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Sorcery & sanguma: What Attitude experts have to say


The sorcerer's tools (photo, ANU)WHEN FRANCIS NII recently published an article in PNG Attitude querying whether the concept of sanguma (sorcery) might have some credence, our readers were quick to respond.

These people wrote from positions of considerable authority about a matter to which they had clearly given much thought, and had experience, over a number of years.

It's a dilemma: if something is real to an individual, that is, if it is believed or witnessed to the point where it exercises a profound effect, is it in fact real?

We’re pleased to offer this edited collection of the considerations of a group of expert readers prepared to wrestle with a thorny question….

Francis H&SThe writer: Francis Nii (author and essayist)

What hangs in limbo is the question of whether sorcery is real or just a myth. If it is real, and the accused practitioner proven guilty by scientific means, for example DNA tests, can that person be held accountable?

Sorcery and sorcery killings are common throughout Papua New Guinea. People believe in sorcery. It has long been part of PNG’s culture and inheritance since prehistory. Sanguma (witchcraft) is the most predominant form of sorcery. It is believed to be responsible for most of the sorcery-related deaths that have been reported.

Sanguma is believed to operate through a person who presents in the form of an animal or insect of supernatural power. The spirit, through its supernatural power, enables the host to perform incredible acts mostly malevolent and harmful to humans.

The host, enabled by the supernatural power of the medium, can kill another human being by removing an organ or a vital body part. Alternatively, the sanguma can remotely control a person by causing fatal accidents and other acts.

The scientist: Dr Paulus Ripa (medical academic)

Sanguma does not exist except in the minds of people. As long as reasonable and educated people lend credence to the idea it will continue to be propagated. It seems an impossible task, but we need to make a stand.

The same ideas were present all over the world, including in the current western world where only a few hundred years ago witchcraft was rife with the burning of people at the stake.

At the medical school at UPNG we tell incoming medical students that if they believe in sanguma this is not the place for them. On the other hand, they must bear in mind that their patients will believe in sorcery and that, whilst we doctors must be empathetic, we must be careful not to lend legitimacy to sanguma.

Robin LillicrapThe pastor: Robin Lillicrapp (social commentator)

Amidst a world of science and reason, sceptics abound. They assert that the realm of sorcery prospers amidst a clientele of superstitious and, perhaps, unsound mental processing. Yet, the outcomes are real enough: people die or are otherwise tormented by the sorcerer’s art.

One of my classmates in college, a Prince of a tribal group in Nigeria, told me of a witchdoctor being teleported to a remote location denying the event to be staged or achieved by modern transport.

Stories are numberless concerning the proliferation of the sorcerers’ art. The sorcerer is often a nondescript identity amidst tribal peers. There is little other than associated regalia to indicate a possession of power. Ultimately, like electrical activity invisible to the eye, the power asserts its whim upon targeted victims by being sought or conjured by the sorcerer.

At whose whim: sorcerer or holder of power within? Like most elements of the spiritual world, the "powers" attendant are the product of a possessed relationship with unseen forces.

Would the ‘good’ that arises from this relationship be a prosecutable offence, can a rationally applied rule of law pronounce a verdict based upon science? I doubt it. Like the death of a sanguma victim, the visible outcome is real but how to prosecute the devil, that is the detail.

The expat: Chris Overland (ex kiap)

Sorcery is not real in the sense that it has no scientifically verifiable basis in fact. However, it is very real in that it can be used to kill people. The method used is to rely upon the victim to induce a psychosomatic illness that has a fatal outcome.

I have seen a case where a perfectly healthy man starved himself to death because he believed that black magic (puripuri) had been used against him. There was nothing that anyone could do to help this man because he had become gripped with the idea that he would die and so made this a self -fulfilling prophecy.

I asked local villagers why I, as a kiap, was not vulnerable to puripuri. The answer was simple: you cannot harm those who do not believe that you can. I think that PNG has a pretty interesting legal challenge before it in dealing with this very nebulous but nonetheless real problem.

Jeff FebiThe politician: Jeff Febi (political aspirant and writer) 

I witnessed an event I have not forgotten to this day. As an educated man I have tried and tried to scientifically made sense of it but have failed. It happened at my mother's village - Genabona, Gumine District, Simbu Province.

