Sorcery reports draw feted journo to PNG



IT WASN’T smooth sailing but a bumpy and bone-aching adventurous ride for a foreign reporter and her photographer across Maus Markham to Labu Tale coastline of Salamaua, Morobe.
The passengers, five locals accompanying two Canadian visitors clasped the gunwale of the banana boat which was powered by a 75hp motor as the waves tossed it from side to side. It was akin to a piece of newspaper blown into the air from Voco Point beachfront by the gale-force northeasterly wind across to Labu Tale.
Our skipper, Wanu Wari, clasped the throttle and maneuvered his craft through the clash of winds from the Solomon Sea and Markham plains this morning.
It took one hour to reach Salamaua Point; usually it is a 35-minute ride in fine weather.
The visitors from Vancouver, Roberta Staley and Tallulah were on their first ever visit to Papua New Guinea and the rough boat ride across the Huon Gulf was their first experience to go down in their memoirs of how hard life can be for locals along this coastline.
Huon Gulf tourism officer Robert Tom and Morobe Development Foundation coordinator Willie Doaemo accompanied Staley and Tallulah.
Post Courier photographer Moseley Bala, reporter Natalie Cholohei and I were invited to tag along on this trip.
Staley, Tallulah and Cholohei were impressed and thankful that the trip had taken them away from the bustling city life so they would familiarise themselves with the warm welcome by smiling mothers sitting on a white sandy beach under callopyhylum trees plying their trades at Salamaua Point.
Salamaua Point is currently booming and full of life each day and night that accommodates passengers and white-bag runners (buai buyers) that pursue their trade along the Morobe-Northern coastline.
These travellers stop over for a cuppa, beer (known here as Panadol), food and rest before continuing the journey.
Staley and Tallulah soon learn bits of Salamaua’s history as a township before WWII.
“The country caught my curiosity from afar to come to learn in-depth about violence against women over sorcery, witchcraft and torture,” Staley said.
Staley is a recipient of the Asia-Pacific Foundation Canada Media Fellowship. She started her first trip to report from PNG starting at Huon Gulf on Feb 21.
The issue of violence against women for alleged sorcery practices and witchcraft was widely reported internationally and the Canadian Government has stepped in to support efforts against this vice since 2015.
Staley was indeed touched to learn about social issues, especially violence against women and children, witchcraft and torture of women over alleged sorcery practices.
Staley, a writer and editor for Enterprise Magazine specialising in international environment and business reporting, read and heard a lot about these issues. And the Canadian Government also spends taxpayers’ money to help PNG address the issues.
Staley and Tallulah were on a two-week mission to compile information, meet with relatives of victims and survivors and document them for discussions back in Canada.
After Salamaua Point, the sea was so unpredictable that our skipper Wanu readjusted his speed to maneuver but not too far from the shoreline and negotiated the waves into Lagui Bay, going in and out at Laukanu, Buansing, Salus and finally reaching Lababia after an hour.
The Canadian Government had co-funded the Kamiali Wildlife Management Area (KWMA) in the Huon Gulf District some years ago but its operation came to a halt and locals then initiated the Kamiali Foundation Incorporated (KFI).
Today KFI also collaborates with Morobe Development Foundation and Seeds Theatre, a performing arts troupe that conducts awareness on violence against women. This is also funded by Canadian Government.
Staley interviewed a Lababia woman, Kisi Isaac about KWMA’s activities and its benefits to locals.
The KWMA was involved in eco-tourism and leatherback turtle conservation, research and sharing of benefits from tourist cruise ship visits.
Lababia has so far hosted 32 tourist cruise ships and the next tourist boat is due soon.
Staley is a Vancouver-based, award-winning magazine editor, writer and documentary filmmaker who has reported from conflict and post-conflict zones.
Thus she wanted to know how and why people in certain parts in PNG accused others of practicing sorcery and witchcraft without proof and actually resort to attacking and torturing them.
She was also interested in the consequences of retaliation and how families and children of the victims survived the agony after a mother or father had beentortured or killed.
In the interview, Staley was curious about the word saksak (sago) and insisted on seeing a sago palm after learning how useful it was to the lives of the indigenous people.
It was past 2pm and Staley skipped the visit to the leather back turtle nesting site and continued the journey to Baden Bay in Morobe Patrol Post.
At Baden Bay, she interviewed the landowner company chairman Adam Barnabas about impacts of logging on the environment and eco-systems and how and whether timber royalties, levies and premiums were shared equitably to improve livelihoods.
Encompassing medicine, business, science, gender rights and the environment, Staley’s work has won numerous journalism awards.
In 2012, Staley went to Afghanistan to write about education, gender, culture and fashion. She was so inspired by Afghan women’s courage and determination.
She returned in 2015 and shot a documentary titled Mightier than the Sword, about female journalists and filmmakers, their impact on gender perceptions and equality.
The documentary follows three remarkable people -Sahar, Shakeela and Mozhdah – who are battling to break down the culture of silence and invisibility imposed upon women.
The result of her work is always engaging, interesting and of the highest standard.
The documentary was premiered in Toronto in 2017 at the Female Eye film festival, winning Best Canadian Documentary.
In 2018, it won Best Foreign Documentary at the Artemis Women in Action film festival in California, United States.
Staley specialises in science and medical stories, travelling to El Salvador to report on the effects of Coke and Pepsi on children’s health. She also reported from Haiti, Colombia, Cambodia, Soweto, South Africa and New Zealand covering HIV-Aids, environment, culture and lifestyle, gender, business and even voodoo.
Staley has penned a biography for Greystone Books about Afghan activist and singer Mozhdah Jamalzadah titled Voice of Rebellion. The book describes how Jamalzadah brought hope to Afghanistan and will soon hit book shelves and Amazon repositories on the internet.
Staley also has numerous corporate clients, teaches magazine writing at Douglas College and speaks publicly on issues related to gender. She has several awards and nominations for her work.
Our bone-aching trip ended at 9.30pm Vocopoint time as we exchange business cards and bid each other goodnight.
Staley and Tallulah continued their journey to Mt Hagen and to Enga to speak with relatives and those who tortured Leniata Kepara a couple of years, before returning to Vancouver.
Staley’s articles can be accessed on: