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Satan is Sanguma. But Western hegemony doesn’t see it that way

Satan-by-jack-chickKELA KAPKORA SIL BOLKIN

PORT MORESBY - The Western world’s Satan and Papua New Guinean sanguma (sorcery) seem to be similar concepts but Western religious scholars dictate that the Trinity and the college of angels (including Satan) exists in the ether but sanguma does not.

This view defies logic because both Satan and sanguma are associated with evil and are on the same side of the coin.

No Christian (verifiably anyway) has seen the Trinity, angels, the intercession of the Saints or Satan yet they believe in their existence and control over the peaks and troughs of life.

However, sanguma, exactly the same concept as Satan, is stamped ‘null and void’.

The word ‘Satan’ appears in the bible 59 times and is an umbrella term for evil. Likewise, sanguma is part and parcel of animism, a Melanesian worldview which refers to evil just as Satan does for the West.

So it seems sanguma is just a primitive myth of some poor black people in the far-flung islands of the Pacific while Satan is real because it was coined by the Greco-Romans in a civilised Europe blessed by Christendom.

Christianity came to New Guinea in the late 1800s but animism and belief in the supernatural, including sanguma, have been part and parcel of the Melanesian worldview since well before the birth of Jesus Christ.

In a bizarre twist, contemporary PNG society now sees sanguma as Satan and vice versa. In other words, PNG Christians now lightly accept Satan and sanguma as substitutes.

If you ask someone who recently killed a neighbour who was believed to be a sorcerer, the killer will arrogantly say ‘we have killed someone who possessed the power of Satan’.

You can see how the Western world’s Satan has had an influence on the way that modern Melanesians understand both sanguma and Satan.

Many people down history’s pathway have lost their lives due to their belief in supernatural beings. In fact, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, animism and the rest have been amongst the worst perpetrators of human misery and tragedy.

God can also be described as more of a villain than a saint. The bible tells stories of God as a figure who brings about much human suffering and disaster. Perhaps more than Satan. In history, religion is associated with so much wretchedness and misfortune.

Whichever way it is, Satan is the villain in Christianity as is sanguma in Melanesian animism.

Just like Christians, Melanesians belief in the existence of their dead relatives in an elevated rung of existence beyond life on earth. They also believe that evil powers, similar to those possessed by Satan, exist and influence events such as death and illness in people and animals.

Christianity enable people to genuflect before images of the Trinity and the saints. Melanesians similarly revere and appease tribal ancestors who died in years past.

In the Christian tradition, the 13th-century Catholic philosopher St Thomas Aquinas offered five logical arguments to prove the existence of God.

Melanesians can also provide convincing proof of sanguma’s existence. But the West will not listen, while Aquinas was made a saint.

Analysing these inconsistencies given to us by the cultural hegemony of the West, we see no surety but intolerable bias and illogic.

Both the West’s Satan and PNG’s sanguma should not exist in the ether or the mind’s eye. However, if the West’s Satan and college of supernatural beings exist than logic calls for sanguma to also exist.

Melanesians cannot be expected to be like a sponge, absorbing any liquid we are placed into. We have to think and act calculatedly like Plato and Aristotle and the other sharp thinkers of human history.

As for me, sanguma only exists in the consciousness of Melanesians just like Satan or Dracula do to Anglo-Saxons.

It is about time both Satan and sanguma and other supernatural forces were erased from both the pulpits and the mind’s eye.

Perhaps only then will we be able to put a halt to a continuing chain of human tragedy.


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Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Had the Melanesians invented ships prior to the Greco-Romans, the West could have believed in Sanguma today.

John K Kamasua

Chris and Phil - The discourse surrounding this phenomenon and the debate it can generate can take us in all sorts of directions.

I am from a province in this country, where both belief in sanguma or withcraft are pervasive, and the reactions to them from the communities have been destructive and fatal for those accused to be agents or practicing them.

Even educated elites have been subdued by this belief that they refuse to go back to their communities of origin and contribute meaningfully.

I have a far more detailed response that I intend to share with readers of this blog at a later time soon.

Looking forward to that John - KJ

Philip Kai Morre

Sanguma, witchcraft, satan or whoever is unseen and who is believed to be causing all the problems in the world is psychological garbage.

Non empirical means of explaining sickness and death has no scientific proof. There is no cause and effect or known etiology of explaining the causes of sicknesses and death.

The Melanesian world view or philosophy of personalism and spiritualism is the solo basis of believing in sanguma and witchcraft. It's in the sub-conscious of every person who believes in sanguma - even car accidents or deaths by natural disaster are attributed to sanguma.

We cannot believe in conspiracy theories or non-existent forces as real and can make something happen.

Para-psychology and telepathy do exist but have no relationship with witchcraft or sanguma.

Philip Fitzpatrick

PS: That guy in the picture looks familiar, I'm sure I've seen him in PNG somewhere. Maybe in the Haus Tambaran?

Philip Fitzpatrick

A lot of Australian Aboriginal groups rationalise their dual beliefs in Christianity and the so-called 'Dreaming' by claiming that God invented or gave them the Dreaming.

In a similar sense you could rationalise sanguma as an invention or gift of God's great nemesis, Satan.

Dreaming is good, therefore it must have come from God.

Sanguma is bad, therefore it must have come from Satan.

I suspect however, like most politicians know, that to promulgate a particular idea it is always handy to have an enemy.

