From Jo Chandler, freelance journalist and an honorary fellow of the Alfred Deakin Research Institute.
The resources-rich country is in the midst of a mining boom, but the wealth bypasses the vast majority. In their realities, some untouched by outside influence until only a couple of short-lived generations ago, enduring tradition widely resists the notion that natural causes, disease, accident or recklessness might be responsible for a death. Rather, bad magic is the certain culprit.http://www.theglobalmail.org/feature/it ... tches/558/
“When people die, especially men, people start asking ‘Who’s behind it?’, not ‘What’s behind it?’” says Dr Philip Gibbs, a longtime PNG resident, anthropologist, sorcery specialist and Catholic priest.
The concept of a serial-offending torture squad hunting down witches doesn’t fit the picture anthropologists have assembled of the customs that underwrite sorcery “pay-back” in parts of PNG. Attacks are, as a general rule, the spontaneous act of a grieving family, inspired often by vengeance, and sometimes by fear that evil magic will be exercised again. But experts also concede there are caveats to every rule in PNG. One of the most ethnically diverse landscapes in the world, PNG is endlessly confounding to outsiders, and even as modern explorers strive to pin down aspects of the old world, it changes before them.
ON FEBRUARY 7, Papua New Guineans woke to the headline “Burnt Alive!” and pictures of a large crowd, including school children, watching as flames engulfed the body of a young woman.
It happened in the busy, mercurial hub of Mount Hagen, smack in the heart of the country. A 20-year-old mother of two, Kepari Leniata, had been stripped, tortured, trussed, doused with petrol, thrown on a rubbish tip, covered with tyres and set alight.
The killing was reportedly carried out by relatives of a six-year-old boy who had just died in the local hospital. They seized a couple of women they suspected of causing the death, among them Leniata, and soon determined that she would be the scapegoat of their grief. Witnesses claimed the crowd blocked police officers and firefighters who tried to intervene.