing,” is fitting enough—but the monster wasn’t simply an African Batman. Popobawa was an insatiable sexual predator, and its favorite target was families.
The Whole Bushel
A bat out of hell reportedly ravaged the people of Zanzibar. Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous island archipelago in East Africa, forming part of the Republic of Tanzania. The islands have had a lengthy relationship with witchcraft and traditional religion. One common belief among the locals is that the world is occupied by malicious spirits known as shetani—the worst of which is a relative newcomer.
Popobawa emerged in the 1970s. Witnesses said that its shadow resembled a bat with wings spread wide. The monster itself, however, took multiple forms. It maintained consistency with its actions, which ranged from minor poltergeist activity to the rape of entire households.
In 1995, supposed Popobawa attacks caused mass hysteria. The monster was usually said to appear as a squat, bat-like creature with a single, huge eye, capable of paralyzing its victims. As more and more villagers reported being raped by the Popobawa, people took to sleeping outside in large groups, believing this would protect them from attacks.
When a mob suspected that a mentally-ill youth might be the demon, they beat him to death. Following this, the panics subsided. But Popobawa apparently wasn’t done for good: Mass panics have broken out since the 1995 incident, most recently in 2007.
Some believe Popobawa is the product of an angry witch who wishes to torment her opponents; others suggest that Popobawa seeks to attack those who do not believe in the shetani. And for many villagers, the Popobawa attacks validated a belief in the shetani.
Sociologists and psychologists, however, have noted that Popobawa attacks seem to spike with election cycles, and that elements of the Popobawa attacks may be symptomatic of hypnagogia—which can include sleep paralysis and hallucinations.
Popobawa hasn’t caused any widespread terror in the past few years, but as long as witchcraft remains prevalent in Tanzania, there’ll always be room for the sexually depraved bat demon.