By MARTHA DERUAGE
SORCERY has become a topic of ongoing debate where many views are presented and argued.
Some say sorcery does not exist and that it is a primitive practice with no scientific evidence.
Some say it is part of our Melanesian culture with no sufficient evidence to support claims.
Religious leaders say it exists and support the claims with biblical references.
Some people are of the opinion that sorcery is a very Melanesian phenomenon so should be dealt with using Melanesian ways instead of trying to adopt Western ways in addressing it.
As a Christian nation we need to understand and address sorcery-related violence in PNG through an integrated approach.
Instances of torturing accused sorcerers and witches in PNG are hitting the headlines of our daily newspapers and catching the attention of the international communities.
Every day we see and hear of people being accused of sorcery and tortured.
Some have lost their lives while others are living with terrible scars, stigma and discrimination.
Most times the perpetrators are not brought to justice and are living freely in the communities.
Human rights groups, both local and international, have condemned the practice outright and calling on the Government to take immediate action to address sorcery and witchcraft-related violence.
The Government is now calling on all stakeholders to work together to find a solution to end this kind of violence.
Religious leader Pastor Peter Aglum from the Prophetic and Apostolic Church of God said sorcery was a spiritual force that existed and could not be denied.
Ps Peter had experiences dealing with such cases and below he presents case studies and suggest ways government, churches and partners could use to address the issue.
Ps Peter’s perspective
This issue (sorcery) is very hard to address because it is a spiritual problem and spirits do not have flesh and blood that we can see with our naked eyes to determine their actions.
Some people believe that there are no sorcerers and witches while others believe that they do exist.
Others are caught in between, whether to believe or not to believe their existence.
If they do really exist and people practice sorcery and witchcraft, then someone who is in the spiritual world practicing sorcery and witchcraft should testify.
They should give their side of the story so we can believe them and be in a better position to address the sorcery issues in the country.
It is like two people living on either side of a mountain but have never crossed the mountain and seen for themselves what is on either sides of the mountain.
How can one believe and understand what is on the other side of the mountain?
We will never know unless one from one side of the mountain comes out and tells us what is there or unless the person crosses the mountain and sees for himself.
Sorcerers and witches are in a completely different world altogether.
Whatever activities going on in their side of the world cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Therefore, many people including educated men and women find it very hard to explain and find a lasting solution to sorcery-related violence.
The Government, churches and other concerned organisations are putting their heads together to address this issue.
This paper is written from the perspective of a church group which has some hands-on experiences in dealing with people who were possessed by demons/spirits.
Exposing our experiences and suggesting possible strategies can contribute towards finding appropriate ways forward to address sorcery and witchcraft-related problems in the country.
What are sorcery and witchcraft?
Sorcerer – somebody who is believed or claims to have magical powers.
Sorcery – the supposed use of magic.
Witch – somebody with alleged magic powers; somebody, especially a woman, who is supposed to have magical or wonder-working powers that are most often used malevolently.
Witchcraft is defined as:
- Exercise of allegedly magical powers; the art of using allegedly magical powers
- Seductive charm: alluring or seductive charm or influence (informal) – Student Encarta Dictionaries
Sorcery/witchcraft is the practice of magical or supernatural powers and people who practice them are called witches and sorcerers.
Sorcerers and witches are alleged to have some magical or supernatural powers to do extraordinary things and even destroy lives of other fellow human beings.
If they really have such powers, then we have to identify the source of their powers.
These powers will come from none other than the devil himself. Therefore, we will look into the Bible to give more insights into the sources of these powers. We can also collect more information in the villages where the people practice sorcery and witchcraft.
We cannot limit ourselves to only witchcraft and sorcery but there are also other practices in the country whose powers come from the same source.
They are such practices as the occult, cult, fortune-telling, soothsaying and others.
However, they are not as serious as sorcery and witchcraft though cult and occult are dangerous as sorcery and witchcraft but they are practiced in organised groups.
Cult practices are practised openly by organised groups who share a common belief and they can cause harm and destruction to the lives of the people.
