The National

PORT MORESBY, PNG (Feb. 2, 2009)–Last Friday, The National reported on its front page yet another gruesome sorcery-related killing.

A man was dragged from his home in the dead of night with his wife and teenage son and, after a brief pretence of a trial witnessed by Village Court officials and local pastors from the Baptist, Four Square, Lutheran and Seventh-Day Adventist churches, he was taken away and literally chopped to pieces.

Our report came from a person who buried the "pieces".

The kangaroo court and the killing were witnessed by many people but be sure nobody will give reliable information to the police should an investigation be initiated.

This is the nature of sorcery killings. It is condoned by the society. That society is unlikely to dob in a person or persons that carry out their collective wishes.

Another man was being slowly tortured to death in the same area when the president of the National Doctors’ Association, Dr Kauve Pomat, who was in the village at the time, is said to have successfully pleaded with the torturers to spare the man’s life.

These latest incidents happened in Unggai-Bena, just a few kilometres away from the Eastern Highlands capital of Goroka.

It is the electorate of Minister for Environment and Conservation, Benny Allen, a soft-spoken, God-fearing and peace-loving man.

So many prominent and educated people hail from the district, among them Dr Pomat. If their pleas fall on deaf ears, then nothing short of a state of emergency will sort out this matter of sorcery. And it might well come to that.

Even the purported plans by the chairman of the Constitutional Planning Committee, Joe Mek Teine, to introduce tougher legislation will not do it.

Mr Mek Teine knows very well what goes on. His own Simbu province is the bastion of rumours of sorcery practices and the manner of killings in these parts would rival the most cruel and painful tortures anywhere.

Those accused of sorcery have been roasted over a slow fire; nailed to crosses; hung in public places and beaten to death; tortured with burning rods; locked inside homes and burnt; weighed with stones and thrown into rivers; bludgeoned to death; chopped up; poured over with kerosene, set alight and released to become a human torch.

PNG is made up of close-knit tribal groups. Conflict is resolved amicably within that setting now as it has been for eons. When the tribe accuses one of its own members or a group of practising sorcery, the accused group is ostracised and cut off from that tribe. Death is the punishment.

Sorcery and witchcraft are not exclusive to PNG. They are practised in many parts of the world.

Witchcraft and related-killings were as prevalent in Europe among the English, French, Welsh, Dutch, Germans and all other Europeans whose distant relatives today might frown upon the practice in PNG.

Like religion, sorcery is related to a set of stories, symbols, beliefs and practices, most often with a supernatural or superhuman quality that is associated with evil. Indeed, Christianity branded sorcery and witchcraft stories and practices the world over as the work of the devil.

The concept of the devil was easier to understand and associate with in most societies as a result, while God remains still a mystery beyond our sensory perceptions.

Sorcery is practised, it is believed, through rites and rituals, in the utterance of arcane incantations, and in the way of life of those who choose to live the life. It is not hereditary in that it is not passed through the genes but passes through familial ties normally, it is believed.

Like religion, sorcery cannot be proven but is believed in with a kind of faith that is most difficult to expunge. Place yourself in a circle of very well educated Papua New Guineans and there will be a number of them who believe in sorcery. Indeed, many educated people believe that they are being sought after by jealous relatives or less fortunate tribesmen who have hired and set sorcery assassins after them.

This is why sorcery and witchcraft in PNG, like in Europe, is likely to pass out of the system given time and education, not by legislative dictate or political edict. Nothing short of a massive awareness campaign costing millions of kina will begin the process to eradicate the belief system.

Belief in sorcery is prevalent in all parts of PNG but sorcery killings are prevalent in only some provinces. Most killings have been reported in Eastern Highlands, Simbu, Western Highlands, Morobe, Madang and East Sepik provinces.

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