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Talking it Through

Talking it Through: Responses to Sorcery and Witchcraft Beliefs and Practices in Melanesia OPEN ACCESS

Miranda Forsyth
Richard Eves
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: ANU Press
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    Talking it Through
    Book Description:

    Sorcery and witchcraft practices and beliefs are pervasive across Melanesia. They are in part created by, and give rise to, a wide variety of poor social and developmental outcomes. These include uneven economic development, low public health, lack of social cohesion, crime, fear and insecurity. A further very visible problem is the attacks on men and women who are accused of being practitioners of witchcraft or sorcery, which can lead to serious bodily harm, banishment and sometimes death. Today, many communities, individuals, church organisations and policymakers in Melanesia and internationally are exploring ways to overcome the negative social outcomes associated with witchcraft and sorcery practices and beliefs. This book brings together a collection of chapters written by a diverse range of authors, both Melanesian and non-Melanesian, providing crucial insights both into how these practices and beliefs are playing out in contemporary Melanesia, and also the types of interventions that are being trialled or debated to address the problems associated with them.

    eISBN: 978-1-925021-57-8
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Gairo Onagi

    Papua New Guinea (PNG) is no exception when it comes to the practices of witchcraft and sorcery. Different names are used to describe these practices. Some call themsanguma; others call thempuri puriandmalira. Whatever the names used for these practices that are dubbed as evil and antisocial, such behaviour exists in many countries throughout the world and is particularly associated with social stress and dislocation. I believe that this volume forms part of a constructive dialogue to develop practical and workable solutions to the negative societal issues posed by the problems of sorcery- and witchcraft-related social ills...

  2. Miranda Forsyth and Richard Eves

    The belief that illness, death and misfortune of all sorts is frequently caused by the deliberate interventions of individuals with special powers or magical knowledge is pervasive throughout Melanesia. As a result, sorcery and witchcraft beliefs and practices exert a powerful influence on many aspects of day-to-day life, as well as being significant vectors for community tensions, conflict and violence. Moreover, rather than disappearing under the influence of Christianity and modern life, sorcery and witchcraft practices and beliefs are proving extremely resilient, with many claiming that they are increasing and spreading. In recent years, most of the attention given to...

  3. Part 1: Social, Economic and Cultural Dimensions to the Belief in Witchcraft and Sorcery
    • Jack Urame

      In changing times when sickness and death can be scientifically explained, people continue to use sorcery and witchcraft beliefs to provide explanations and express their frustrations, confusion and stress when bad events happen. As a result, sorcery-related violence remains a huge social phenomenon in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Many families have suffered social stress from sorcery and witchcraft accusations, the marginalised have been displaced, the weak have been expelled from their communities and the defenceless have been killed in horrific circumstances.

      Due to the diversity of sorcery and witchcraft beliefs and practices in PNG, sorcery-related killing is common in some...

    • John Cox and Georgina Phillips

      In Papua New Guinea (PNG), witchcraft and sorcery accusations appear to be proliferating and, in many cases, leading to horrific violence, torture and murder of those thought to be sorcerers (Chandler 2013). Our contribution to the debates about sorcery-related violence is to see it as the result of poverty and failing services. Following the medical anthropologist and infectious diseases physician Paul Farmer, we reject interpretations of sorcery accusations and violence as grounded in the ancient traditional culture of Melanesia.¹ Instead, we see the resurgence of sorcery as an effect of poverty and social inequality, particularly the neglect of medical services...

    • Salmah Eva-Lina Lawrence

      In this chapter, a version of which was presented at the June 2013 conference Sorcery- and Witchcraft-Related Killings in Melanesia: Culture, Law, and Human Rights Perspectives, I discuss witchcraft and sorcery in the Milne Bay context, specific to communities in and around Alotau and the surrounding bay area, and some of the islands in the China Strait. I am also concerned with the law and human rights perspectives surrounding much of the discussion of the recent sorcery- and witchcraft-related violence in Papua New Guinea (PNG). I make an argument for decolonising both the discourse and the formulation and implementation of...