Capitalism has Communism or Socialism.

God has Satan.

For God to sound believable it is necessary to have Satan.

Chris Overland

I was raised as a Scottish Presbyterian, which preached a rather austere version of Christianity.

My parents insisted that I go to church each Sunday. This was odd because my father had abandoned his religious beliefs during World War 2 and my mother never showed the slightest interest is resuming her association with the even more austere Methodist church.

Like most kids, I rather uncritically accepted Christian dogma, including all the magical bits like miracles and the resurrection. My child's mind could not readily distinguish between fact and fiction, especially as it was adults who were earnestly inculcating me with "the truth" about God.

Many years later, after educating myself a bit more about the real world, I came to understand that Christianity and all other religions require that adherents accept the utterly implausible and, sometimes, obviously impossible, as true.

I also came to understand how religion had started as a way of explaining the unexplainable before slowing transmogrifying into a means by which socio-economic elites exerted both secular and moral power.

In short, I came to my current understanding of religion as an elaborate hoax or fraud, which bears as much relation to the truth as does the theology described in Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" or George Lucas's invention of "the force" as depicted in the Star Wars movies.

Unhappily, a legacy of European imperialism has been the spread of Christian beliefs amongst people whose perfectly satisfactory animist beliefs had served them well (or at least no less badly) over the millennia.

In PNG, I think that the indigenous population were able to neatly integrate their old belief system with the new one being urged upon them by Christian missionaries. This included the notion of Satan.

This notion is, even under the most cursory analysis, highly suspect. Somehow, Christian dogma succeeds in reconciling the existence of an omniscient and omnipotent creator with his supposed nemesis, the proverbial fallen angel.

Basically, Satan is a former employee sacked for theological policy infringements who has set up another religion and constantly seeks to poach customers (or their souls) from God.

God's police, in the form of witch hunters like the infamous Inquisition, devoted centuries to hunting down Satan's adherents. Mostly, the Satanic fiends have proved to be older, "wise" women.

Oddly, strapping young men armed with swords or spears don't figure much in witch hunting lore.

The wisdom of supposed witches was almost invariably related to natural phenomena like traditional medicines, fertility and child birth. This caused discomfort to a church which insisted on supernatural explanations for such things.

Over the centuries many entirely innocent women have been cruelly murdered for simply being older or possessing knowledge that offended religious orthodoxy.

Unhappily, this sort of satanic nonsense plays well with those who are disposed to belief in so called "black magic". This is one reason why this pernicious belief system has persisted into the modern era in places like PNG and, indeed, in some very dark corners of Australian society too.

Religion has a lot to answer for here. By promoting supernatural beliefs which are central to its dogma it necessarily provides implicit support and justification for other supernatural belief systems.

There is no plausible way for the church in PNG or anywhere else to deny one set of supernatural beliefs while promoting another. Once you use magic to justify faith, there is no escape clause that allows you to deny the faith of others which is justified on the same irrational basis.

This is one reason why I have chosen to consciously and determinedly reject all religion for the bunkum and humbug that it truly is.

I prefer to put my faith in science which, although it will certainly never allow me or anyone else to truly know all the secrets of the universe, offers the prospect of having at least a hazy idea about how this amazingly complex reality actually works.

I'll never see a quark or gluon or boson but at least my belief in their existence is based upon some hard science, not a fantasy made up eons ago to explain the then unexplainable.

John Kalu Domyal

In Melanesian society, the evil of sanguma (supernatural spells) did exist for various purposes. When you do a baseline study on Melanesia sanguma you appreciate the complete nature of the myth. Otherwise, you are on the bandwagon of someone’s apprehension or opinion of the myth.

In Melanesia, and PNG in particular, the myth of sanguma takes many forms and the evil spell exists to serve specific purposes.

For example, in Chimbu, what they call in the local Kuman dialect, ‘kumkwibo or kumo’ is believed to cause untimely deaths of people.

Other evil spells (gilgia) cannot cause death but make someone become destitute for life or cause diminished prospects in life or psychological problems.

In coastal PNG like Sepik, Papua or the Islands, and in the Tari basin, there is magic people are thought to possess which exists for specific purposes in society.

You would hardly believe your eyes when a Koari (Papua) man can conjure up a supernatural power to mend a seriously broken collar or rib bone in cases where a medical doctor cannot do much.

Different evil spells existed for different purposes in Melanesian society for centuries.

The Western hegemony brought to Melanesia the existence of Satan and his evil spell is synonymous to sanguma or gilgia as practiced in PNG.

What we read in the bible about Satan and his work is identical to what was practised in Melanesia by certain people. Therefore, you often hear people talking about sorcery as ‘possession of satanic power’.

You need a baseline study of sanguma to understand its different types, how it exists, how the different evil spells work and the pros and cons of it.

Without such, your knowledge of sanguma or sorcery in PNG and Melanesia is very limited.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Believing in things they've never seen and which defy logic seems to be a common human trait.

As you say, if people are expected to believe in a Christian god they should be allowed to believe in something as similarly ethereal as sorcery.

That both beliefs have led to great suffering is indisputable. On that basis alone you would have expected people to have ditched both beliefs. Unfortunately humans are also generally stupid and haven't done so.

Whoever made up either yarn in the first place must be rolling with laughter. Or maybe they are appalled at what their lies have caused.

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