Sorcery – myth, belief or reality

Normal, Weekender

SHE was dragged from her home early one morning. She was half dragged half carried away from the village by a group of about ten youths armed with bush knives, stones and clubs.
She was a widow in her late 50’s who lived alone at the furthest end of the village. Her three daughters had married out of the village and were living with their husband’s people, so she had no one to look after her. She kept to herself, occasionally going to her garden 50 metres from her house which was overgrown with grass.
As she was being dragged away she realised in horror what was happening. She was accused of being a sorceress who had killed a young athletic man in their village. The young man had mysteriously died and the medical explanation given by doctors at the Goroka Base Hospital was not enough. The villagers believed that the young man was taken by sorcery.
Nearing the river, another group of men, shrouded in darkness waited, a bonfire illuminated the red hot iron rods that would be used for the torture.
She was tortured to the point of death with these hot iron rods. The iron rods were stabbed into her body in the belief that it would weaken her mystical powers. Her pleas of innocence fell on deaf ears. These youths wanted a confession from her, they wanted her to admit she was a sorceress. In agony she admitted killing the young man and sadistically the youths went for the kill. She was tied to a stake and burnt.
Such cases are common in PNG’s highlands region with cases being reported in settlements and villages in other parts of the country.
Can sorcery be proven in a court of law in PNG and suspects be prosecuted?
A Sorcery Act was enacted in 1971, but the Act is ambiguous and outdated and does not fit the current situation in PNG.
The country’s Constitutional Law Reform Commission (CLRC) has undertaken the massive task of amending the outdated Sorcery Act of 1971.
Dr Joe Ketan, from CLRC, said a working group is researching and collecting sorcery and witchcraft related data.
How do we implement a law that is ambiguous? How do you prove a person is a sorcerer in PNG? Under the punitive clause of the Act, someone making an allegation has to back it up with evidence. How do you prove that the piercing gaze of an accused sorcerer caused the death of a person? How do you prove an accused sorcerer had transformed into an animal at night and attacked a person?
Fr Franco Zocca, Head of the Research Department of the Melanesian Institute (MI), has headed MI’s research team over the last six year researching sorcery in PNG.
They found out that most sorcery cases are heard at the village court level and at one time the maximum penalty for an accused sorcerer was a fine of K20.00.
“Dealing with sorcery in village courts has cultural implications. There are loopholes in the Act that overlooks certain important cultural factors. It creates a vacuum. In this case it is a win or lose situation because the Sorcery Act itself is dealing with a western concept of win or lose,” said Rev Dr William Longgar, Director of the Melanesian Institute.
According to Rev Longgar, once someone is accused of being a sorcerer they are branded as such by the community and dwell in a vacuum. He said this causes instability in the community and the only way to prevent that was for reconciliation to take place in order for peace to prevail.
Another way to address the issue is to involve churches in the community. In a recent Church Workers Conference at Kefamo in Eastern Highlands province, representatives of the Lutheran, Catholic, United and Anglican churches, the Evangelical Church of Manus and Christian Leaders Training Centre (CLTC) in Mt Hagen agreed that churches can play an active role in addressing sorcery by changing the mindset of the people.
Dr Ketan said the CLRC will embark on an awareness drive with churches through their networks to give information on the Sorcery Act.
The high cost of living and hardship has also caused so called diviners and sorcerers to sell their skills and services to make a living.