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Sanguma, an escalating scourge in Enga

Weekender

By MALUM NALU
LAST Saturday, Sept 23, a second woman dies from horrific injuries sustained during an Independence Day torture at Wapenamenda in Enga after allegations of sanguma (sorcery).
The two women were tortured with hot irons and cut with razors on Sept 16 on suspicion of practising sanguma.
Wapenamenda-based American Lutheran missionary Anton Lutz, who is at the forefront of the fight against sanguma in Enga, tells me of the horrifying ordeal of the two women who were blamed for the death of a three-year-old child on Independence Day.
Enga provincial police commander George Kakas confirms the incident and says the child died after choking on a piece of kaukau (sweet potato).
The child and his mother had lunch with another woman at Pompabus, but after the woman visitor leaves, the story goes that the child dies suddenly.
The woman who leaves, as well as another, are grabbed by local men who torture them all day on Sept 16 while the country is celebrating 42 years of Independence.
By morning of the next day, Sept 17, the first woman is dead, while the second woman is rescued by police and soldiers.
Lutz takes the second woman to church-run Kudjip Nazarene Hospital in the Wahgi Valley of Jiwaka, however, she dies on Saturday – eight days after her horrific torture.
“She died anyway, this (Saturday) afternoon, eight days after she was falsely accused and the torture began,” he reports last Saturday.
“(She had) second and third-degree burns covering 70 per cent of her body, puncture wounds, (and) psychological trauma that caused her to relive the torture as her life ebbed away.
“Yet she opened her eyes and thanked me for trying.
“This one is hard.”
On Monday, Sept 18, two days after the incident, I am at Rondon Ridge high in the mountains overlooking Mt Hagen where I have a rendezvous with Lutz. He is someone I have long admired for the thankless and dangerous job he is doing against the evil of sanguma beliefs and killings in the most-remote parts of Enga.
Lutz is a 36-year-old, brought up by missionary parents in Enga, who has forsaken a good life in the USA to fight the good fight in this place against the forces of evil.
“There have been more and more cases (of sanguma beliefs and killings in Enga),” he tells me.
“It’s interesting, as my (late) father was a doctor there for 23 years and he never once dealt with a sanguma case, or torture or anything from 1986 to 2010.
“He was doing tribal fight injuries, broken bones and all these kinds of things, but not (sanguma) torture.
“The new trend in Enga is people believe that sanguma is coming into Enga from other parts of PNG.
“One guy at Sirunki in Enga told me, and I’ve got him on video saying this, that sanguma came from California in America and from there it travelled through white skins to places like Ok Tedi and Telefomin.
“From there, it has come to places like Hewa (Hela), from there to Porgera (Enga), and from Porgera to Enga.
“That’s why we now have sanguma in Enga.
“It’s a new thing and we don’t know how to deal with this story that’s being spread.
“Children are hearing it and believing it, and they think that it’s a new thing that we now have to respond to, and we have to protect our community by identifying these ladies and torturing them and killing them.
“They used to say sickness was caused by malaria, heart attack, typhoid, car accident or whatever, but now they say it must be sanguma.
“And so, they’re very quickly blaming everything on sanguma, when it’s not part of their traditional beliefs.
“The poor women who are being accused of sanguma are just normal women – they’ve never done a bachelor’s degree in witchcraft, they have no training, they have no experience in doing these things but they’re just being blamed.
“It’s really sad to see that it’s driving the country backwards after 42 years, and it’s becoming a worse and worse problem.”
There have been at least 12 attacks on women in Enga this year in sanguma-related cases, latest being this one at Pompabus, but this is just the tip of the iceberg as this is not counting the border areas of Hewa and Paiela where belief in this phenomenon is rife.
Three women were murdered in Sirunki in April followed by an attack on five others the week after.
Last month two women were attacked in Pausa.
Lutz says the frightening thing is the “witchcraft tests” innocent women are being subjected to in Enga.
“Like, if we take a women to a river and tell her to walk on water, or if we torture a women and she will feel no pain,” he explains.
“They’re rationalising the torture they’re doing.
“It’s very disturbing to go and interview these people after they torture someone, as they clearly believe that they’re doing the right thing by torturing these ladies.
“We say it’s against the law, and they say yes we know it’s against the law, but we have to do it to protect ourselves.
“The police should not come and prosecute us because we’re actually helping the community by attacking these ladies.
“They tell me these kinds of things, and I’m videoing them the whole time, and they think that they’re doing something positive for the country, not realising that they’re dragging the country backwards.
“Police won’t go in and do anything, courts won’t go in and do anything, lawyers won’t do anything, and Government won’t do anything, so who’s going to do something?”
Lutz has been accused of being “kepten bilong sanguma (captain of sanguma)” for being a lone voice in the wilderness against this evil in Enga.
“These kinds of things are happening in the middle of Enga after Lutheran missionaries being up there for more than 60 years,” he says.
“We need to have leaders of our Government coming forward and saying this is wrong, this is inhumane, this is not Papua New Guinean.
“We need prime minister, we need governors, we need all the people in this country who care about a better future to be standing up and saying something publicly.
“How can we advance our country into a better future?
“We need to be tackling this on an education side from a young age.”
Anton Lutz was raised in PNG and has been working as a Lutheran missionary in Enga for the past 13 years.
“I’ve done a lot of work out in rural areas, I’ve built a rural airstrip in East Sepik, and I’ve worked with rural healthcare and education in Hela and Enga.
“I’ve worked with bush communities in different development projects, and I also help people who’ve been stigmatised because of HIV, as well as tortured or killed because of sanguma.
“My parents, Dr Steve and Julie Lutz, were here for 30 years in Wapenamenda.
“My father passed away in 2010, and my mother is trying to come here, but she’s locked out of the country now for 16 months.
“I’m also involved in a dispute with Immigration trying to get my visa sorted out as well.”
There is a sadness in Lutz’s eyes as we finish our interview.
He has worked so hard against the evil of sanguma in Enga, but for all that he has done, he could be thrown out of the country.
And if that does happen, sanguma could spread throughout Enga, like an uncontrollable wildfire of evil across the land.

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