When one thinks of the people of Papua New Guinea, one might conjure up an image similar to this.
A 16 year old girl from a Mount Hagen tribe.
But Papua New Guinea is not just tribal paint, shells and grass skirts. For instance, the bystanders who watched a 20 year old woman as she was tortured with a hot iron rod, bound, doused with gasoline, then set alight on a pile of car tires and trash in the Western Highlands provincial capital of Mount Hagen, were dressed in T-shirts and shorts. Why am I mentioning what they were wearing? It makes a difference in the way people will view the act.
Bystanders watch as a woman, accused of witchcraft is burned alive in Papua New Guinea.
If they were dressed in tribal garb, this story might never have been made global. It might have been excused as just a barbaric act carried out by a people who don’t know any better. The fact is those, not so innocent, bystanders were educated in a place that has long been civilized. They have a police force and a government. It is a democracy and is part of the Commonwealth. The most popular religion in Papua New Guinea is the Catholic Church, with 27% of the population identifying as Catholic, followed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church with 19% and a slew of Christian offshoots. I mention this because it is important to understand that, by and large, the people of Papua New Guinea are taught the same religious doctrine that the rest of the Western World is taught. Yet, Kepari Leniata, a 20 year old mother was not only accused of sorcery, but tortured and killed in front of hundreds of people who took pictures and cheered, because people believed in magic.
Or was is that simple? Were she a man, would this have happened? Accusations of witchcraft and sorcery are usually targeted toward women. Is this just another instance of a woman cut down in the prime of her life as an example to other women not to get too comfortable? Either way, if people didn’t believe in magic, or if women weren’t painted as the enemy, it would never have happened.
The good news is that the Police Commissioner isn’t having any of it. He was quoted as saying, “We are in the 21st century and this is totally unacceptable.” The Prime Minister is also on the right side of history, calling for the arrest of the killers and saying, “It is reprehensible that women, the old and the weak in our society should be targeted for alleged sorcery or wrongs that they actually have nothing to do with.”
It is unfortunate, however that the Police Commissioner wants to establish courts to deal with sorcery allegations as an alternative to villagers dispensing justice, instead of stating outright that there is no such thing as magic. I guess that would mean that the religions that have a foothold in the area might lose some members of their congregations. If the people actually come to their senses and realize that if there is no such thing as magic, then maybe, just maybe, religion’s biggest role is keeping the people from the truth. The truth that they exist solely to rob you of your money, your intellect, your dignity and your human rights.