THE mounting count of disgusting murders in the name of rooting-out sorcery must stop.
Our country’s image is reduced to that of a medieval fiefdom, where superstition ruled, supposed witches were burned alive, and innocent people were publicly drowned.
Is that how we wish Papua New Guinea to be seen outside our shores?
Such brutish and animalistic behaviour cannot be condoned on the basis that the participants believe in the power of sorcery.
This is 2004.
Those who were familiar with the Bena area of the Eastern Highlands province will know that as long as thirty years ago it had ceased to be a remote location, peopled by villagers unfamiliar with the colonial administration and its legal code.
It is stretching credibility to suggest that people in that area today continue to hold such a strong belief in sorcery.
We are told that they were prepared to stand-by and watch an innocent woman hideously tortured to death while tied to an avocado tree.
Worse, a pastor of the Four Square church, established for decades in the area, is reported to have done nothing to stop the ritual killing, and allowed it to proceed in the grounds of his church.
The pastor’s action was at best one of cowardice, and scarcely the expected response from a Man of God.
This ugly event, and the dozens of others reported and hidden that have taken place in recent years, all point to one fact – the nation’s third level of government is a shambles.
Were it otherwise, these staged murders justified on the basis of sorcery would be impossible to carry out.
The rule of law would be strong enough to ensure that accusations of causing the death through sorcery of another person were dealt with either in a formal court of law, or by an appropriate village forum.
It seems to us that the increasing prevalence of supposedly sorcery-related murders points to two separate explanations.
First, there are those who have again adopted sorcery as the explanation for anything and everything that goes wrong in their lives.
That attitude had been at least sidelined, if not eliminated, by the influence of the Christian mainstream churches.
Part of the reason for that reversion to a previous set of customs stems from the general neglect of our rural areas, and the lack of opportunities they offer to younger people.
And second, the role of dozens of allegedly Christian sects in the Highlands cannot be under-estimated.
Many of these would be rejected and exposed in their countries of origin, but in the fertile ground of PNG they soon grow and flourish. Simple village people have become utterly confused by the rival claims of some of these “Christian” groups, which skillfully cloak the Truth, while manipulating the emotions of their flock.
Disenchantment with this multitude of sects can easily lead to the revival of former customs, and these include a belief in, and the use of sorcery.
If those two factors we have suggested are correct, then there is a need for a two-pronged attack on sorcery at village level.
One initiative must come from the government.
There is an urgent need for the strengthening of village society through exposure to contemporary problem-solving processes, whether they be the formality of the law, or the often more appropriate resources of conflict resolution.
We cannot go on walking away from the challenge of restoring respect for the law, for government and for society.
We have to re-structure the village community so that it remains a workable alternative to the dubious lure of our over-burdened cities.
The second thrust must come from the normally reticent force of the established and respected churches.
The Catholic, Lutheran, United, and Anglican churches, and the handful of other long-serving and recognized religious denominations, must again seize the initiative, and again spread the true word of God among all of our people.
Both of these moves also require the whole-hearted support of rural members of Parliament, who should desert the flesh-pots and the pokies of Port Moresby and return to their electorates to deal with the mounting problems of village communities.
That is, after all, what they were elected to do.
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