I was having a chat with my uncles in front of the house. Not far off was the family's herd of goats feeding on grass. Suddenly one of the goats, a huge female, collapsed with a loud thud. We went over to check and the goat was dead - I mean really dead.

My uncles starting cursing and shouting profanities at the top of their voices - ocassionaly mentioning 'kum' or 'awal kum' - sanguma or sanguma meri - and they were damn sure about that.

I heard my uncles say that a sangumas had plucked out the goat's heart. I was shaking but was eager to see for the first time the handiwork of a sanguma. After opening the goat, to my horror, the heart and the intestines - all of it - were missing. It was a bloody neat job expertly done! Only a puddle of blood remained.

Now don't get me wrong! As an educated man, I don't want to subscribe to superstitious beliefs. But as an eyewitness, this I can't forget. How else will I scientifically explain this?

My father is from Lufa, Eastern Highlands Province. Many people call us - Eastern Highlanders ol posin man, and that is not a joke. I have witnessed just too many things, that in honesty, if I publicly state that sorcery and sanguma isn't real, I will not really mean it. I want to deny sorcery and sanguma, but my experience always nudges from the corners of my memory.

David RansomThe journalist: David Ransom (television reporter & producer)

That some people believe in sorcery is not in question. That a belief in sorcery can harm some people also appears to be true. But whether sorcery exists in any supernatural sense is a very different issue.

Those who lived in  PNG pre independence will recall a parliamentary investigation into sorcery which found that that deaths by sorcery mostly had mundane explanations . Poison was a popular.

Alone_Corney KThe intellectual: Corney Korokan Alone (corporate executive and Christian)

I have lived, dined and stayed with people who people told me do puripuri na ol pipia sanguma nambaut but none of their so-called sorcery worked on me. I have even challenged them to try their so-called magic formula on me. None of it worked!

One thing that I have settled in my life is that God alone is the giver of life and He alone has authority over it. No demonic or evil forces of the dark world have any power over God.

People live in fear and sometimes fear kills them and many a time cultural blindness heaps all sundry and blame to the perceived sorcerer or sanguma. The curse of paranoia is something every thinking and cooked-food eating Papua New Guineans need to get a grip on and graduate from.


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John C A Pitkin

I will scratch the surface in these few words, having spent time in PNG researching the spiritual basis of Melanesian culture, though personal interest between 1978 to date and through the ELCPNG (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea) in 1988-89.

Mention needs to be made of the training of a sanguma person; the site/s that were held sacred regarding sanguma tuition; the basis of sanguma in law enforcement within traditional culture; the person second in charge to the headperson of a communities, and their role in sanguma; the structure of communication with ancestors for hunting or blessing and its potentials as related to sanguma, the facades on the Haus Tamboran in Maprik and the knowledge held in it, related to sanguma potentials; the relationship of male and female understanding in tradition and its basis in instilling the way Melanesians view spirit working.

Coupled with and underlying sanguma is the understanding of creation in Melanesian, the understanding of manifestation of spirit in Melanesian tradition and how those two aspects were used to mould the knowledge to form the working view, where sanguma is a real potential in the inner psychology of a Sanguma person - the ability of the tamboran.

United with the understanding of sanguma is the role of artifacts and also the natural environment to hold knowledge related to disclosing sanguma potentials, in Melanesian tradition.

In a broader field is the trade of sanguma knowledge potential throughout Africa and Asia and its relationship to the Form of sanguma held in PNG. Does sanguma have it origins deep in human history?

Peter Kranz

Michael - how about Kew? His secret workshop is at the POM botanical gardens. And he has a pet Muruk.

Gentlemen, we are getting seriously off topic - KJ

Michael Dom

Peter, if you insist on having 'Miss Kinatoea, then Bond must be 'Baglain' and as for the gun...

Peter Kranz

Kinatoea walked into Bond's room.

"James, are you that pleased to see me?"

Bond, unleashing his grip, "Kinatoea, its just my Walther."

"I have to go"

Bond had a Landrover to drive, But this was no ordinary Landrover This was a Bowler.

And this was no ordinary Bond. He was on a mission.

