Popobawa, also Popo Bawa, is the name of an evil spirit purported to live on the spice islands of Zanzibar.
Popobawa is a Swahili name which translates literally as "bat-wing" (from Swahili popo, "bat", and bawa, "wing"). This name is said to have originated as a description of the dark shadow cast by the spirit when it attacks at night: it does not refer to the actual form of the spirit, which is liable to change. Swahili speakers also use a plural form of the name - mapopobawa - to refer to multiple manifestations of the feared spirit. This plural is anglicized as "Popobawas" (Walsh 2005).
Popobawa is variously described as either a ghost or ogre with gigantic bat wings and a giant penis. At times he is simply known as "Imran". He is sometimes thought to be a shapeshifter who looks like an ordinary human during the day. His presence is usually announced by the sound of scraping claws on their roof and a sharp, pungent smell.
Different from other incubus legends, Popobawa primarily attacks men and only in their own beds, resulting in many men sleeping outside in streets or on porches after recent reported attacks. He attacks men as they sleep, overpowering them, holding their face to the floor and sodomizing them for up to an hour. People who claim to be victims of Popobawa are mostly poorer residents on the island of Pemba, though other reports have also come from other islands and coastal Tanzania. The victims are threatened with repeated, and longer, sodomizations if they do not let their friends and neighbors know of their experience. It is thought that Popo Bawa reports are the result of episodes of sleep paralysis.
Villagers maintain that Popobawa becomes enraged if his existence is denied. Popobawa spoke to a group of villagers on Pemba in 1971 through a girl possessed by the monster. The girl, called Fatuma, spoke in a man's deep voice and then villagers say they heard the sound of a car revving and rustling on a nearby roof. Many of those on the islands believe in exorcisms, and place charms at the base of fig trees or sacrifice goats.
Reports of Popobawa attacks rise and fall with the election cycle in Zanzibar, although victims argue Popobawa is apolitical. In 1995 it was the focus of a major outbreak of collective hysteria or panic which spread from Pemba to Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar archipelago, and across to Dar es Salaam and other urban centres on the East African coast. A further spate of attacks was reported in Dar es Salaam in 2007.
Origin and history
As legendary creatures go, Popobawa is of fairly recent origin.
The following is a selection of online articles about Popobawa: