What is the Popobawa?
Hailing from Zanzibar, an island floating in the crystal-clear water off Tanzania’s coast, the dreaded Popobawa has inspired several bouts of mass hysteria. This sex-crazed demon can ravage entire families in one night, although he is particularly fond of assaulting men.
A shapeshifter, the Popobawa can change his appearance as easily as you change your clothes. During the day, he masquerades as a regular person. Under the cover of darkness, he shifts into a predatory shape.
The Popobawa is a hunched figure, shaped roughly like a human. His skin is gray and gives of a sulfurous smell. Although small, his head is full of horrors. He has long, pointed ears, a wide mouth crowded with fangs, and a large, single eye blazing in the center of his forehead. Finally, the monster has a pair of huge bat wings, which he can wrap around himself like a cape.
Some witnesses have described other variations on the monster’s appearance. For example, he might have a long tail or bird-like feet. He has also been known to turn into animals—or even a puff of smoke—when he needs to make a quick getaway.
The Popobawa strikes terror into the hearts of the people of Zanzibar—and with good reason! There’s not much complexity to this monster. He is cruel and violent, with no backstory or motivation to earn him pity points.
Interestingly, many people believe that the Popobawa is a fame-seeking creature. He targets victims who don’t believe in evil spirits, so that he can violently set the record straight. He is also famous for warning his victims that they must spread the story of their attack. If they don’t tell anyone, he will return and make them suffer all over again.
Shapeshifting is not the Popobawa’s only talent. This creature is full of magical powers, and he uses all of them to hunt and torture humans. For example, his single eye can paralyze anyone who gazes at him; in this way, he has been able to subdue—and then rape—entire households. There are also stories of him possessing humans and using them as mouthpieces to spread dark rumors.
For all the havoc and terror that he has inspired, the Popobawa is a relatively new creature. Tanzania, the monster’s home, has a rich tradition of folklore and witchcraft, and many locals continue to believe in evil spirits called “shetani.” Still, the Popobawa did not appear until 1965, and he didn’t grow famous until 1972, when an uptick in rape reports led to mass hysteria. Local people fled their homes, which were being invaded by the monster, and began sleeping in large circles around bonfires outside. Eventually, the hysteria died down, only to surface again in 1995, then 2000, then 2007.
Local people would never provoke the Popobawa by denying its existence. Nevertheless, outside reporters have offered a few explanations for the episodes of mass hysteria in 1972, 1995, 2000, and 2007—and known of them have to do with a flying, magical rapist.
The volume of Popobawa reports has been linked to Tanzania’s political election cycle. The monster appears more often and becomes more violent when elections are about to take place, especially if the election is highly controversial. He may be an expression of generalized anxiety, coming from the voting populace, or he may be a tool used by politicians to destabilize their opponents.