To save Papua New Guinea.

Peter Kranz

Come on guys and gals! What's Kinatoea?

Check your Bond iconography.

I thought you were quicker than that.

Peter Kranz

Bond - "Miss Kinatoea, pass me that daka and kambang, we have to defeat Dr Evil!"

Kinatoea - "But James, you know the magic will never last!"

Bond - "Dear lady, with you and New Guinea on a starlit night, the magic can never stop! But we'll also need my Walther PPK."

To be continued...

Peter Kranz

Yuambari - Some people did use sorcery against military forces, but to what success I suppose we will never know.

"Most Americans fighting in the Solomons were probably not aware that they had new allies on Ambrym in Vanuatu where sorcerers wanted to help their friends by directing spirit attacks against the Japanese.

"In parts of Papua New Guinea, people attributed Japanese successes over Australians to their use of magic and sorcery."

And the great beast himself, Aleister Crowley, was used by the British as a secret agent during WW2 and claims to have given Churchill the idea of the V for victory sign as curse against Hitler. Ian Fleming knew of his work.

There's even a book about it.

Secret Agent 666

Yuambari Haihuie

Surely a religion which shall not suffer a witch to live (Exodus 22:18) can not contribute meaningfully on this debate without rightly being derided for hypocrisy.

Furthermore, if sorcery, and I use the term loosely as there at least 800 different definitions of it within PNG alone, were in any way scientifically verifiable (i.e. replicable under standard conditions) than the military powers of the world would be utilising it on an industrial scale by now.

After all, why put in peril the lives of your soldiers when strategic sorcery can end the lives of the opposing forces' leaders in a heartbeat.

No, I put it you that the notion of sorcery is a unwanted social ill, borne of ignorance, spread through fear and which can only be remedied through a prescription in the form of legislation and medication in the form of a healthy dose of education.

Whew! I stretched that metaphor to nigh on breaking point, but I think it summarises well my feelings on this issue.

Mrs Barbara Short

Dear Francis, I think we now need to hear from some lawyers about this problem.
Keith will have to find some for us!

Francis Nii

A lawyer will correct me on this but Barbara, PNG through the foresight of the founding fathers of our Constitution, had a law that governed the sorcery cases called the Sorcery Act.

That piece of law had been dealing with the judiciary aspects of sorcery, sorcerer and sorcery killings. Recently, the government of Peter O'Neill in leaning toward the popular public outcry has repealed this piece of 'fair and equitable' law on sorcery, not because of heresay but real personal encounters and there are many of them and I don't have to tell it here.

I iterate that for the benefit of all, the government should have strenghtened the Sorcery Act instead of repealing it. Only time will reveal the fruit of this decison.

And it replaced it with a new one side law that gives the sorcerers/SANGUMAS and their 'thing' total protection meaning they are at liberty to 'kill' anyone they wish to.

Whoever that accused them or kill a sanguma will face tougher penalty including death sentence under this new law.

My concern was on this legal (blunder) disparity that sparked the whole debate. And I still maintained that the PNG Government made a grave mistake. I am a professed Christian and in my prayers I always pray for God's protection against sanguma,

Michael Dom

David - the law recognises 'an act of God' in some cases.

So what you suggest is an 'act of sorcery'. Interesting and I can already see the mess that would create.

I'm sure glad the Sorcery Act was repealed. I don't think there will be much problem with this in the future. Although I am sure that ignorant Pngains will continue to slaughter other human beings under the accusation of sorcery.

We have the death penalty for them.

Let's wait and see what happens.

Mrs Barbara Short

David and Michael. PNG laws and lawyers may have to work out the correct ways to deal with these offenders who are involved with criminal activities caused by their involvement with the occult traditional religions as found in many parts of PNG.

I know that in Australian courts they are not willing to accept pleas of "the devil made me do it" or "I was under possession at the time" as an excuse for a crime.

PNG has probably inherited a Legal System based on Australian laws which have probably come from British laws. It is probably a long time since these courts dealt with occult crimes in any special way.

I'm no expert on how Australian courts deal with aboriginal people who have died due to others "pointing the bone " at them.