    • Lawrence Foana’ota

      The main focus of this chapter is on sorcery and witchcraft as a negative force on economic and social development in Solomon Islands. Throughout Solomon Islands, many people believe in different types of sorcery and witchcraft. For example, in the Marovo Lagoon, Western Province, the type of sorcery and witchcraft practised there is calledpela; on Guadalcanal it is calledvele; while in North Malaita it is calledarua. These are just a few of the practices that still exist in these islands. This discussion will focus on these examples in order to understand their negative effects.

      It is expected...

    • John Himugu

      While working as an ethnographic research officer at the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, I have carried out detailed research work on sorcery and witchcraft beliefs of the Huli people of Hela Province, as seen from their perspective. I was also on the Working Committee set up by the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission of Papua New Guinea in 2007 to look into sorcery-related killings in the country. I have travelled widely with the committee and met various ethnic groups like the Huli who believe sorcery and witchcraft are very real.

      Many public commentators claim sorcery is an outdated...

    • Patrick F.Gesch

      As with so many others, I was shocked to see the front page photo and read the newspaper article of thePost-Courier, 7 February 2013, captioned ‘Burnt Alive’. We all read:

      A tragic and brutal sorcery-related murder took place in full view of hundreds of onlookers in a Mount Hagen City suburb in Western Highlands Province yesterday morning. The relatives of a six-year-old boy doused petrol on a woman whom they had suspected of killing the boy with sorcery and burnt her alive … The victim, who was from Enga Province, was suspected of killing the six-year-old boy through sorcery...

    • Patrick F.Gesch and Jonathan Julius

      On 22 April 2014 the front page headlines ofThe Nationalread, ‘Mass arrests — A group of 120 men and 69 juveniles have appeared in court over the alleged killings of eight people at a village in Madang last Monday’ (Mark 2014b). One of the juveniles was 10 years old. The story went on to say that the provincial police commander, Sylvester Kalaut, had gone with a team of police officers to Sakiko settlement in the Ramu River valley, and from there, after a marathon court hearing by a Madang magistrate, had taken those arraigned to Madang’s prison. The...

    • Siobhan McDonnell

      In Vanuatu the word ‘sorcery’ is most closely associated with the use ofblak majik(black magic) known asnakaemasin Bislama, although there is a diversity of practices consistent with the extreme linguistic and cultural diversity found across the archipelago.Nakaemasis defined in this chapter consistent with contemporary usage in North Efate, not as the broader practice of magic that is sometimes associated with discussions of sorcery or witchcraft in the academic literature, but as nefarious practices of poisoning and other magical practices that cause bodily harm and untimely deaths.¹ Recent accounts ofnakaemasin North Efate include...

    • Laurent Dousset

      Sorcery and (black) magic are far from being limited to non-Western worlds. In the industrialised world there has also been a recrudescence in beliefs and practices that relate to a supernatural world, state of consciousness or capacity to act, often labelled ‘modern occultism’.¹ Taking for granted that researchers agree on the definition of sorcery — a problem whose answer is far from obvious — we must, however, admit that the study of these widespread phenomena is subjected to differing and sometimes conflicting layers of analyses summarised by two general perspectives. The first integrates these beliefs and practices into their local...

  4. Part 2: Legal Dimensions to the Belief in Witchcraft and Sorcery
    • Christine Stewart

      This chapter discusses the approaches of the formal legal system of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to cases of witch-killing, from colonial times to the present. The title is based on that of a movie from more than 20 years ago, entitledThe Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, a movie I saw accidentally and found totally gruesome and unappealing. But this adaptation of the title seemed apt, because there are some very gruesome aspects to witch-killing in PNG today (Forsyth 2013).

