Sorcery or witchcraft is part and parcel of Melanesian culture. It is often blamed for the sudden or suspicious death of a loved one.
This blaming has resulted in an increase in sorcery-related violence, where men and women are being accused of practicing sorcery and, in some cases, being killed for it. A case that recently made headlines, both internationally and locally, was the death of Kepari Leniata, who was tortured and burnt after being accused of being a “sanguma”.
The government has taken certain steps to curb this alarming trend, including repealing the Sorcery Act (1971) in 2013, and stating that all sorcery-related matters will be dealt with under the Criminal Code Act. This gives law enforcers, especially the village courts, the right or power to treat sorcery-related violence as a criminal offence.
More recently, in July 2015, the government introduced the Sorcery National Action Plan (SNAP) to address sorcery-related violence in Papua New Guinea. The SNAP focuses on breaking the link between sorcery and violence, and involves a number of government agencies and non-government organisations working closely together in implementing the SNAP.
The Papua New Guinea National Research Institute (PNG NRI) through the Building Safer Communities Research Program plays a role in the execution of SNAP through researching SNAP’s implementation strategy. Research is crucial in understanding how and why sorcery is practiced in PNG. Proper research also helps the SNAP in developing appropriate policies and a legal framework to address the violence that results from sorcery-related accusations.
Research has already began in provinces that have been identified as hot spots such as Wabag, Simbu and Western Highlands. Research in the National Capital District (NCD) is now in its initial stages, with talks being held with appropriate parties such as the NCD village courts, to gain insight and feedback as part of the planning process for data collection.