By ALPHONSE BARIASI
MID-MORNING, on a day in the harvest period, Amina goes off to her garden to collect yams.
Not only did she leave late in the day but she was also on her own. While the rest of the women had been to their gardens a day or two previously and stayed home that day, she ventured out alone – with her sleeping girl-child in a bilum.
Unbeknown to her, a band of sanguma men was in the vicinity of her village and monitoring the movement of people to and from their daily work, and followed her.
As time was against her she hurriedly gathered enough yams and other food items and packed her bilum. As she made ready to return home, she suddenly became aware of danger lurking nearby.
She heard human voices from the perimeter fence of her garden and was aware that there were men keeping an eye on her. There was no one else around to call out to for help and the murderous band lying in wait knew that too. What was she to do? Sit in her garden and pray for the men to go away or make a run for it!
The sun was already approaching the tree tops on the west and she needed to reach the village before nightfall. Eventually making up her mind, she hoists her fully-laden bag of yams onto her head. With the sleeping child hanging in her bilum on her chest she starts to walk to the garden fence.
Fences were made around all gardens to keep out the wild pigs that were plentiful in the surrounding bushes. In these fences were breaches cut and steps built on either side. You climb up one side and down the other.
As Amina approached the fence, she held firmly her dark palm wood digging stick, ready to strike the first man who would come for her.
She was a well-built woman and was confident of herself. As the village folk would have said, she was a tough man in a woman’s body.
And the awaiting sorcerers were also wary of her so they asked among themselves who would be the first to approach the lady and grab her before the rest of them overpowered her.
One of them volunteered in the end. Amina, meanwhile had already worked out how to attack the first man in the ambush.
They had decided the best moment to pounce was when the victim climbed over the fence and made her way down and away. So they lay in wait. As soon as she climbed down from the steps, the nominated man sprang from his hiding place and went for her.
Thwack! The heavy palm wood digging stick landed cleanly on the crown of the man’s head, his legs gave way and he went down with a low moan. “Amebam, amebam”(mama, mama). That was all he could utter his comrades ran helter-skelter.
Amina firmly held her tool-cum-weapon and continued home-ward.
But as soon as the sanguma gang re-gathered their wits, they regrouped and ran after her. While a couple took care of their struck comrade, the rest overpowered the woman with their magic spell and she fell into their hands, docile and powerless.
Her child was taken away and the murderers began “operating” her using their magic. Later she was revived from a trance-like condition, handed back her child and directed to go home and await her death – which was to be in the morning.
It takes anything from a day to a couple of weeks before the victim in such an attack begins to develop signs of illness and eventually dies, but with Amina it was a swift job.
She arrived home, prepared the family meal and fed her husband and other family members. But as the village was getting ready to retire for the night, she fell ill. All throughout the night her relatives kept vigil around her while her condition progressively worsened.
Early the next morning, she was gone.
Her only daughter was raised by a relative. Years later, she got married and, like her mother before her, bore only one child and was also killed by sanguma.
Saved by a crab
In a second episode, Amina had readied her implements to go netting fishing the previous evening.
She placed them in the usual place for her to pick up without alerting anyone in the household to what she was about.
Early the next morning, while the rest of the village was still asleep or in various stages of awakening, she slipped out of bed and picked up her fishing net, bilum and lunch steamed in a bamboo tube.
Unlike her other fishing expeditions when she went with a child or a group of chattering women, she went out alone, hoping to catch plenty of fish, prawns and crabs for the family dinner and preserve the extras for a couple more days.
Arriving at her favourite fishing spot along the river, she prepared her net and waded in. But fishing was not good that day and she caught only a few fish and some crabs.
She placed her catch in a bamboo tube and for some reason she placed a few crabs separately. And these she did not kill by breaking off all their claws.
When afternoon came, there was a thunderstorm and rain fell in a torrent. Soon enough the river flooded and there was no way she could cross over to return home. While she waited, it steadily grew dark and she found herself stranded, alone and shivering. Fortunately, she was on the side of the river where there were gardens and huts in them.
She walked into one of these huts which was comfortable enough for her to spend the night there.
After making a fire and warming herself, she roasted a small dinner and her catch of the day to store them away and take them home in the morning. When it was time for bed, she climbed onto a platform and fell instantly asleep.
Sometime later she was startled by rustling and human voices approaching the garden house .
She soon realised from their conversation that they were a group of sanguma men who were out on a murder mission but were forced by the rain and flooded river to also seek shelter in the garden hut.
She was horrified by the prospect of being discovered. She lay very still, not knowing what to do.
The men went closer and entered the garden house. As they moved around looking for for some warm place to sit or lie down for the night, one of them reached up to where Amina woman was lying and touched her. Realising that it was a woman, he told his comrades, “You all can find some place elsewhere and rest for the night. I’m climbing into this ‘bed’ where there’s room only for one.”
Now, the woman was terrified and could have screamed here lungs out. She wondered if she was going to be raped or killed or both. She lay still as the man climbed in beside her and his intentions became clear as he fondled her, whispering lustfully.
While pretending to welcome him onto herself she signalled to him to wait a bit while she readied herself. In that brief moment, she reached out to where she had placed the catch of crabs. Gingerly she got hold of a crab that still had its big claws. She took out the crab and signalled to the man she was ready now.
As he lowered himself onto her, Amina let go of the crab in her hand and it instantly latched onto where she knew it would cause the greatest damage and save her from the hovering menace.
All hell broke loose as the sanguma shrieked in pain and jumped down shouting, ‘kamasi, kamasi!’ (pull this off, pull this off).
That sent his party fleeing into the darkness in mad panic, each expecting to get a spear in his backside because kamasi meant that their comrade had been impaled and crying out for someone to pull out whatever was stuck in him!
But they had to run to save themselves first.
In the blind confusion, Amina quietly slipped out of the garden hut and hid somewhere until day break.
PS: While magic and sorcery are interpreted differently throughout PNG, in recent years, there have been cases of mostly single mothers and widows being accused and tortured for killings through sorcery. In other parts of the country, sorcery or sanguma acts are believed to be the domain of men only, who kill in revenge or for payments like hired assassins.