I AM a survivor of sorcery-related violence; I was raped, tortured and nearly burnt to death as my children watched.
But let me start from the beginning. I come from Chimbu and I was only 22 years old when I met a man from Southern Highlands in school and shortly after graduating we got married and settled down in his village. We were both teaching in a local primary school there, when I started getting pregnant year after year because my husband’s was an “old fashioned” Catholic family that did not believe in family planning.
I had to stop teaching as every year, I had new borns to breastfeed and raise, but don’t take me wrong, I love my children.
In the seven years I was married, I gave birth eight times but only five of those children survived; three were still births.
Little did I know that for every child that died my fate was already being set. There were whispers that I was eating my own babies’ little hearts causing them to be still born.
But only a mother knows the pain of losing a child you carry for nine months, and I had lived through it three times.
My husband started seeing other women in the area. I turned a blind eye to that because truth be told, I was tired of getting pregnant. Soon he brought home a second wife, and a third.
In 2016, he started getting sick, lost a lot of weight and went pale, so we took him to the Mendi General Hospital. It’s quite a distance from where we lived, so we had to go very early in the morning.
At that time, my eldest was a 14-year-old boy, after him was a 13-year old girl, the baby after her was a still birth, then an 11-year-old and 10-year-old boy, the baby after that was a still birth. The last was eight years old, my little baby girl. The one after her had passed away in June of 2015.
So we left our children in the care of my husband’s sister and went to the hospital.
We stayed with some of my husband’s relatives in Mendi and for a week, we went to and from the hospital. Soon the test results came back as HIV/Aids-positive. I was so afraid and insisted on being tested too.
It turned out, I was negative, thank God, but not surprisingly for we had stopped living as man and wife for close to seven years by then.
But his second wife was positive, and surprisingly his third wife was negative as I was. The family agreed to not speak about it and to not let anyone know he was positive.
Even though he had two other wives, he was my husband and I still loved him. I insisted for him to get medication but the family were too embarrassed, saying there were some people from their village who worked at the hospital and they did not want people to know.
Fear or shame, whatever it was, my husband agreed with his family and insisted on being taken back home.
He passed away after only four months, and two months later his second wife followed, and that just about sealed my fate.
They said I was not content with eating my babies’ heart so I had eaten my husband’s also out of anger that he had married other women, and when his second wife passed on, they said it was out of jealousy.
That even claimed that the third wife and I had killed her because she was our husband’s favorite.
They came in the night, and took us, in front of my five children, and her two children.
We were dragged out into the cold night. They took us to the field and started questioning us. They stripped us naked and gang-raped us. But it wasn’t enough; they started using objects to rape us with. But all I thought of was my children. Their father had already passed on. I couldn’t leave them too. Who would take care of them?
Men I used to call my in-laws
They raped us till dawn, all those men who I used to call my in-laws. They ate at my table, greeted me and the children. I hated them. I would have killed them all, at that moment. How I wished it was true that I was a sorcerer and had the powers to eat their hearts because I would have.
When morning came, probably they didn’t want their women to see them raping us so they stopped. Instead they pulled our naked, bruised, bloody and battered bodies to the village center and hanged us up on poles.
They weren’t men trying to seek the truth or get justice, they were sick men who wanted to get sexual gratification.
They started burning us with the hot iron rods that they got out from a nearby house. They had probably been heating them all morning whilst we were gang-raped.
I looked my husband’s brother in the eye, begged him through my tears, to tell them the truth that they both had died from Aids but he just stood there and watched.
This young man, who was only eight years old when I married his older brother, this young man who I had loved, cared for and raised as my own. But my so-called Christian in-laws stood there and never told them that their son and brother had died from Aids.
A hot iron rod was placed on my nipples and I let out a scream. Another one was shoved inside my private part and I passed out from the pain. They poured water on me to wake me up; water is torture too if you know how cold it is there. On and on, they burnt us, told us to admit that we had eaten the hearts of our husband co-wife.