The top lawyers and ministers of religion in PNG have probably discussed these problems in the past. Maybe they can come up with procedures for the normal court system which would suit the needs of prosecutions due to evil happenings caused by people involved with the occult, maybe even those under possession by some "evil spirit".

I wonder if the Christian churches still practice some form of exocism for those who are wanting to be rid of evil influences.

David Kitchnoge

Michael – maybe we should accept that supernatural power exists and perhaps find a way beyond the normal courts system to deal with it.

Perhaps by acknowledging its existence, we may be better able to deal with it rather than say it's a fucking hearsay and get the law to deal with it. Maybe the churches (another bastion of supernatural belief) could do a little bit more?

Some of us were privileged to have grown up in our villages where we experienced these things and you can't simply legislate it out of us. And for me, it's definitely not hearsay. Period!

Anyway, I rest my case and only time will tell whether tougher penalties would solve the problem or simply suppress it until it explodes at some stage in future.

Francis Nii

With due respect to individual beliefs, experiences and reasoning, the fact is that sorcery belief is deeply rooted amongst the 80% plus illiterate population in the rual areas of PNG.

And that sorcery killing has been going on ... hell who knows when; may be when man first settled on this land.

As we progressed into the modern systems of governance, lifestyle and belief, sorcery and related killings came into conflict with the new systems.

Thus they should get rid of a social problem in the country and they demand remedial measures for the long term benefit of the nation.

Enacting anti sorcery killing by the O'Neill government is fine but this only addresses one aspect of the problem.

It would have been holistic and equitable approach if the government had strenghtened the Sorcery Act instead of repealing it. This was a grave mistake and only time will reveal the fruit of the decision.

Michael Dom

David - let me get this straight; you want us to accept sorcery legally?

As a means to what - help us survive in the modern economy, save pregnant mothers during child birth, treat cancer, prevent malnutrition and nutrition related diseases, save us all from the common cold?

My view on accepting the repealed Sorcery Act has nothing to do with science or with proving or disproving sorcery.

There are two points:

(1) We must consider laws that protect human life in the majority of rational cases, not irrational, inexplicable beliefs. This is the function of law & order; to bring reason to the otherwise natural chaos of life.

Any act or event that is outside of rationality must thereby remain outside of the law: e.g. someone dies from a mysterious illness, the question is WHAT do we blame NOT WHO!

(2) We must choose to reject the notion that we can take someone to justice on intangible evidence that amounts to only an accusation(s) of sorcery (usually by those with vested and very questionable interests).

Most of the so called evidence of sorcery leading to death is hearsay and amounts to opinions of the day based on beliefs that themselves are, though strongly adhered to, of questionable benefit to their communities.

There are more practical cases where belief in sorcery is a hindrance to community development and will remain a barrier for some time to come.

For example; there are real developments that can help people in certain areas of PNG, but since they choose to hold on to their customary beliefs of sorcery and this prevents them from taking advantage of the development opportunity - fuck 'em, why should I waste my time.

There are limits one can go to to help another horse drink the fucking water.

Otherwise I give up this circular argument which continually reverts to the 'eyewitness' argument.

The question of 'prove it' simply begs the answer, 'take it on faith'. That's not a legally binding argument.

David Kitchnoge

Michael - I share yours and everyone else's anger over the death of Leniata and other women accused of sorcery.

And I was one of a few PNGans who supported the death penalty for killers of alleged sorcerers. But Francis Nii's article changed my perspective a little bit and caused me to reflect on my own personal experiences.

But unlike you, I don't choose to simply brush aside my experiences as some superstitious events. They are too precious and rare to simply spare a passing thought on.

If I can't adequately explain those events by science, then how else do I explain it?

Maybe there's a better way of dealing with this dilemma than simply passing a law and expecting it to solve the problem?

Barbara - I might write about and share some of my most personal encounters with the supernatural world in this forum.

It goes beyond the realm of herbal medicine and I did mean to refer to my grandfather as a witch doctor.

Mrs Barbara Short

Hi David. Maybe your grandfather, who had acquired a knowledge of herbal medicines, should not be known as a witchdoctor. He was a Naturalist. He knew about the cures we find in nature.

