Sorcery in PNG: Part 1

This is Part 1 of a 4 part series containing excerpts from a contribution by the Lutheran Students Congregation at the UPNG to the CLRC to inform the Action plan against sorcery issues in PNG.

Part 1 is the introduction

Sorcery related violence in Papua New Guinea (PNG) made international headlines in 2013 when footage of 20-year-old Kepari Leniata being burned alive atop a pile of tires went viral[1]. The young mother was accused of using sorcery to kill her neighbour’s 6 year old son. The mob made up of mostly young men, set her alight in a very public place, in front of onlookers who did not make any attempt to save her.  It was violent and the horror and disgust both within PNG and overseas was fierce.

We acknowledge that Papua New Guinea is a nation with culture that is submerged in spiritual beliefs. The traditional people practiced animism and ancestor worship[2] .  The fear of the unknown, the fear of spirits and strangers and the fear of real or imagined enemies have resulted in a diversity of beliefs that is as varied as the 800 different cultures that make up the nation of PNG.

The difference between now and the past is that the violence related to sorcery has increased in numbers and the level of violence is horrifying. The United Nations estimated that in 2016 in one of Papua New Guinea’s twenty province alone, there were approximately 200 sorcery related killings[3].  International groups such as Amnesty International[4], the United Nations (UN)[5], and Oxfam[6] have condemned the practise of sorcery in Papua New Guinea.

The Sorcery Act was enacted in 1971 by the Parliament to address this issue. The purpose of the Sorcery Act 1971 was to prevent and punish evil practices of sorcery and other similar evil practices, and for other purposes relating to such practice.

In retrospect, the legislation had unintended effect. Among other reasons, the Sorcery Act 1971 legitimized the act of sorcery even if the action was just malicious accusation from evil-intentioned people. [7]  Under this law, a suspect could be prosecuted based on mere suspicion.

A conundrum for the court of law was that the action of sorcery is spiritual in nature and cannot be defended in a court of law, where physical evidence is required for decision making[8].

The PNG Constitutional Reform Committee (CLRC) when formed in 1975 had the responsibility to review the Sorcery Act 1971.  The CLRC meeting of 1977[9] did not have any firm recommendations on the issue. It was later in 2013, on the eve of Leniata Kepari’s death that the CLRC recommended that the Sorcery Act 1971 be repealed and sorcery related violence be tried under the Criminal Act Law[10].

Two years later in 2015, following several national conferences on the sorcery, a committee led by the PNG Department of Justice and Attorney General (DJAG) was tasked to develop a Sorcery National Action Plan (SNAP) to address sorcery related violence. The plan was approved in a National Executive Council (NEC) decision on 21 July, 2015[11].

The Sorcery National Action Plan (SNAP), while approved, still requires implementation. The CLRC is an implementation partner. Given the nature of sorcery as a spiritual matter, the CLRC agrees that the approach must be holistic and particular focus be given to churches as an active partner to find solutions for sorcery belief and related violence. Revisiting the Sorcery Act 1971 is not feasible, and other alternative ways should be considered to address this issue.

The CLRC has invited the Churches to participate in identifying solutions to address the problem.  The power of the resurrected Christ put Christians on the victory side (Revelation 1:5-6). This power includes power over Satan and his kingdom.  The kingdom of darkness is against peace and happiness, but brings with it fear, that sabotages human beings from living fulfilled lives to achieve the great commission of God which is to reconcile all people back to God – our creator.

Efforts so far in addressing the issue include, an Institute of National Affairs (INA) workshop[12] in 2013 in Goroka titled, Sorcery and Witchcraft Accusations: Developing a National Response to Overcome the Violence. A conference in Mendi sponsored by the Catholic Church in 2015[13].  Non-government Organisation have held meetings including the Oxfam[14] proceedings from Gumine, Chimbu Province.  All the recommendations and all the background work has been recorded in the 2015 edited volume titled[15]: Talking it Through Responses to Sorcery and Witchcraft Beliefs and Practices in Melanesia.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYAp-6abtZs&t=50s

[2] http://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/mjt/22-1_06.pdf

[3] http://www.seedstheatre.org/punishments-for-alleged-witchcraft-in-papua-new-guinea/

