12 Jun 2013

Sorcery holding back development in Solomon Islands

5:34 pm on 12 June 2013

A Honiara-based academic says sorcery beliefs may be holding back social and economic development in the Solomon Islands.

Lawrence Foanaota, a researcher for James Cook University, says some communities are afraid, concerned and also angry about the effect sorcery is having on their lives, families and businesses.

He told Jamie Tahana more people in the Solomons are starting to believe in sorcery.

LAWRENCE FOANAOTA: The main concern right now is increase in those who are suspected of practising sorcery and witchcraft in parts of the Solomon Islands, especially the area that I come from in North Malaita, where there are recent reports about people... their names are coming out. As recently as Sunday last week, when I was in Honiara, I heard, in my own community, of two brothers whose names have come up. In that particular community, too, there have been people who've already been chased out, and some of them have left and either gone to other parts of the Solomons or have moved to the outskirts of Honiara. Those are the kinds of things that are happening.

JAMIE TAHANA: Do we know why these people are being accused?

LF: In some cases, there is actually evidence of people admitting they are practising sorcery. There was an incident recently when someone was accused of poisoning another person through giving them something to eat.

JT: Is the practise widespread?

LF: It's not as common as what is happening in Papua New Guinea. There are isolated cases. But it's believed it's increasing. And people are frightened, they're also angry and they're concerned because of these things that are happening.

JT: Why is it increasing?

LF: Well, in fact one of the main thoughts about the increase is because it's happening amongst those who are regarded as not wealthy, or they're the sort of people who live in the poverty areas. They think maybe through jealousy, because they see other people progressing on with their lives and getting good jobs or going to schools, having good permanent houses, and they don't. So some of the cases that are believed to have happened are based on those kinds of thinking.

JT: And you say it's holding back social development in the Solomon Islands. How is it doing this?

LF: What's happening is that there, especially on Malaita where I come from, major development projects have been proposed. One of them is a big proposal for a big international port area. And the land dispute sometimes also connects to these practises of sorcery and witchcraft between the two groups of people who own the land. So for more than 20 years now, they already had the ground breaking, but up until now there's nothing happening. And there are a number of other examples and it's slowing down. So people believe that they might be related to fear of sorcery from the other approaching tribes.

JT: So people are scared to develop because they fear there'll be some form of sorcery attack on their development or them themselves?

LF: That's right, or even killing members of their families. Some believe that some of the members of parliament are dying because they also believe the supporters of oppositions or those who didn't get through the elections are angry or jealous, so they use that to shorten the life of those who have managed to go through.