Is this the last Kevin Rudd Junior story?
No early PNG meeting likely for Julia Gillard

How the sangumaman made our life better


SANGUMA IS a Tok Pisin word meaning magic, or more properly traditional psychic power, often exercised through plants, herbs and incantations.

The source language is unclear, maybe from Tolai (New Britain). It is a core feature of pre-Christian shamanic beliefs in PNG. Although the vast majority of the population are professed and devout Christians, belief in the powers of sanguma are deep-rooted and pervasive.

I do not wish to demean traditional beliefs – we all have them, some disguised in modern traditions such as Christmas and Easter or superstitions like Friday the 13th, or not saying the word ‘Macbeth’.

But I had an experience with a sanguma man (magic man) which is worthy of Fortean consideration. (I will not use the term ‘witch doctor’, which is derogatory).

I lived and worked in PNG for five years. I made many friends from all provinces and greatly enjoyed the rich local traditions and marvellous cultures of this truly great country. Go there and you will be amazed.

I found the love of my life and we became engaged. Some acquaintances became jealous of my partner – unfortunately common in PNG – and sought to do us harm.

One man in particular (a former boyfriend) did his best to take her away from me. He found out my phone number and sent increasingly threatening messages.

I was determined not to give in to this intimidation, and employed some friendly raskols to be my protectors and warn me of any approaches. (Port Moresby is a dangerous place, you understand).

Well, things came to a head when this man sent me death threats - via SMS, a novel use of new technology.

I asked my partner's relatives for advice. They suggested employing the service of a sangumaman they knew. He was well-respected and regarded as effective, so my partner and I agreed.

The sangumaman came to our house and explained it would take some time, but he could place a curse on this man so he would forget about my partner.

He asked if I wanted any harm to come to him –offering a menu of options. I said no, just make him leave us alone. I paid him 100 kina, and the proceedings were underway.

First he needed special leaves from a powerful sanguma plant, available in one market in Moresby (they come from Morobe province). When he had these leaves and some buai (betel nut), lime and mustard (kumbung and daka) and some cigarettes, we were ready to proceed with Stage 1.

He started by praying, then crumbling the sanguma leaves, mixing them into a paste with his spit and rubbing this on our foreheads. He then chanted in his language, chewed some buai with kumbung and daka as is customary, then sprinkled our heads with water while praying.

He placed his hands on our heads and offered more prayers and incantations. After this he smoked a cigarette while blowing the smoke out the windows, again chanting ritualistic words. This, he explained, would rid our minds of the influence of the offending man. He then prayed over us and that was the end of Stage 1.

Stage 2 involved getting a photo of the offending man. This took some doing, but we eventually conned him into to meeting one of our friends – an attractive young woman – who convinced him that my partner wanted a photo of him to remember him by, so he gave her one.

The sangumaman took the photo and again made a paste of the special leaves, rubbed this on the photo, tore it into pieces and buried it in the ground. He said that now the curse was complete and the target would no longer be able to remember my partner.

We left PNG three weeks later, but during that time there was no contact at all from the offending man, and my raskols (who had been tracking his movements) reported he made no attempt to come near our house.

The reason I did this was not so much because I thought it might work, but because I knew that the others truly believed it would, and this would make it effective. Maybe word of our ceremony got out to the target and he was scared off?

Maybe it worked. What do you think?

* ‘Peter’ is the nom de plume of a contributor known to PNG Attitude


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Trevor Freestone.

Michael Somare is from the Sepik where the Sangumas are more powerful than anywhere else in PNG. He should be afraid of them when they realise that he is not doing his job properly (or has he bribed them)? Peter, you may not believe in the power of the Sanguma, it just goes to show you don't know Papua New Guineans.

Bruce Copeland

Trevor - Do not take any notice of Peter. He has no sense of adventure. How is it that the PNG people have a sangguma man. nd the Zulu have a sangomah man? Is it all about moving tectonic plates? Are highlanders related to the Zulu?

Peter Warwick

Trevor and Peter - Are you people from the dark ages? Is this a subject for 'PNG Attitude'?

Perhaps find a blog covering "Witchcraft and Witchdoctors for the Modern Man".

Trevor Freestone.

The Sanguma men traditionally had an enormous knowledge of flora and minerals found in the rain forest.

Over thousands of years they had developed potions and ceremonies that could heal the sick and destroy their enemies.

During my stay in PNG I experienced some of their powers.

The main task of the Sanguma and the spirit houses was to educate the young boys regarding the laws of the clan. When these laws were broken the sanguma man or woman would be the judge and punisher, often very harsh.

They kept law and order in the clan. Once they had been discredited by some of the missionaries they lost this influence on the young. Thus you now have a new breed called rascals.

But don't believe that Sangumas have disappeared. They still exist and many people at village level respect them.

Effrey Dademo

Huh? Maybe he just got tired of spending on phone credits. It's pretty expensive as you would know.

Moreover, the fact that you paid no attention to him seem to indicate he was wasting his time? And of course you left 3 weeks later ;)))

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)