Jinn in Zanzibar


Stanley Kalu was raised in Nigeria. Since then, he and his family have lived in various African countries. He currently studies screenwriting at the University of Southern California. He is a friend of mine, and he has often told me stories about growing up in Nigeria. I asked him for folklore, and without even needing to ask for Nigerian folklore, he offered up several pieces, including two proverbs. When I asked why he gave me two proverbs, he said that his mother often said them to him, and that mothers and their proverbs are so infamous that there are meme websites dedicated to them that he visits when he feels homesick.


Stanley: So, I was going, my name is Stanley Kalu. I was going on a trip to a beach in Zanzibar and a Muslim friend of mine told me to watch out for Jinn. And I was like, “what’s a Jinn?” And she was like, “Yo, Jinns are like these people that look like people but aren’t people, they’re like more genies and they walk backwards and what they’ll do, what they do is they’ll trick you and steal your soul. So when you’re in Zanzibar living it up, sipping Mojitos on the beach, do not, if a person comes up to you walking backwards, run the fuck away.


In Muslim tradition, Jinn are spirits that can appear in human and animal form to possess humans. Often, Jinn require sacrifices and a commitment to them in order for them to be kind in return. In my previous understanding of Jinn, they possess humans or ask for tasks from humans. Stanley’s explanation of them “stealing souls” could be a simplification of their purpose. It could also show the particular folk beliefs about Jinn in Zanzibar–that perhaps they are used as a scare tactic, something to avoid at all costs.