Sorcery Allegations Turn Villagers into ‘Sanguma Refugees’

By Sasha Pei-Silovo – EM TV Online

Villagers from the Hewa-speaking area of the Enga Province, fleeing from the ongoing threat of violence from sorcery allegations made against them, are being labelled as ‘sanguma (sorcery) refugees’.

This was revealed by a youth coordinator for the Western Highland’s provincial government, Ruth Kissam, in an interview with Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat program.

She said that peoples lives were being threatened, and as a result, villagers from the Hewa-speaking area of the Enga Province were forced to leave their remote villages for safety.

“There are lots of people right now within the Hewa-speaking region, [fleeing their villages] … simply because of accusations and they know they will be killed.

“So in a way, you have sanguma [sorcery] refugees.”

The people of Hewa live in small clans, in an area stretched over 1,800 square miles. 

Reports surfaced recently from the area, of women and children being held captive for claims of witchcraft made against them.

Lutheran church officials and the Catholic Bishop of Wabag have taken a strong stance against the killings, as reported by the ABC here.

Kissam expressed grave concern over the intensity of the situation, saying that although churches were acting upon reports received and organising teams to be sent to the area, the police and government were needed on ground to curb the problem.

She admitted that communications with the local police resulted in her being notified of their (police) incapacity to go into the remote area, citing funding problems as the cause for their inaction, so far.

The youth coordinator described the disturbances caused to villages and the threatening of lives as a “national crisis” and said that local authorities were in dire need of the government’s support.

“They aren’t able to do anything right now. Unless they are able to get something, try to get the commissioner and the people higher up to respond to this as a matter of national urgency,” stated Kissam.

The events have led to locals running away in fear of their lives as superstitious beliefs in sorcery and witchcraft practises were widespread and fast destroying communities.

Innocent women and children were at greater risk of being killed at the hands of violent and unfearful men; often coaxed into believing tales spun by so-called ‘witch doctors’ who had no proof of the allegations they were making.

In most cases, targeted victims of sorcery allegations were marginalised women in society without male kin to defend or stand up for them in the communities. Many of these were often widows, old women, spinsters and those who either lived alone or with young children or grandchildren in their care.

Ms Kissam said due to the remoteness of the area, to get there, one would have to take a flight and three-days of hiking. And even though a local mandated council was in place, it was comprised of locals who believed in sorcery and therefore, made it all the more challenging for impartial decisions to be made regarding allegations as such.

There is no police presence in the area.

In January 2012, a missionary couple serving with the New Tribes Mission, in a blog documenting newborn mortality in Hewa, also highlighted the gruesome act of murder rife in the area.

The killing of women and children in the Hewa area suspected of being witches described as “the saddest part of the Hewa culture”.  

Jonathan and Susan Kopf, have lived among the Hewa people for more than 12 years. Susan is also a trained nurse and both, paved the way for a medical team to fly by helicopter to the village of Yifki and lead a five-day Community Based Health Care and Village Childbirth Attendant course.

“Every time we lose a mother in child birth or a man or child to sickness, we lose a child or another lady in a horrible murder raid.  It is devastating. In all of Hewa, it is nearly impossible to find a married man that has not murdered a lady or child in the past. They have often participated in killing many.”

The missionary, Jonathan Kopf and his wife write “they really don’t believe the illness that killed their relative was caused by malaria or pneumonia or AIDS or by mercury poisoning (when the young men pan for gold in the rivers they use mercury to get it ready to sell to gold buyers).”

“They believe all deaths are caused by witches eating the sick person’s insides. They believe that if they do not kill the suspected witch, she will kill some more. We are grateful for your help in giving the people of the mountains a new Biblical perspective that will forever impact their culture.”

The account of the sorcery killings can be read here and a short film on Hewa can be viewed here


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