witchcraft, Papua New Guinea

Witch Hunting—and Burning—Flourishes in Papua New Guinea

January 09, 2009 01:28 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A woman burned alive was the latest person to be accused of being a witch by villagers in the South Pacific island nation, where torture and killings tied to witchcraft are widespread.

Witchcraft-Related Killings on the Rise in Papua New Guinea

In the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea, a group of people took a young woman suspected of being a witch to a dumping ground Tuesday, where she was bound and gagged, tied to a log and set on fire on Tuesday, reported CNN.

“When the people living nearby went to the dump site to investigate what caused the fire, they found a human being burning in the flames,” Simon Kauba, assistant commissioner of police and commander of the Highlands, said to CNN. “It was ugly.” Kauba said police have had difficulty getting witnesses to talk to police.

Traditional beliefs remain strong in rural areas of the country, where groups of tribesmen often target individuals, called "sangumas," who supposedly have magical powers. Police note that the list of victims of witchcraft-related crimes is growing, and say that many victims are used as scapegoats for another person’s unexplained death.

The local publication Post-Courier reported Thursday that the country’s Constitutional Review and Law Reform Commission will discuss this year a new law to address the increase in sorcery-related killings. About 50 people suspected of sorcery were killed in two provinces in the region last year, including one case in which villagers hung a pregnant woman, accused of sorcery after her neighbor died, to a tree, from which she freed herself and gave birth to a baby girl.

“It is a problem that has been existing in the country before the arrival of western influence and it’s deeply rooted,” said Commission chairman Joe Mek Teine to the Post-Courier. “The churches have done a lot to improve it but it’s getting worse every time.”

Related Topics: Witchcraft accusations a problem worldwide

Witchcraft-related problems have been reported within the past year in Tanzania, Kenya and Congo in Africa, and in Saudi Arabia.
In Tanzania, where albinos are being killed because their body parts are thought to be useful in witchcraft, police have resorted to giving albinos cell phones for their protection.

In May of last year, a mob in western Kenya burned to death 11 accused witches, eight women and three men, after torching 30 homes. Kenya has a long history of utilizing witch doctors and faith healers.

In April, police in Congo arrested 13 suspected sorcerers who were accused of using magic to steal or shrink men’s penises, creating a “penis theft panic,” reported Reuters. The accusers claimed that the sorcerers made their genitals shrink or disappear simply by touching them. About a decade ago, 12 suspected penis snatchers were killed by a mob in Ghana.

In February in Saudi Arabia, a woman was convicted and jailed for witchcraft and sentenced to death by decapitation after several men said that they became “impotent after being bewitched by her” and accused her of committing adultery with “evil spirits.”

Historical Context: Witch hunts in the US

Witchcraft has long been an issue in many parts of the world. The United States is no exception, although modern cases are rare.

On May 26, 1642, a young woman named Alse Young became the first person executed for witchcraft in America, and her hanging set off a rash of witchcraft accusations in Connecticut.

But the hysteria that her death provoked did not reach the same level as in now-infamous Salem, Mass., where 20 people total were killed in mass panic that was triggered in January 1692 when the mysterious illnesses of a daughter and niece of the town reverend were blamed on sorcery.

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