Obayifo: A Skeptical Look at the West African ‘Vampire’
The Obayifo (pronounced oh-bay-EE-fo) is the West African version of the vampire, although it differs from the more common European view of the blood-seeking demon. Known by a few names - obeyifo, asiman, and asanbosam, although some differences exist between them - the Obayifo is often considered to be an evil witch who feeds off of the people's fear and despair.
Although the Obayifo does feed on the blood of innocent children, there are a few other characteristics that set it apart from our typical view of vampires. For one, the Obayifo is a living being that is inhabited by an evil spirit, which causes it to perform evil acts. They walk about as neighbors, friends, husbands and wives, and no one but the Okomfo, or White Wizard, can identify them. The Okomfo, a holy priest, is the only protection against an Obayifo. In some senses he worships the Obayifo and is able to provide protection against it through the use of spells and charms.
In order to perform its devious acts, the Obayifo can leave its body as an orb of light or blazing fireball during the night, wreaking havoc on the townsfolk or their crops. Which brings us to another aspect of the Obayifo that is unique: the Obayifo also feeds off fruits and vegetables and particularly enjoys destroying cocoa crops with blight. When blocked by the Okomfo from feeding off the blood of children, he can patiently survive on plant sap as long as necessary. Even more uniquely, physically, the Obayifo is said to glow from the armpits and anus when traveling out at night. Although I don't doubt the Okomfo's power to identify an Obayifo, I'm pretty sure that this last characteristic would be a dead giveaway, but that's just me.
Other features of an Obayifo include obsession with food (especially meat) and 'shifty eyes,' whatever that means. However, people were often accused of being an Obayifo if they were jealous of another, if a few of their children died, or if they refused to offer food to passersby. A person was considered a victim of the Obayifo if their crops became diseased, if their children suffered from malaria or tuberculosis, or if someone in their family happened to die at the hand of the
Okomfo's warding. Interestingly enough, the Obayifo never drains children of their blood, but is considered to merely have a light snack; their saliva is thought to kill, however, as it is the source of disease and illness.
There are also differing stories regarding how one becomes an Obayifo. Some say the Obayifo is born with their abilities, others state it is a curse or can be contracted by accidentally drinking or eating human blood or flesh. Unfortunately, the same attributes that make the Obayifo unique are also often the catalyst for accusation and superstition. Once accused of being an Obayifo, the only resolution was execution by drowning or strangulation by the Okomfo. A fair death, if you really were a vampire.
All in all, the myth/folklore/legend of the Obayifo is an intriguing one. And although it seems to have vampiric tendencies, lamentably the Obayifo seems more of a great excuse to point fingers and cast blame for life's calamities, than an actual vampire origin story. But that's my opinion; what's yours?