18 Dec 2013

PNG health worker denies government assertions around sorcery

6:01 pm on 18 December 2013

A Papua New Guinea health worker says the suggestion that sorcery is just in people's minds is untrue.

The comment was made during a conference in the Eastern Highlands provincial capital Goroka, which discussed the rising level of torture and murder of people suspected of using sorcery to cause illness and death.

Richard Kavare is a human rights officer with Laity Mobile Health Services, which flies vaccines and other essential medical supplies and services into remote areas. He spoke to Annell Husband.

RICHARD KAVARE: Someone in the workshop, the forum, the conference, mentioned something and I'd like to state it. It says that 'we bring the concept into our minds to make it happen', which I totally disagree with. Witchcraft and sorcery has been there for... how many donkey's years it has been there. It has its root, its existence. If you cut, if you push a knife through a witch it won't even hurt the witch. It will just bounce as though the knife is blunt. If you put a hot rod of iron or metal into the witch's body it won't even have any impact. It will just come out cold and freeze. That's the power of the witch, witchcraft, the sanguma.

ANNELL HUSBAND: Have you experienced that for yourself?

RK: I have seen with my naked eyes. I was also involved in that. I even saw the police personnel shooting guns at the poison people, puri puri, in the tribal fight, trying to stop. But these people, they use their poisons and the bullets drop off. And the guns and the police personnel could never pull the trigger again a second time to shoot them. That's typical Melanesian magic, you see? And they believe in that. And it happened.

AH: So it's not just...?

RK: So it's not just a matter of imagination or allegory. It's not an assumption. It's reality, it's reality.

AH: So do you think that people should still be allowed to take the law into their own hands?

RK: In Melanesia, I think it's OK they do it, rather than go to the high authorities. Because the police people can never mandate for their safety, guarantee their safety. If they bring it over to the police personnel they'll ask for a witness and the witness won't turn up because you can never go and look after the witness's family [or] the witness himself. And he could be killed. That's why in Melanesian society we need to get life for a life. If they find out that you're a sorcerer, you kill someone, you deserve to die.