I remember going on hikes with the Keravat students and a Tolai girl once taught me how to get the young fern fronds and queeze their juice over my cuts to stop them becoming infected. And it worked.

Back in the Sepik on hikes with my students I noticed them eating all the time. There was so much bush food available in the rainforest as we went along.

Then in Manggai I suffered badly from stinging nettles on my legs after a fall, only to be told that the medicine for stopping the stings was actually growing right near them.

What you might have thought of as "supernatural" might have had some simple rational explanation.

But I have had some experience of the PNG supernatural and I know that it can lead to evil, especially if it involves possession.

I met a Sepik sanguma once who was trying to cure a young girl by pretending to draw sticks and stones from her infected leg. She would have died if I hadn't told him off and told the village that it was all"gammon" and taken her back to hospital where she was cured by antibiotics.

I guess he didn't have the gifts that your grandfather had.

Michael Dom

David - I'd rather that people who choose to believe in the power of sorcery over them die by that manner than allow communities to continue burning women at the stake in a public market place just because they are accused of sorcery. That's fucked.

We are all of us guilty for the murder of Leniata and countless other women - I don't worry so much about the men, we're basically doing alright in PNG.

If anyone's planning to accuse women of sorcery they should either get some evidence of foul play, believe in a higher power or just lump it!

To be frank with you I also have first hand experience of so called sorcery and sanguma and I reject it utterly. I reject the superstition, doubt, ignorance, fear, anger and hatred it arouses in me and in my fellows. This must not continue.

That sorcery and sanguma exist is something we cannot legislate out of existence. We can only legislate for the actions of natural beings, the supernatural is out of our hands. Or does any fool wish to try?

David Kitchnoge

Michael - all I'm saying is trying to find a solution with a predetermined mindset that it does not exist is a futile exercise.

Why don't we admit it exists as evidenced by the now repealed Sorcery Act and then try to build a solution around it.

Otherwise, it would simply be a case of don't fix it if it ain't broke.

Michael Dom

That's right David. But sometimes though we may disagree personally what's best for the health of our communities should be adhered to.

And perhaps as leaders, we should not profess personal doubt otherwise.

Is sorcery and sanguma really helping PNG communities or are superstition, doubt and fear being perpetuated?

I say the answers are 'no' and 'yes'; because although some sorcerers apparently help us out with one or two random medical cases, we have no idea what they are doing, so people still have fear of them. Besides they tend to balance the trade by killing off a few.

Even if I'm a non-practicing Christian I don't offer the rights to any arsehole to fool around with my immortal soul.

But if there are people who believe that traditional sorcerers can heal them, please feel free to access them wherever they may be; that is a cultural right.

But please keep this argument away from the use of traditional herbal remedies and poisons which has nothing to do with the hocus pocus of sorcery.

Also, understand that creating psychological illness through fear may also be considered a crime. Here my thinking is that the church steps in, and if the person can adhere to faith and be saved, good. If not, so be it. That's life.

David Kitchnoge

Thanks Michael and all. We agree to disagree on this one.

The fact is no one can disprove my experiences. They are real and they are not even magic as it is known by the western world. There isn’t a David Copperfield in my village.

As to the question of what should be done with persons accused of practicing sorcery, well I guess the answer would have to be along the lines of "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."

Our traditional dispute resolution methods are rarely used these days.

Mrs Barbara Short

Excellent comments, Michael.

Yes, I am a Christian, and I do renew my faith constantly. And I have had an experience with the demonic which has given me a better understanding of sorcery.

The demonic spirit is very hard to eradicate. I feel it has to be replaced by the Christian Holy Spirit. Hence the need for PNG to become a Christian country.

I make a point of praying "Deliver us from evil".

Evil does exist in this world. Sorcery is something that is common in PNG and it causes much evil.

PNG people must work out how best to stop it. PNG Christians probably have a good understanding of the demonic spirit and the evil it can do. They need to continue to pray to God to help them to gain deliverance from it.

Michael Dom

The question is not whether we want to believe in sorcery and sanguma or not. The question is whether the actions and outcomes of this superstitious belief are conducive to sustaining our society in a balanced state.

Sorcery and sanguma are superstitious beliefs because they cannot be proven in a reasonable manner. This is quite different from faith, which is a reality based on personal experience of divinity and a great deal of shared history.

