Blood, Faith & Fire
12 June 2013
kinship & conflict
In the Melanesian past, the killing of accused witches is remembered as an extremely rare occurrence. Village hearings were controlled affairs that considered evidence under the authority of chiefs and elders. Such cases almost never made it to the national courts.
These days, the fate of accused witches at the hands of lynch mobs makes headlines, like the 20-year-old mother doused with petrol and burnt alive in Mount Hagen last February. The controlling hand of elders has been replaced, especially in Papua New Guinea's highlands, by the public spectacle of prolonged torture and death.
Partly in response to awareness of such atrocities, the Port Moresby government recently repealed its rarely-used Sorcery Act enacted by the colonial administration. This law was seen by its opponents as underpinning the widespread belief in sorcery and thereby lending credence to accusations that often triggered violent scapegoating.
When the history of Melanesia's encounter with sorcery-related violence is finally written, it may be the chapter on a group of highland women from Chimbu province - not legislative gestures in the capital - that proves to be its most gripping tale.
Telinga Media spoke to one of the women last week at a conference in Canberra.