Fighting the good fight against Sanguma


AMIDST all the bad news about sanguma-related killings, especially in Enga, there is a silver lining to the dark cloud.
One of the good news stories about sanguma interventions comes from the remote Hewa area of Hela.
The Hewa people have a traditional belief that fits best under the category of “alien creature.”
They call this sanguma and they kill at least two people every year as a result.
The belief is that:

  • The creature lives inside people, especially women;
  • Is passed down from generation to generation;
  • Is contagious; through touch, food or sex;
  • Has no negative effect on the host;
  • Lives inside  a woman with the infected person having no knowledge that she is infected;
  • The infected person has no control over the behavior of the creature;
  • The creature can leave the host and  may appear to others as an animal;
  • Kills (kaikaim) other people;
  • Diagnosis is by dream or glasman; and
  • Treatment method is torture and/or murder.

Nes, a young Hewa woman now doing her Grade 12 at Pausa Lutheran Secondary School in Wapenamenda, Enga, is one of those strong advocates for change among her people.
“The sanguma beliefs we have in Hewa are different from the sanguma in other parts of PNG,” she tells Enga-based American Lutheran missionary and leading sanguma fighter Anton Lutz, “because we do not have sorcerers, assassins or witches.
“No one is practicing black magic.
“Our grandparents taught us that there are what we call pisai spirits that live in certain people that come out and kill the rest of us.
“The only way we normal people can be safe is to kill those pisai people.
“That’s why we kill so many women and their children in the Hewa, because people believe the pisai can get passed from mother to daughter.
“We use the Tok Pisin word sanguma for this, but it isn’t really sanguma.”
Nes begins to outline the murders she has witnessed, the mutilated bodies she has seen, and her own friends who are still under a pisai death sentence at her home village of Wanakipa.
The way she is talking, it is clear she is making a choice.
“The boys shot my friend Koela with so many arrows that her body was held up off the ground.  And for what?”
Her voice is sad but determined.
“We have to do something.
“The arrows must not kill anyone else.”
In January 2015, the West Hewa communities around Wanakipa make a public choice to take a stand against sanguma beliefs.
Other members of the intervention team apart from Nes are Enga deputy provincial police commander Epenes Nili, Pr Peter Pyandea a veteran of countless patrols all through the central Highlands and a familiar presence at Wanakipa,   Pr Ron Rall an American missionary from the old days and one of the first to patrol through the Hewa in the 1970s, Jonathan Kop a beloved fixture of the Hewa communities who has been living among them for the last 15 years and speaking their language, women’s representative Julie Yakasa and Lutz.
Enga provincial government recognised the need, allocated the funds and sent a senior policeman who brought both the law of the land and the Good News of hope in Jesus.
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“I commend the Wanakipa community for taking a stand,” Nili says, “but need to clarify for you the law of Papua New Guinea.
“My government has taken a very strong stand against these baseless accusations and senseless murders.
“Wherever you are, in the towns or in the deepest bush, it will not be tolerated.
“When you take the law into your own hands and torture and kill a sanguma or pisai suspect, that is wilful murder.
“You will face the full force of the law.
“When you threaten people with imaginary sanguma accusations to get compensation from them, that is extortion.
“When you hold your so-called sanguma or pisai court cases, let me be very clear, that is fraud.
“There is no such thing as ‘sanguma court’ in this nation.
“If I hear of anyone doing any of these things, I will personally move in and take action.
“You will get life in prison or the death sentence.
“This is your first and final warning.”
The women who were accused made promises that they would not be sanguma anymore.
The men who had accused them and were planning to kill them made promises that they would not kill the women but would instead protect them.
“All promised to live according to God’s Word from this day forward and to not teach their children about sanguma,” says Enga-based Lutheran missionary and leading sanguma fighter Anton Lutz.
“Since then, there has been tension and even several accusations.
“Yet the church leaders were able to stand strong and hold firm and prevent any further murders.
“Over time, continued teaching and training in God’s Word should reinforce this bold choice.
“Over time, reinforcement of the laws of the nation of Papua New Guinea should make them take root in people’s minds.
“Over time, education and medical care should help reduce the number of times that people need to seek peace by blaming other people instead of accepting the natural and medical causes of sickness and death.
“Most importantly, over time, positive reinforcement, encouragement and endorsement of this strong decision should transform it into not just a choice, but a lifestyle, a new culture, a new world view.”

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