Two months ago, a horrifying video showing some Sorcery Accusation Related Violence in Papua New Guinea was released. The one-minute-long video, uploaded by Philip Gibbs and The Commission of Social Concerns of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, portrayed a situation where several men had stripped naked and tied four women who were suspected of being witches. The women were accused of removing and eating a man’s heart, causing him to be gravely ill. The women were being badly tortured and recorded with a mobile phone. The footage shows how the men aggressively ask the women to confess where they have put the heart, aiming to ‘torture the truth out of them’. The women, threatened and injured with bush knives and hot iron bars, keep desperately repeating that they have nothing to do with it, which does not seem to convince their aggressors. The video, posted on YouTube and other social networks, went viral (up to date it has 46,000 views) and triggered many reactions from national and international media.
Here we are, two months later, and who remembers those women? Who knows what happened to them? Probably, very few. One of the woman run away, another two stayed in the village and, the last one of them was killed in that torture. The sick man they were accused of attacking through witchcraft recovered. Unfortunately, this fact contributed to confirm the belief of many that the woman who died was effectively a witch and that her torture and killing was appropriate as it saved the man’s life. This time, the police was forced to investigate the case as they could not afford to let it go after the video went viral. However, and not surprisingly, no court case has taken place yet.
We all know this is not the first time something like this happens and it would be naive to think it will be the last time. From the different provinces of the Highlands, Philip Gibbs has collected few more cases that have taken place in the last weeks. There are no videos to capture the horror of these cases, but the plain words of the direct testimonies are enough to made us shiver. Father Gibbs was discouraged by the brutality of the situations and the little reaction and assistance he was observing from people around, where very few seemed ready to stand up for their fellow human beings.
In the following lines, we have transcribed direct testimonies of people who witnessed these cases.
Case 1: Susan – Kagua
Susan lived at Tulire, not far from the Government Station in Kagua. Susan was married with 4 sons. She was a prayerful person, a member of the Lutheran Renewal Church. She looked after a “prayer house”
Susan’s cousin Elijah was sick. She went to pray with him and washed his swollen legs. A few days later his illness worsened and he was taken to Mt Hagen hospital, where he died.
Rumours started to go around that Susan was the cause of Elijah’s death (through sorcery). After all she had been close to him, washing him and so on. His clansmen were threatening to attack her clanspeople When Susan heard about this she asked her husband’s brother to take her to her accusers. Her accusers demanded of her, “You must have known something about the death of Elijah, so tell us.” She replied that she knew nothing. When pressed she said that she believed in God and that her hands were clean – she was innocent.
They took her away and started torturing her. They cut her ears, stripped her naked, put a rope around her neck and dragged her along the road. While being dragged like that she called to a boy named Oku who was leading the interrogation, “Why have you done this. My hands are clean.”
She was dragged to a place where they prepared a fire. They placed her on car tyres, poured petrol over her and around the tyres and lit a match. While burning to death she could be heard saying, “Oku, Oku, why are you doing this to me. In God’s name my hands are clean. I am innocent.” Eventually people took any remaining parts of her body and burned it all to dust.
Afterwards there was a lot of violence. Houses were burned and property destroyed. People were sleeping in the forest and in caves.
Case 2: Lucy – Village near Wabag, in Enga province
A school inspector from Enga Province who was working in Chuave, in Simbu Province, died. His body was brought back to a little village close to Wabag, in Enga province, in order to be buried. This was in November 2015.
His wife Lucy, who is from another little village in Enga accompanied the body of her husband. At the funeral, the wife was accused of “sanguma” (witchcraft) and of having caused the death of her husband. After all, she had been living in Simbu, which Enga people think of as the “home” of sanguma witchcraft. People locked the woman in a house and tried to set fire to the house so as to burn her. But the house did not catch fire. So they locked her in the house and threw the key into the river.
She is the mother of four children, two boys and two girls. One son supported the people in getting rid of his mother. The other was opposed to them killing his mother. They kept a close eye on him to make sure he did not rescue her. She was left locked in the house with no food or water. She could be heard crying inside the house.
After about 14 days the crying ceased and a day later there was a bad smell coming from the house like the smell of a dead dog. Presuming that she had died, people opened the house, took the body, and disposed of it in the high forest away from the village.