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Silence of the Sunset: the now ugly politics of Western Province

Three friends debate sorcery


THE THREE men met for their usual Saturday get together. Public servant Tau, believer Christopher and villager Pele.

Old mates in the same class from community school to high school. After that they pursued their separate pathways.

They liked the Saturday get-together, discussing and talking about issues. This day they were at Tau’s place.

“Talicia, kam pastem,” Tau called to his second daughter, “go tokim mummy boilim wara na tanim saksak. Tokim em ba tingim uncle Pele na uncle Chris tu stap wantem mi.” [Come quickly Talicia. Ask mum to boil the water and mix the sago. Tell her that uncles Pele and Chris are with me.]

“Okay, daddy!”

“Tokim Solomon ba go daun lo stoa blong uncle Francis na dinau lo tupla bikpla Besta tinpis. Sapos nogat Besta, kisim Tulip meat,” Tau said. [Tell Solomon to go to Uncle Francis’s shop and extend me credit for two big tins of Besta fish. If there’s no Besta, get Tulip meat.]

“Ba toksave lo uncle Francis ba mi kam daun tumoro na bekim dinau.” [Tell Uncle Francis I’ll pay him tomorrow.]

“Okay, daddy!”

As the young lass walked to the house, Tau turned to his guests and held up the newspaper he had with him.

“There’s a report about the recent killing of a suspected sorcerer. It’s a big problem in our country. Little is being done by the government and authorities to curb this problem,” he stated grimly.

“Ah, yes, I’ve read about this and seen a couple of pictures on Facebook.” Believer Chris looked a bit tense. “Some of the reports and pictures I saw were really.…” He paused, trying to think of a suitable word to describe what he’d seen.

“Shocking, disheartening, depressing, heart-wrenching, sad,” Tau interjected. “Actually, these same feelings overcame me when I read the news and saw the pictures.”

“Yeah, lately there’s been a lot of killings and burning alive of suspected sanguma in the highlands.” Villager Pele decided to join the discussion.

“The people are taking the law into their own hands and pronouncing judgement on the women and men they believe to have caused the death of family members,” he added.

“You know, this depressing feeling causes me to want justice for these poor souls,” Tau shook his head, his face tightening. “I wonder what it feels like to be in a situation like that.”

“The victims too,” Pele remarked.

“This issue is having a negative effect on PNG’s standing in the eyes of the world and our claim to be a Christian country,” Tau remarked.

“The Catholic Church is the only Christian church that has tried to make contact with the victims and also spoken out against these senseless killings.

“The political leaders and Christian church leaders who were at the forefront of burning symbols and images of witchcraft and sorcery at the Parliament Haus are very quiet,” he said angrily.

“Are they condoning what is happening now, the killing and burning of fellow Papua New Guineans suspected of practising sorcery and witchcraft?”

Christopher spoke up: “It’s like the inquisition and witch burning that took place in medieval Europe and colonial America,

“I don’t know if the government and the people who look after the law and justice sector of our country are doing something about this jungle justice.

“If they are doing something, they better hurry up.”

Tau spoke up to get the attention of Pele and Christopher. “Okay, we have brought to the fore the reality of the issue in present day PNG.

“Now let us try to look at why the claim of sorcery and witchcraft is persistent in our culture and how best we can address this problem.” Tau tried to shift the conversation to better understand the issue.

“Belief in sorcery has been an integral part of our culture since time immemorial,” Pele said, “It’s prevalent in most coastal provinces as well as one or two highlands provinces.”

“And despite our people’s acceptance of Christianity and our country’s transition into the technological age,” he continued, “we still believe and have this fear of the masalai, sanguma and posinman.

“You know, simple village people including educated professionals and some Christians believe in sorcery and witchcraft. I have seen this with my own eyes and heard tales with my own ears.”

“The Bible,” Christopher came in, “clearly states that the power of God is much greater than sorcery or witchcraft. It’s an earthly manifestation of the devil in people’s lives.

“It is an abomination in the eyes of God,” he said.

“But you know, some people are saying that sorcery is not real,” Tau stated.

“They say people in the villages with their superstitions allow the power of the sanguma and posin man to be more potent.”

Pele cleared his throat to add to the debate.

“Some people don’t know what they are saying or dealing with here,” he stated calmly.

“We cannot deny the fact of sorcery or witchcraft or whatever. It does exist. It’s a cultural practice within some of our societies…hidden and from the spirit realm.

“It’s something that we cannot see …we cannot see spirits.”

“Okay, I think you got a point there,” Tau nodded.

“If Papua New Guineans are saying that sorcery or witchcraft does not exist is because of two things,” Pele continued.

“Either they come from a region where sorcery is not practiced or they were born in towns and cities and have lost touch with village life.”

“Okay, that’s a bold statement from you Pele,” Tau said. “You are saying sorcery does exist.”

“It does,” Pele stated with certainty. “The only thing is that these people communicate with spirits, evil spirits, entities that cannot be seen with our naked eyes.

“One important thing is that we cannot prove that sorcery was in play in a suspected sorcery related killing. Like I said, it’s something we cannot see.”

“The Bible clearly points out that sorcery does exist,” Christopher agreed, “but it also tells us that the power of God is much greater than the power of sorcery and its evils.

“The Bible also tells us that those who believe in sorcery and those who practise sorcery are unbelievers and an abomination.

“When we put our hearts and minds in something, it will manifest,” Christopher continued, “so when we believe in the power of sorcery or witchcraft. This evil power will manifest in our lives and indirectly result in our demise.

"People who practice sorcery and witchcraft thrive on people’s innate fear,” Christopher added

“But I still do not understand how people become ill and die with a slight or no visible medical symptoms,” Pele stated with a confused look

“Umn…maybe we can continue our debate later,” Tau stood up from his seat, “ol pikinini na mama blo ol tanim saksak pinis.” [The child and my wife have prepared the sago]

“Tenk yu! Yupla kam,” Tau indicated to his children.

From there, the conversation ceased as Talicia and her siblings brought each man their hearty sago dumplings with coconut creamed steaming greens and sliced veggies topped with the choicest fish sections from the tins.

With a brief prayer from Christopher thanking God for the food, hospitality, wisdom and enlightenment, the three men heartily dipped into their plate of sago dumplings, veggies, soup and tinned fish.


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Raymond Sigimet

Thanks Barbara and Robin, appreciate your comments. You could say, my own way of trying to understand and make sense of the issue.

`Robin Lillicrapp

Thanks for letting me listen to an enlivening conversation; albeit, by text.

Barbara Short

Raymond, this is beautifully written. It really moved me. There is so much that we don't know about when it comes to the spiritual realm. I think this approach to discussing the topic is excellent.

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