By MALUM NALU
SOMETHING Wicked This Way Comes is a Ray Bradbury novel I read many years ago in high school about the nightmarish experience of two teenagers when a travelling carnival drops into their town.
I also watched the movie of the novel at Theatre Lae and it still sticks in my mind because of the sheer evil in it.
The carnival’s leader is the mysterious ‘Mr Dark’, who seemingly wields the power to grant the citizenry’s secret desires.
In reality, Dark is a malevolent being who, like the carnival, lives off the life force of those they enslave.
In modern-day Papua New Guinea, just weeks away from APEC 2018 when the world’s eyes will be on us, I feel a sense of déjà vu: Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Primitive and barbaric killings of innocent people on allegations of sanguma (sorcery) are increasing.
The frightening thing is that it’s now happening in our towns and cities including APEC 2018 host Port Moresby.
A woman was saved by police from being burned alive in Lae two weeks ago on allegations of sanguma and another woman was also saved from the same fate by police in Port Moresby last week.
Untold horror stories of women being burned alive on suspicion of sanguma abound in the country.
Enga-based American Lutheran missionary Anton Lutz, who has been involved in the fight against this evil for many years, says sanguma-related incidents appeared to be “getting worse” in PNG.
“It does appear to be getting worse in more places, affecting more people, more intense torture, more lives torn apart, and so on,” he tells me.
“The single biggest cause of this, I believe, is the sanguma story which many or even most Papua New Guineans now believe.
“It has the form of an urban legend, a morphing myth, a nationwide tok win (gossip).
“We’ve all heard it.”
These stories include:
- Sanguma being real.
- If a woman is acting strangely she is a sanguma.
- When a young or important person dies it is because of sanguma.
- People who are sanguma operate in a network.
- A glasman can help us discover the truth.
- When a sanguma is not being tortured she’ll lie when you ask her questions.
- When you’re torturing and threatening her everything she says is true.
- Satan and demons can go into people and make them into sanguma.
It’s all the stuff of an old wives’ tale.
“This sanguma story is growing and spreading by word of mouth,” Lutz says.
“It’s what people talk about on the PMV buses.
“It’s what they talk about in the settlements of Port Moresby.
“It’s what they talk about in the markets of Enga.
“Every time they repeat it as if it is true, as opposed to repeating it as if it is a joke, it is being reinforced in vulnerable minds around them.”
The tragedy, says Lutz, is that grown men and women in PNG believe in sanguma.
“What’s strange is that there are lots of other stories in the world – like vampires or mermaids or Santa Claus,” he says.
“While they might be popular stories, no-one apart from children actually thinks they are true stories.
“Yet here in PNG, grown men and women actually seem to think the sanguma story is true.
“They allow it to penetrate into their hearts and minds and they become fearful, uncertain, prepared to even murder the woman who gave birth to them because of this story.”
The sanguma story is gaining traction and giving people a plausible justification for their unacceptable behaviour.
Luutz says this is because:
- It coincides with many aspects of the PNG worldview where people seek a personal cause for a medical illness or death. They want a person to blame, not a germ or a mistake. They want compensation. They want payback.
- There is a low level of scientific and medical education; many people have no idea even what a heart attack is or why it happens.
- There is no loud and clear authoritative voice saying the story is unbelievable. That is to say, the churches are silent, the Government is silent. The police stand around and say ‘ok, just torture her a little but don’t kill her. If no one is standing up and calling ‘evil evil’, who will stand up and do it? Someone has to go first. At the national and international level. And down the line. We must take a stand.
- There is no counter or opposite Story. No one is gossiping in the buai market about how there is no such thing as sanguma. No one is whispering in the classrooms of the nation about how awesome it is that someone is taking a stand on behalf of the innocent and oppressed. No one is wishing that they too, when they grow up, could be someone who stands up for others and defends their rights. Instead, everyone in a child’s life, from the church to the family to the peer group to the school, they’re all telling the child that sanguma is real and dangerous. Of course the child thinks it is true.
- In this time of rapid and uncertain change in PNG, this situation is benefiting the perpetrators. Young men who are otherwise a worthless drain on society now have a way to be powerful. They have a way to destroy a family and intimidate an opposing clan which has zero repercussions on themselves or their own clans. They can, literally, get away with murder. They matter.
- It provides answers for life’s important questions: Why did this bad thing happen? (The sanguma lady did it.) What can we do about it? (We can torture her.) How can we be safe? (We can hunt down her fellow sanguma and kill them too.) Who are we? (We’re the normal people, and we’re going to get rid of those sanguma people.)
- It is popular. People think that “everyone” believes it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that “Papua New Guineans are spiritual” or that “Even all the politicians believe in it, that’s why they won’t say anything.” For people who believe the story, they think they are the popular majority and thus have no reason to question their own beliefs.
- People think it is in line with their Christian beliefs. They think that because the word sanguma is in the Buk Baibel and because the Bible talks about Satan and demons which are in people, and which go into a herd of pigs, that therefore everything they believe about sanguma is therefore supported by the Bible. This sad situation has come about because the churches have become so fragmented and in the process, any Tom Dick and Harry can stand up and call himself a pastor. Not only that, but with the modern flood of “Christian” resources in print and online, anyone can find anything to support their crazy ideas. Actual theological research, debate, training and qualifications hardly exist anymore. Anything goes. And so-called Christians are clapping their hands as women are tortured to death.
- People think that the PNG Constitution, specifically the Sorcery Act of 1971, used to hold the sanguma people in check. But now that the Act has been repealed, the witches have been released and are allowed to do whatever they want. Therefore, good citizens must take matters into their own hands and deal with the evil sanguma ladies themselves. If sorcery was not real, they argue, why was there a Sorcery Act preventing sorcerers from doing sorcery?
- When people watch movies, they cannot distinguish between fact and fiction. This is largely a function of lack of general education (such as that there is no such thing as a vampire). I’ve now heard several times that sanguma started in California. It was all I could do to not laugh out loud.
Meantime, something wicked this way comes.