Sorcery is real. And sorcerers must pay for their crimes.
No, this isn’t the beginning of some pathetic Harry Potter knock-off. It’s actually what many indigenous people in Papua New Guinea believe, especially in the more rural and remote areas. What’s more, it is this belief that prompted one of the strangest laws in history.
The Sorcery Act of 1971 was established on the poor island nation north of Australia to outlaw the use of black magic. In so doing, it also allowed citizens to take action—normally brutal and even fatal action—against those suspected of sorcery and witchcraft.
As you might imagine, most of the victims are women—as many as six out of every seven alleged sorcerers, actually.
Recently, though, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has been pushing to have the controversial law repealed, and it looks like he may have his way. If things go according to plan, killings associated with sorcery—which we all know is complete horse shit—will now be treated as murders, rapes will be treated as rapes—with the possibility of life in prison without parole for a first offender—and logic will return to the government again.
Thank goodness for that, because things in PNG have been shocking and downright gruesome lately. Check out a few low lights from its recent, sorcery-riddled past:
- 2009: A young woman in Mount Hagen is accused of sorcery, stripped naked, gagged and burned alive.
- 2011: A man is discovered during a sorcery initiation ceremony. He is trying to eat his newborn son.
- February 2013: 20-year-old mother Kepari Leniata is accused of using sorcery to kill a 6-year-old boy. Villagers overpower the sparse police force, tie her up, torture her with a branding iron, toss some petrol on her and set her aflame. Leniata burns alive on a pile of trash and old tires.
- April 2013: Former schoolteacher and women’s rights advocate Helen Rumbali, her sister and her two nieces are kidnapped, tortured with knives and axes for several days and, in the case of Rumbali, beheaded by the mob in the village square. She was, of course, suspected of being a sorceress.
As terrible as these crimes are—and as good an idea as repealing the Sorcery Act is—it also helps that the courts are taking sorcery-related crime seriously now.
Just over a week ago, 21-year-old Saku Uki Aiya finished a two-day trial in the northern province of Enga and was sentenced to 30 years in jail. His crime: accusing his aunt of sorcery—in connection with his brother’s death—and then enlisting the help of two friends to hack her to pieces with axes and knives.
Aiya’s accomplices are still at large, but at least he’ll be going away for a long time.
It’s hard to believe there are people in this world who still believe in sorcery—or who claim to believe in sorcery to excuse their brutal acts and heinous crimes. Sure, steps are being taken to correct this in PNG, but real progress will take time.
Until then, the black magic will likely continue… and so will the slaughter of innocent people. I only hope O’Neill and his government can move quickly so future tragedies can be prevented.
Is there such a thing as white magic, because that could work?