I prayed to God to end it, death was easier. The third wife, who could not stand the pain anymore, finally said yes, that she ate our husband’s heart, that she and I ate it.
I knew she said that only to end the pain but I would rather die. I was almost about to die anyway, and I would not admit to such things because the stigma would remain with my children.
If I was to die and leave them behind, then I wouldn’t leave them the burden of being stigmatised as the children of a woman who admitted to being a sorcerer.
I felt the flames at my feet, we were going to be burnt alive. I smelt burning flesh and I remember wondering if it was mine or the third wife’s because, the pain was too much. I didn’t, or couldn’t even notice my feet burning.
But soon I started crying and screaming in pain. I looked at the women, standing there, they did nothing to stop their husbands, some even had that satisfied smirks on their face. And I hated them.
And I remember just praying that God, if He was a merciful, would let death come to me.
God heard my prayers, but instead of granting me death, he sent me angels that rescued me.
I had passed out so many times from the pain that I don’t really remember. All I heard was a man’s voice that told me it was going to be alright. He untied me and carried me to a vehicle. I kept asking for my children and he said they were okay. I passed out after that.
My own son
It was a few days later when I learnt, even my own son, my 14-year-old son was part of the group that had tortured me and that was when I just broke. I had been trying to be strong all that time for the sake of my children but I just broke down because I loved him so much. He was my son, my baby, my first baby boy. But he never knew, his father’s family forbade us to tell even the children that their father had Aids.
It wasn’t the rape, the torture, the burning, it was my own son involvement as part of that group that just broke me.
I had third degree burns on both my feet, my calf, my buttocks. I was burnt inside, my nipples were gone, all the bones in my fingers were broken. I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t even sleep but all that pain didn’t compare to knowing my own beloved son was part of that group.
The police came to the hospital, but what could they do? Nothing! No, even to this day, people talk about law and order and I feel disgusted because there is no law and order.
They took the report, no arrests was made; the perpetrators were known but the case went cold. No one bothered, no one cared.
It took me one full year to recover and then some months before I felt I was ready.
With the help of some kind missionaries, I was able to get my four children out of there and we returned home. It was hard letting go of my oldest son, but I had to.
I thought going back home, I would be safe but things didn’t work out. Even people in my village were suspicious of me. The stigma remains no matter where you go. One look at my half burnt body and people just knew, and soon the whispers begun again in my own village, by my own family.
But the missionaries who helped me back then in 2016, helped us again. They introduced me to a couple (I can’t name in order to help others like me) who helped me find a job through an organisation that helps women and children who have survived from all forms of violence.
My children and I moved overseas, the four of them are doing great; they are going to school and I now teach in a church-run school.
It’s been four years now. I still have nightmares, I still get panic attacks, but there was a time when I felt hopeless, when I thought no one cared. But actually people do care, and they are out there and they are willing to help.
Time to speak up
So it’s time, we started speaking up. It’s time we have a voice, it’s time we tell people how it is, so that maybe we can shame authorities and the Government to waking up and addressing this issue.
Recently, I’ve reached out to the third wife and I learnt that she still lives there with her children. She went back because she has nowhere to go to. Her family accepted compensation.
And my my son is now 18 years old, a man, but so set in his cultural ways, that although he now knows his father died from Aids, he will still kill me for killing his father.
For that is the only way he can protect his father’s good name; the only way he can maintain that the father had not died from Aids but was killed by his mother.
As a mother, I will always love my son and I hope he reads this story and knows that I understand. I understand he must make this stand as it is culturally expected of him to do so. But I have forgiven him and will always be here if ever he decides to come back to me. I will always be his mama.
So, yes I’ve decided to share my story, because its time, we talked more and more about sorcery-related violence.
And I hope others will come out too and tell their stories so that one day, one day we can have a strong law and order system in place that will protect women.
It’s time our voice is heard! It’s time our stories are told!