PNG: Catholic Church combating sorcery related violence

While the PNG government has made some efforts, the work to combat sorcery related violence is often left to church groups and NGOs says associate professor Richard Eves, from the state society and governance in Melanesia program at ANU.

A recent intervention preventing the murder of four women accused of sorcery is being hailed as a victory in the push to eradicate witchcraft-related attacks in Papua New Guinea, but those fighting the battle say the violence is still increasing.

Eves says the Catholic church in Chimbu province has quite a good response, “When somebody dies they are quickly on the scene, and start talking about alternatives.”

Father Philip Gibbs is based in Mount Hagen in PNG’s Western Highlands province, which shares a border with Chimbu.

He has taken a “particular interest” in working to combat sorcery-related violence, both in rescuing people and raising awareness among communities.

Often when he arrives at a town or village after hearing a person has been accused of sorcery, he faces strong resistance.

“I went to one place recently and … I wanted to speak to a woman who’d been tortured and they said ‘no.'”

“There had been all sorts of intertribal tensions and they thought my presence would exacerbate those tensions.”

“Where my coming might make that worse I have to really decide what’s best to do.

“If someone’s going to die out of it you have to intervene, but sometimes you can’t.”

There has been some “patchy” progress made in combatting sorcery related violence, Gibbs believes, but it predates government efforts.

Anecdotally, there seem to be fewer accusations in neighbouring Chimbu province after the Catholic church initiated a plan, he said.

“On the other hand I’ve seen a growth into areas where it wasn’t there before. I think there is a net increase at the moment.”


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News category: Asia Pacific.

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