After the Era of Westernization: Papua New Guinea Holds Witch Hunts

There is a world of information out there. A person who regularly checks the news and reads articles can always find some kind new information and be fascinated by either an atrocity or humble act of human kind.

I recently came across an article on twitter – the conveyor of information – about witch hunts in Papua New Guinea and how its participants post the acts on social media as a form of boasting. This particular article is more like a series consisting of five chapters where a writer, Kent Russel, tell the story of his visit in order to research the then viral witch hunts.

For 16 years of my life, i had been completely oblivious to the possibility of there being a country in this day and age so backwards and barbarian; I though witch hunts and witch trials had been left in Salem more than 300 years ago.

In communities like Warakum, PNG, women are hunted down on the belief that their use of sorcery caused death or sickness for another member of the community, including their own children. Women are stripped of their clothes, tied, and blindfolded as men strap them to a log over a pile of refuse. With a combination of fuel and fire, the members of the community watch the woman burn. When all that is left is a burnt figure only slightly resembling a human being, men run their truck tires over the supposed “witch” and the rest (including local officers) stare intently, without a flinch.

According to Russel’s recount, fishing decapitated women out of a local river isn’t cause of awe – it’s as usual as fishing for fish.

The world became aware of this cultural ritual about two years ago when a particular “witch’s” story became viral.

The witch was a 20-year-old mother of two who had been blamed for the death of a 6-year-old neighbor boy in her Papua New Guinean shantytown in 2013. Based on his symptoms, the cause of the boy’s death was most likely rheumatic fever. But in PNG, any death that cannot be chalked up to simple old age is believed to have a malevolent agent behind it.

A group of 50 or so of the dead boy’s relatives apprehended the young mother, stripped her, tortured her and burned her alive in the settlement’s landfill, just outside the city of Mount Hagen. A number of bystanders were uniformed police officers who helped turn back a fire engine when it whined to the scene.

This particular witch killing splashed across the homepages of international tabloids because members of the crowd had snapped photos and shared them proudly on social media. Journalists descended, ascertaining a few grisly details as well as the woman’s identity (which cannot be said for many victims of sorcery-related violence in PNG): Her name was Kepari Leniata.

I’ve only just become aware of this and after further research, found that these occurrences aren’t only happening in PNG but also in some parts of the Middle East.

The entirety of Kent Russel’s story is on the following link. Read it if the topic interested/surprised you as much as it did me.


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