      First, some matters of terminology and categorisation. What is the difference between a sorcerer and a witch?...

    • Mel Keenan

      In July 2013 the national parliament of Papua New Guinea (PNG) repealed that country’s Sorcery Act, as one prong of a strategy aimed at bringing an end to the appalling sorcery-related violence throughout the country. Dating back to 1971, some years before independence, the Act’s roots lie in the period of PNG’s torpor as an Australian colony. This chapter takes the long historical view of the notoriously a-historical common law, in order to provide some examination of the response of colonial administrators working within an imported common law framework to crimes arising from the pervasive belief in sorcery throughout PNG.¹...

    • Miranda Forsyth

      This chapter focuses on the dimension of sorcery and witchcraft defined by Mary Patterson as ‘the belief, and those practices associated with the belief, that one human being is capable of harming another by magical or supernatural means’.¹ Sorcery and witchcraft in Melanesia mean that misfortune, accidents, business failures, sickness and death are commonly believed to have been deliberately caused by certain individuals through the use of supernatural powers, rather than resulting from natural causes. In turn, this may lead to violent responses against those accused of sorcery or witchcraft, which can involve prolonged torture, public executions, riots, warfare, banishment...

    • Ravunamu Auka, Barbara Gore and Pealiwan Rebecca Koralyo

      The Office of the Public Prosecutor (OPP) in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is empowered by the constitution to undertake the prosecution function of the state in the National Court and in the Supreme Court of PNG. The prosecutors of the OPP are therefore responsible for the conduct of trials in the National Court and the defending of appeals in the Supreme Court. This role places the prosecutors in a position of responsibility for securing justice for both victims and persons accused of sorcery and for victims of sorcery-related killings. Most often victims of sorcery-related killings are persons accused or held...

    • Mark Evenhuis

      Allegations of malevolent sorcery resulting in retaliatory violence and sometimes murder appear to be increasing on both mainland Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. This, coupled with increased media reporting of the issue, has spurred local civil society organisations, international human rights institutions and non-government organisations (NGOs) to demand that the governments of PNG and of Autonomous Bougainville take immediate action to address the issue.

      Drawing on the postcolonial and critical legal methodology of Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL), this chapter interrogates the promise and limitations of relying upon the law, and language of...

    • Philip Kanairara and Derek Futaiasi

      Solomon Islands was primarily governed by customary law or custom before the protectorate era, which commenced in 1893. People still embrace their customs and cultures today even with the introduction of many changes affecting how people think and how things are done. Preferring customary ways to settle disputes, practising customary dances, tattooing, and weaving of mats and baskets are some examples of how people still embrace their customs.

      People also have strong beliefs in custom rituals and magic. These rituals and magic are believed to have good and bad causes. Belief in the magic of sorcery is an example of...

  5. Part 3: Positive Directions in Overcoming Violence
    • Clara Bal

      United Nauro Gor is located in Kundiawa Gembogl District, Simbu Province, in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. The Gor Community Base Laws were enacted in 2006, along with establishment of a local police force to enforce the laws. The community made the laws because it faced many social problems. These included election-related tribal fights every five years, a high incidence of sorcery-related killings, and a general breakdown in law and order. The community, with the assistance of the then Catholic parish priest, Father Dr Jan Jaworski, village leaders and educated professionals, helped to draft the community laws. After the...

    • Fr Philip Gibbs

      Sorcery and witchcraft beliefs and practices are common in Papua New Guinea (PNG), yet differ considerably throughout the country.¹ This paper addresses witchcraft-related accusations and violence in two PNG highlands provinces: Simbu and Enga. I will explain a response from the Catholic Church in Simbu Province, and then take up a case from Enga Province, illustrating the complexities of issues raised by people in an Enga faith community that is attempting to respond to an outbreak of witchcraft-related violence in their area. I conclude with some suggestions based on the interventions to date.

      In Simbu, witchcraft, orsangumaas it...