They source their powers from demons and use them openly.
A very good example is a recent incident reported in Madang where a cult group chopped of a teacher’s head and took it away as reported in the media in 2018.
Sorcery in PNG context
Papua New Guinea is diverse with more than 800 different languages. Every province in PNG believes in spiritualism. Our ancestors have a strong beliefe in spirits and practised sorcery as part of their lives.
Every Papua New Guinean will not deny the fact that sorcerers exist in our country. The only problem is that it is spiritual and their alleged magical powers cannot be seen with our physical eyes. However, nobody can deny the outcome or result of their powers.
The practices of sorcery and witchcraft vary from province to province. Each province has its own ways or practice. The belief in sorcery in PNG is very strong and deeply rooted in our way of life and it will take many years to find a lasting solution to this issue. Their main forms or practices are:
- Causing harm to people
- Killing people
- Causing accidents
- Causing misfortune/ill fate
- Suppressing people to prosper in live and many more.
Coastal people practise sorcery in a different form those from the highlands. In the coastal provinces, when a death, misfortune or accident is suspected to be caused by a sorcerer, they repay through the same means of sorcery. In the highlands provinces, the suspects are dealt with through physical violence.
They suspect a sorcerer because he or she has performed some unexplained or supernatural activity that a normal human being cannot perform. They use all forms of materials ranging from human bones, leaves, barks, oil, etc to chant charms to cause misfortunes to the lives of people including loss of property.
Case study 1: Enchanted bamboo
A man was dead instantly without showing any signs and symptoms of sicknesses. Because of his sudden death, they suspected that it was the work of a sorcerer. They hired another sorcerer from another tribe to come and conduct a search to identify the cause and the sorcerer who caused the death.
He came in with his supporters in broad daylight and told all grieving parties to remain in the village. People feared that if a member of the family was absent, he/she would automatically be blamed so they all remained in the village. The hired sorcerer came in and searched every individual member of the family through an enchanted bamboo.
The bamboo movedaround freely through the hands of bearers and touched everyone until it finally hit a man. Then the hired sorcerer told everyone that this man would be thoroughly searched to confirm whether he has killed the man. He told the bystanders to remove his shirt and search under his armpit.
They searched him as directed by the hired sorcerer and they found a triangular mirror in his armpit.
The hired sorcerer then explained that the triangular mirror was “rifle” used to kill the deceased. He told the people to smash the mirror and spit beetle nut spittle to diffuse its power and destroy it completely. It was done as instructed.
The people asked the accused if indeed he had killed the deceased and he admitted. The entire community, instead of inflicting pain on him, told him to take his family and move to another province. So he left with his family and went to another province.
In the eyes of the normal people the triangular mirror was nothing but in the eyes of the sorcerer, it was a rifle. The people believed the hired sorcerer because the suspected sorcerer hid a small mirror in his armpit which was odd.
Secondly a compass was made from a triangular prism glass and finally the hired sorcerer pointed to the exact location where the object used to kill was hidden securely under the man’s armpit.
Case study 2: Using demonic powers to determine an outcome
In the 2012 national eection, a self-claimed sorcerer approached a candidate and asked him to allow the sorcerer to get him the election victory through sorcery. He requested for some money as a form of payment in order to perform the supernatural acts.
The candidate asked the sorcerer how he was going to do it. The sorcerer told the candidate to go and by a carton of tintned fish (425g). The candidate bought the carton of tinned fish as instructed and brought it to the sorcerer. The sorcerer after uttering some enchantments, told the candidate to open all the cans and check the contents. When the candidate opened the cans, they were all empty. The contents were removed by the sorcerer.
He said that was how he was going to do to the ballot papers locked up in the containers. The candidate said he was really convinced to give in and pay the sorcerer but because he was a strong Christian and an elder in a church he rejected the offer.
The candidate lost the election but again contested in 2017 and won the seat and he is now a Member of Parliament.
- To be continued. The second part of Ps Peter Aglum’s discussion will detail a few more case studies of sorcery practices in the country.