[4] https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/asia-and-the-pacific/papua-new-guinea/report-papua-new-guinea/

[5] http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44096#.WBbwmfl97IU

[6]https://www.oxfam.org.nz/what-we-do/where-we-work/papua-new-guinea/gender-justice/confronting-sorcery

[7] Sorcery Act 1971

[8] “Sorcery and Witchcraft-related Killings in Melanesia: Culture, Law and Human Rights Perspectives

[9] http://www.paclii.org/pg/lawreform/PGLawRComm/1977/2.html

[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/30/world/asia/papua-new-guinea-moves-to-repeal-sorcery-act.html

[11] https://www.policyforum.net/confronting-sorcery-accusation-violence-in-png/

[12] http://www.inapng.com/pdf_files/PNG%20Sorcery%20Workshop%20Draft%20Program3-5%20Dec%20RevPB.pdf

[13] http://www.mendidiocese.com/index.php/news/item/117-stand-against-sorcery-violence

[14] https://www.oxfam.org.nz/sites/default/files/reports/Sorcery_report_FINAL.pdf

[15] http://press.anu.edu.au

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Tourism and conservation makes sense

DORT Sat_2008 (31).JPGEarly in 2017, The National Geography  Travel listed Papua New Guinea as one of  the top 5 cultural destinations to visit. Papua New Guinea was described as the Garden of Eden, where time has forgotten, where people live like they have lived for centuries.

The PNG culture was depicted as one that still maintains an authentic link to nature, to earth, to life, to the “mama graun”,  with a spirituality that is pure, unswayed by the panoply of civilization. This culture evokes images of awe and wonder and respect.

And to the Papua New Guineans on Facebook, there was a general feeling of pride all around at the announcement. But do we need permission from the National Geography to feel  pride for culture?

Colonialism had a name for our culture – Cane hacker aka kanaka, primitive, less-advanced –  name tags with negative connotations has been carried forward into independence and even at 41 years on.

Even religion that came from America and Germany called it paganism, heathenism, a source of evil and made people sever the link to earth to their “mama graun”. Religion has forgotten that inspiration for religion also has its beginnings in nature.

For the last 100 years, culture has been a source of shame and fear. The brain washing is so deep that even the 21st century parliament of Papua New Guinea vandalized its cultural heritage at the Parliament House and called it an act of cleansing.

But all along, our culture has been our our identify. It is who we are. It is what makes us unique. It is our pride and the heritage we should be passing down to our children.

When we begin to understand more of the world around us, we begin to realize that we are like square  pegs trying to fit into round holes. In our anxiety to fit into the box  given to us by special interests groups, we have been suppressing and denying our identity.

With or without permission from National Geography, we should know that what we have is what the world is looking for.

The world may have achieved mind-defying technological feats, but in the process they have lost the original design of man.  Men was part of nature with a spirit connection. Men lived off nature. Men got inspired by nature. Men revered nature, respected nature and worshiped nature as the source of life. Man had responsibility to protect nature.

The more complex a society becomes, the more averse they are to dirt, to ground, to  earth, to soil. Just look at the jungles of concrete, steel and glass in places where giant trees, grasslands and forests once stood.

But man is spirit and the spirit of our “mama graun communicates via bare skin connected to dirt, to earth.  This makes existing indigenous cultures – the earthy cultures such as ours, an existing conduit for re-connection to nature. A pathway for revitalizing the spirit aspect of a human life.

Earthy cultures offers an opportunity for people to reconnect to the original design of men. These are places one can get away from the hectic hustle and bustle of the 21st century; it is a a place for rest and connection to earth. Walk bare feet on dirt and  feel the heartbeat of “mama graun”. People are looking for the peace, opportunities to reconnect and they re paying to do it.

Tourism and cultural conservation therefore, is the way to go for Papua New Guinea.  Cultural conservation also requires nature conservation.

But firstly, we must be enlightened enough to know where to draw the line. The line between putting on a show for money and being authentic to sharing the embrace of mother earth.

We Are Each Brother’s Keeper. #WestPapua Needs Your Support Right Now. Freedom is All that West Papua Needs.

Rausim OBE Long PNG

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