Physical violence against those accused of sorcery is widespread in the country. People have been tortured and murdered because of unfounded beliefs. Committed to helping the victims, the local Church has included it as a priority in its Pastoral Plan.
Port Moresby (AsiaNews) – Sorcery Accusation-related Violence (SARV) refers to physical violence against people accused of practising witchcraft, sorcery or black magic.
This is a widespread problem in Papua New Guinea, especially in Enga province, where the Catholic Diocese of Wabag is located.
Popular beliefs about such practices remain entrenched in the country. It is not uncommon for an entire community to attack individuals accused of engaging in the occult (rituals and spells), going so far in some cases as to torture and kill the victims.
When medical knowledge cannot explain certain deaths, many people believe that the death is a result of sanguma”, sorcery or black magic, this according to a report by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands (CBCPNGSI) and its Migrants & Refugees Desk.
In some cases, “such as in HIV deaths, family members are blaming it on sorcery in order to avoid the stigma and shame attached with HIV,” says the report.
This can lead to allegations, “normally after a glasman (diviner) is engaged to find out the cause of death.” Then, “Once the name of a person comes up, it leads to accusations and eventually torture and death.”
In light of the situation, the Diocese of Wabag is strongly committed to the fight against SARV, so much so that it is a priority in its 2021-2025Pastoral Plan.
“Peter Pumbu, Diocesan Caritas Coordinator, with the support of Bp Arnold Orowae and some priests” are on the “frontline of saving SARV victims and combatting this belief”.
The effort requires not only extreme and often dangerous attempts to save the victims, but also in working on prevention and raising awareness.
Currently, 14 SARV victims are under the care of the Diocese of Wabag, including three children.
In its findings, the 2020 study mentions nine deaths from torture and beatings alone. The latest case occurred on 8 September 2021 – a woman sheltering in a diocesan safe house in Lae died from the beatings and torture she suffered.
Thanks to careful analysis, including visiting the homes of volunteers who take care of the victims, the diocesan report identifies five central points to help SARV victims.
Rescue (1) and safety (2) are the first decisive steps. Often victims have suffered serious trauma from beatings and burns to the body with hot metal bars, which require hospitalisation.
After they are discharged, the victims need a safe house (3), far from the community and the accusers.
Finally, the diocese engages in a mediation process (4), a "conference" involving the victim’s community, followed by reintegration (5) into the community in the safest way possible.
For SARV victims, their experience can result more than six months under the care of the diocesan team.
In Pina parish, the local priest made a house available to three women accused of witchcraft, and two children whose parents were killed in October 2020 after they were accused of sorcery.
The diocese has recently organised a five-day workshop to raise awareness among the population and provide suitable tools to fight this problem.
As the report indicates, “Hearing from the health professionals enabled the participants to understand that most deaths have medical explanations, including HIV, TB, heart attack etc.,” and that sorcery had nothing to do with sudden deaths.