Sorcery in Papua New Guinea
I grew up in Papua New Guinea, and the people of my country are fearful of sorcery. Although my family members were devout christians (Kauckesa, Tamang, my grandfather was a teacher and clergyman for the Lutheran Church) there are other traditional beliefs and practices that culturally and spiritually linked our people to the nature and the environment. These beliefs and customs have helped us survive for many years. Sanguma (sorcery) was not one of these beliefs.
In my own life, I have seen and written some stories, recalling incidents and events that have been directly associated with sorcery and the beliefs of our people. I know of many killings that were alleged to be sorcery related. I have seen family members wasted to their last days, and buried because they refuse modern medicine. They suffered immensely, but believed witchcraft and sorcery was causing their illness for some reason or punishment and their ailment was incurable.
On the other hand, a different kind of societal treachery occurs in a community fearful of the occult, where the accused is judged and attacked or killed. No courts. No help. Often the community or village would stand back, hands held up with reluctance, letting the crime take place.
My grandfather used to call it Satan’s work. Evil striking on a whim, and prayer was the only thing to offer in efforts to rescue or heal. It has never been clear to me – I have felt each one of us have spirits deep within us. These spirits are so powerful and they create the characters and the people within ourselves. We choose the spirit, the one or the ones that become us. What clearly stands out in the sorcery violence is, the accused are mostly women and children. I wonder, is sorcery merely offering another avenue for blood-thirsty, violent men in PNG?
Sanguma and the fear of it, is rampant in Papua New Guinea. Education makes little difference. The deep-seated, hysterical terror of sorcery and its consequences is unfathomable, to the extent that it is so easy for anyone to pick up an axe, knife, or spear to hurt the next person based purely on the suspicion. An uncle can kill a nephew. A husband can kill a wife or daughter. Anyone could be a witch. Our culture allows violence and our culture allows the beliefs to exist because we allow it to.
A friend, Almah Tararia shared an article which led me to a website. http://www.stopsorceryviolence.org
“Stop Sorcery Violence” wants to highlight the work of local women and men bravely taking a stand against sorcery and witchcraft accusations, providing assistance to victims and survivors and advocating for a positive change.
I wanted to share one of the organisation’s success stories tonight. Please be warned, you may not like what you see or read on the website. Some of the stories are horrific.
A boy is accused
A nine-year-old boy from Simbu Province is happy in his new home after surviving terrible torture because of sanguma accusations.
In July this year Peter was admitted to the Kundiawa hospital with severe cuts to his head and body, and with the loss of blood, there was a slim chance of survival. Peter’s own uncle attacked the boy with an axe after accusing him of practising sanguma (being a witch).
When taken to Kundiawa Hospital, quick action by the doctors, miraculously pieced Peter’s body back together, even some of the severely damaged tissues.
In over two months, Peter made a remarkable recovery. It was not what the doctors had expected. He regained most of his movements and ability as a normal person.
Then, came the daunting questions, now that he had survived, where would Peter go? The boy’s parents were both dead. His own home and extended family were not safe for Peter to return to. No relatives had visited him in hospital, and the option of him returning back to his village was too dangerous.
Several members of the Catholic Church: Archbishop Douglas Young, Bishop Don Lippert, Father Philip Gibbs and Father Jan Jaworski worked on finding a place where Peter could go and be with other children, to continue his education and develop a normal life. The public responded very positively, and after identifying some places in the Highlands, he was relocated to a safe place to start a new life. Peter was one of the lucky ones.
Regarding Sanguma accusations and their related violence, women and children are the targeted victims. For each woman or child that has been saved, another is tortured, banned from her family and village or murdered. There are many people standing up against sorcery related violence. Many are working hard to prevent violence and assist victims. Human Rights Defenders, the Catholic Church, Community-Based Organisations, International NGOs and some government bodies including police are realising the extent of the this specific kind of violence and have started to develop strategies to save lives. For the PNG people, every person is encouraged to take a personal action by joining the fight to stop the violence.