Please separate faith and superstition, unless you wish to argue about having faith in sanguma - good luck to you either way.

We cannot allow superstition, fear and doubt to enter our communities. This leads us into dark places.

In the balance, we cannot allow people to be put to death just because we suspect they are sorcerers and sanguma - Christ's 'who will cast the first stone?' comes to mind.

If you accept sorcery saving lives, then who are you to cast the first stone at sorcery taking lives?

If some people want to practice sorcery and sanguma let them go ahead, there's no law against that.

But if their actions affect other people detrimentally (physically or psychologically) and they are caught in the act then the community is obliged to turn in evidence of their acts and not take the law into their own hands.

Those of you who profess to be Christians should in fact reject the notion of sorcery and sanguma outright.

This does not mean you don't understand that it exists, but recall rather that your Christian faith is a conscious decision, daily, not a one off where you drift around in the arms of the Holy Ghost. You will bump into some real demons; face them with your eyes open.

Peter Kranz

I don't think demonising sanguma by calling it black magic or superstition is helpful. All religions or mythological beliefs have elements of this. And don't think simplistically "yes but my religion is good, yours is bad."

The answer lies deeper.

Magic and mythology should be seen for what they are - symbolic projections of what lies within our souls. We want to have an easy belief that a bad man caused my auntie to die, or this ceremony will cure my illness.

When my mum was dying of cancer I prayed and prayed for a miracle - because that was what I wanted. When she died I had to accept that this was the way of the world, where there are diseases and death and medicines, and sometimes things just don't go as we would wish.

Some religious friends suggested that maybe my faith wasn't strong enough. What hurtful nonsense. That was when I realised that religion might be OK for organising and controlling your inner demons, but was not a basis for expecting magical action in the real world. Or of imposing you will on others. The same applies to sanguma.

Until we recognise that and learn to draw the boundaries between inner beliefs and wishes, and rightful action in the external world, we will be prone to confuse one with the other, and thus make others live our nightmares.

"It's only when a man tames his own demons that he becomes the king of himself"

Read "The Power of Myth" by Joseph Campbell, or watch the TV series of the same name. There is much wisdom in both.

Harry Topham

Good magic, bad magic, white magic, black magic call it what ever all contain the ingredients for possible disaster.

Not quite sure why the adjective black was used to denote bad magic as some of that white magic practised by the Europeans back in the 15th century definitely had a very very dark side.

Maybe even Shakespeare in his play about Macbeth was in fact railing against prejudice and superstition in existence at that time when he wrote

1st WITCH. Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.

2nd WITCH. Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin'd.

3rd WITCH. Harpier cries:—'tis time! 'tis time!

1st WITCH. Round about the caldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.—
Toad, that under cold stone,
Days and nights has thirty-one;
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot!

ALL. Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

2nd WITCH. Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

ALL. Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

3rd WITCH. Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf;
Witches' mummy; maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark;
Root of hemlock digg'd i the dark;
Liver of blaspheming Jew;
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse;
Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips;
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,—
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingrediants of our caldron.

ALL. Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

2nd WITCH. Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good

Phil Fitzpatrick

And the reverse is true, of course, a country so riven with sorcery and superstition is very susceptible to religion, which explains why Papua New Guinea is such a Christian country.

It also suggests that perhaps the churches are not the best people to deal with sorcery. The only redemptive stance they can really take is good sorcery versus bad sorcery. Since the goodness of their sorcery is debatable things don't augur well for success.

I've seen strange things too but I don't chose to believe in sorcery as a cause. You just have to watch a good magician at work to realise what trickery is possible.

David Kitchnoge

Not exactly so Phil.

We've lived without Christianity for thousands of years and had a very real and rich spiritual connection with our "unseen friends on the other side" before Christians arrived.

As Keith said, the dilemma for us is real. I am a witness of the supernatural power at work and so are Marcus and Jeff.

And we all are "educated" Papua New Guineans. In fact, Marcus and Jeff are scientists themselves and I have a basic understanding of science.

And still none of us can explain our experiences using science.

Marcus Mapen

Thanks David for the encouragement.

