HELEN DAVIDSON | The Guardian | Edited extracts
PORT MORESBY - In 2008 a man died of malaria in Togoba, in Papua New Guinea’s highlands region. Doctors had treated him for malaria and the report on his death specified malaria as the cause. Neighbours who went to the hospital were told it was malaria that killed him.
But the residents of Togoba didn’t believe in malaria. He was killed by sorcerers, they said, specifically a woman called Thresia Hari and her mother-in-law, who must have killed him with their “powers”. Thresia was from Chimbu province, a region known for its sorcery, or sanguma.
"When they interrogated them it was really brutal,” he says through a translator. “Both of them said they didn’t do anything. Then [the villagers] started getting knives, bashed them up, started to cut their arms and legs.
“They got the hot rods from the fire and put them on their skin. It was a hell of a thing they went through. It was really a terrible event.”
Puri says the two women lost consciousness.
“Both of them were locked inside the house – a traditional hut house – and they closed the door and burned the house.”
Puri tried to help his wife and mother when he heard what his neighbours were doing, but he was stopped from rescuing them.
“I couldn’t do anything, I was helpless. Because the majority of the community people were on the side of the person who died and they were thinking these two were behind the man’s death.”
PNG is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women and girls, but a recent study by Oxfam and the Queensland University of Technology suggested sorcery violence also targeted many men.
The report looked at 232 incidents over three years, and found about 56% of victims were women. More than a third said they had some kind of disability. The study found 89% of perpetrators were men.
There are many theories about why the phenomenon is growing – PNG’s dysfunctional education system, the spread of beliefs through intermarriage between people from different regions or the fact that perpetrators know they will have broad public support.