Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Hocus Pocus, Cont’d

March 17th, 2011 · 4 Comments


I’ve previously written about the continued existence of anti-sorcery laws in the Vanuatuan penal code, so I felt compelled to post about the current debate in Papua New Guinea over similar statutes. The PNG government has grown increasingly alarmed over a rash of murders linked to beliefs in witchcraft:

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), the law on sorcery and sorcery related killings is being reviewed in an attempt to either repeal the Sorcery Act or make amendments to the Act by Parliament to make it more enforceable, and to help courts of law deal appropriately with such cases.

This is because sorcery and its related killings have escalated recently, and needs to be addressed as part of the law and order problems in the country.

Yesterday, Joe Mek Teine, Chairman of the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission (CLRC) which is tasked to collect information to create laws, described sorcery and sorcery related killings as a “dreaded disease” that needs to addressed, contained and regulated because it is eating into the fabrics of society.

Mr. Teine is also the Member for Kundiawa/Gembogl in the Chimbu Province, where this issue is part of their lives, and where, according to him, people have now lost the respect of the rule of law.

There are some fascinating aspects of legal philosophy that come into play here. Sorcery by itself is bunk, of course—you’ll never convince me that its practitioners actually possess any supernatural powers. But it’s clear that significant portions of PNG’s population believe in the practice, to the point that they regard the murder of suspected witches as a form of self-defense. To reduce the number of slayings, then, the government may need to toughen penalties against what is, in effect, an imaginary pursuit.

I actually doubt that constitutional change, even if backed up by strict enforcement, can eliminate centuries’ worth of folk tradition. The only real cure for this irrational ailment is the introduction of knowledge, and that must be a genuine grassroots effort.

(Image via David Wall)

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Powerless | Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

    [...] last time we checked in on Papua New Guinea’s efforts to counter its epidemic of sorcery-related killings, the country was considering making changes to its Sorcery Act of 1971 in order to make it easier [...]

  • Tengtana Malo

    This law of socery has not being really renforced in this country and yet people are duying from socery cases…..This is really devastating because this law has not launced to the people of this nation to be aware that yes,,,there is a law shield by Constituional and Law Reform Commision (CLRC) under Socery Act 1971. This is why inocent people are being accused and killed by witch hunters and general public….

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Tengtana Malo: Thank you for the first-hand perspective. Enforcement must certainly be a tremendous challenge, given the vastness of the nation and the relative weakness of the authorities. If you could do one thing to combat violence related to this superstition, what would it be?

  • Documents Matter | Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

    [...] to comment on the recent witch burning horror in Papua New Guinea, even though I have previously written at length about that nation’s problems with stamping out superstition-related violence. There [...]

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