Just because many people say that there are no visible or scientific proofs of sanguma or puripuri should not necessarily mean that there are none.

There are other things (electricity for instance) which exist but have no form and cannot be seen with the naked eyes.

Also there are a lot of other recorded phenomena (such as ‘Raining Animals’ & ‘Spontaneous Human Combustion’ that the science that we know cannot satisfactorily explain.

I’ve had a few things happen in my own life that I can’t seem to explain with the science that I know (I’m a scientist myself and I know what I saw).

I can only think of two possible explanations at this point in time.

First, that there is another science (or another branch of today’s science) that can explain (and prove) my experiences (together with sorcery & sangumas).

Second, that God exists and the devil (the master of sorcery & witchcraft) also exists.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I've found this whole conversation about the veracity of sorcery extremely boring.

I was wondering why this might be so and then I realised it is because I am an atheist.

To my mind sorcery, like God, is impossible and irrational and doesn't exist; end of story.

It then occurred to me that most of the commentators expressing doubts about the non-existence of sorcery were Christians. In other words, the supernatural grounding of their religion has conditioned them to believe in that sort of stuff.

As Peter Kranz points out, if you believe in things like miracles, walking on water, virgin births etc etc why wouldn't you believe in sorcery?

What Marcus says is very true. If people believe in the supernatural world of Christianity they are very likely to believe in other realms of the supernatural, like sorcery.

Ipso facto to truly eradicate sorcery one must first eradicate religion.

Ah, a grumpy old atheist.... Know the feeling. On the contrary, I have found the entire discussion and debate insightful and believe it is an important issue that PNG must square away. And as religion is probably here to stay, and assuming sorcery is too, PNGns will have to find another way to deal with those dark, sinister and destructive aspects of sorcery - KJ

David Kitchnoge

Steve - It is easier to refer to sanguma as evil because it is associated with bad omens.

But how do you describe a witchdoctor like my grandfather who somehow was able to use his knowledge of the supernatural world to bring healing and cure to many people?

His knowledge of herbal therapy was spot on and its administration to patients was often complemented by at least three common acts of supernatural deeds.

If the witchdoctor could actually heal people of their sufferings, was that not an act of kindness which is supposed to be of God?

Steven Gimbo

I believe in the goodness of God, yet I also know that evil and the devil lurk. It is because of evil, the devil and all his works; that I am closer to God.

If I say that sanguma does not exist, then I might as well say the same too of God.

I believe it is the goodness of God that keeps evil at bay, and what is happening to this country is a loss of our basic Christian faith.

Sorcery, sanguma and all forms of black arts have been practised by our ancestors for thousands of years, and growing up I also saw some things that go beyond natural or scientific explanation.

David Kitchnoge

Nicely put Marcus.

A very few will believe me if I begin to relate my real life experiences of the supernatural world growing up in my village. My grandfather was a witchdoctor.

As Marcus rightly said, you would have to discredit Christianity and every other religion out of necessity if you were to discredit PNGan sense of the supernatural.

I experienced it all with my eyes wide open and with a lot of people around me who can corroborate my experiences.

Ian Fraser

Are bacteria, viruses, and notions of probability part of ordinary villagers' mental furniture? No.

Missions won't help much with that; only education will. And even education won't be enough if the social situation continues to feature desperate inequality.

But then, governance that benefitted villagers would help in both ways. Someday PNG villagers will demand such governance - I don't know how they'll get there, and I sure don't know when, but PNG will become strong, and happy, then...

Marcus Mapen

If you want to discredit sorcery, first you have to discredit Christianity (or completely change the teachings).

Among other teachings, Christianity preaches that there is a devil (the master of sorcery, evil spirits, demons, sin etc).

According to christian teachings, this master of sorcery, evil spirits, demons and sin (with all human sinners) will burn in hell after judgement day. How can you demand (and expect) people to believe this but not believe in sorcery & evil spirits?

Ray Weber

Todays ninemsn news - "India Cops hold 18 after witchcraft murder".

PNG, you are not alone with this problem of sorcery.

"Superstitious beliefs, black magic and demonology are integral to tribal custom in parts of Assan, Tripura and other northeastern states, authorities say".

India was colonized long before PNG, but they still have this problem.

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