WARNING – Graphic content and pictures
Police and 120 soldiers are working together in Enga, Papua New Guinea to bring all suspects in recent sorcery related violence and murders to justice, according to Enga Provincial Police Commander Acting Superintendent George Kakas.
Mr Kakas said police investigators have worked tirelessly on the two recent sorcery related violence incidents which have resulted in five deaths, and they are ready to make arrests.
“We know the ring leaders and those involved and are working tirelessly to apprehend them. We have ample manpower with a company of 120 soldiers from the 1RPIR in Enga assisting and we will search until we locate and arrest the perpetrators,” said Mr Kakas.
“They can run but they cannot hide. We will catch up with them sooner or later so I am appealing to all neighbouring tribes within and around the scene of the two sorcery related violence and killings to cooperate with police and not aid and abet the suspects evade police arrest.
“This is an evil which will affect each of us if not addressed now so everyone must help to end this.”
While the authorities have sworn to bring the culprits to justice, a woman who was a victim of sorcery-related torture was taken back and reintegrated back into her village.
Social worker Dickson Tanda said it has been hard but they managed to convince the village to accept the woman back.
“Londes was accused of sorcery in February. After all the injuries she suffered, she spent two months in hospital and another six months in a safe house,” Mr Tanda said.
“Rescuing the women is the easy part, but treating them for the psychological abuse and then reintegrating them back into their villages is the hard part and a costly affair.
“God has been good and we have been able to achieve this with a lot of struggle. If such crimes continue, government really needs to step in and provide assistance for the victims in terms of a safe house and awareness.”
Mr Tanda said the victims needed action from the government. PNG police said sorcery related violence and killings was a new law and order problem that was taking a stranglehold on almost all communities in Enga province.
“It is a new phenomenon which was not practised 10 to 15 years ago. It was introduced through marriage to other provinces and through Engans living in other provinces for long periods of time and becoming immersed in other cultures and influences and bringing it home to their communities. Now it has spread like wildfire through the length and breadth of the Enga province,” Mr Kakas said.
“The people who are being tortured are almost always vulnerable women, children and men, especially the sick and disabled. The victims were not people of strong influence, usually single women, widowers and those who had no one to stand up for them.”
In the recent cases of sorcery related violence, Mr Kakas headed the police unit that worked with Mr Tanda to rescue women who were being tortured.
“Recently in June 2022, as soon as I was reappointed PPC Enga, the two recent sorcery related incidents occurred under my watch. The first one was the case involving the death of trucking icon, Jacob Luke. When he passed on, nine women were blamed for performing “sanguma” and were rounded up and tortured,” Mr Kakas said.
“Four died and five were rescued personally by me and taken to hospital and later to church-run safe houses for safety.
“The second incident was at Wapenamanda two weeks ago where a woman was tortured after she was accused by her dying son of having performed sorcery on her. She was rescued by Wapenamanda Police and Church volunteers, but later succumbed to her injuries.”
The observation from the two incidents are that the entire community seems to condone these acts. Village leaders such as magistrates, councillors and even pastors are completely silent on the issue and not cooperating with police to report these crimes or name suspects.
Even the victims themselves and close relatives of the victims are too afraid to report or name suspects fearing backlash from the community.
Special report: The insidious evil facing PNG – 12 September 2022
An insidious evil is spreading across Papua New Guinea’s provinces like wildfire. During a time when the world is advancing and information is available at our fingertips, the nation is seemingly falling into dark days.
The actions of some are comparable to the witch trials that took place across Europe as women in PNG are being accused of sorcery and witchcraft.
In the latest case, PNG’s trucking tycoon, billionaire Jacob Luke died while on a bush walk near his home in the Enga province, his body discovered by telecommunication workers on July 21.
What followed was beyond cruelty. Nine women, including two in their sixties and one who was pregnant were singled out by Luke’s tribe at Lakolam village in Enga Province.
According to them, the women had killed the billionaire through sorcery and eaten his heart. These women were hit, punched, burnt with iron rods, splashed with petrol and burned and sexually brutalised.
When news of the torture spread through the province, Dickson Tanda, coordinator for the Catholic Church’s SARV (Sorcery Accusation Related Violence) and six police officers travelled to Lakolam village to rescue the women.
It was a tense standoff involving hundreds of angry armed villagers convinced beyond doubt of the women’s guilt, and police backed off.
A second attempt the following day also failed, but police later managed to rescue five of the women. The others had already died.
Mr Tanda, 33, took the women into his care, took them to get medical attention and now is trying to reintegrate them back into their villages. In the week after this, he rescued four more women accused of sorcery.
“I have been doing this for seven years now and I think I have helped more than 600 women. The torture which is subjected to those accused of sorcery is both physically and mentally gruelling,” Mr Tanda said.
“Why I do this? Because I am helping my people especially women who have become victims of something which is just evil. I want to help our mothers.
“I can tell you this much that there have been more of the sorcery related violence in the last 10 years. This is what surprises me because we are supposed to be embracing Christianity and moving out of this superstitious beliefs.”
Mr Tanda said in all cases, women were accused and the people torturing them were men. He said he has heard the most idiotic of reasons for men to accuse women.
“I have been told by some men that if there is God then there is the devil and these women were the brides of the devil,” Mr Tanda said.
“From my observation, if someone in one village says something which is sorcery related or on how sorcery can be cured, then that word travels faster than the word of God and the end result is that we see women being tortured.”
Mr Tanda had been rescuing women, taking them for much needed medical care and then focusing on reintegrating them into the villages they were from.
He too has been subjected to threats but that does not worry him much. Mr Tanda said he was doing God’s work and he had all the protection that he needed.
Mr Tanda is also concerned about the lack of funding towards the work he is doing. He said a special project was announced by the government but nothing has happened to allow these women to seek monetary help for medical care and sometimes for food.
“These women and sometime their children need to be accommodated. We have safe houses but these women need more that just shelter,” Mr Tanda said.
“They need food, clothes and other belongings because they lost all that when they were rejected by their village. They have to be cared for.”
He said the Catholic Church had spent over K1 million over the last five years in helping the victims. He urged the government and donors to seriously consider funding to help the victims and engaging with communities to drive an awareness campaign either faith based or community based.
Sorcery accusation related violence is becoming a serious problem in the nation where gender based violence is one of the highest in the Pacific, adding fuel to the fire.
There have also been incidents where police officers were sent to investigate complaints about sorcery related violence had ended up questioning the victims and forcing them to admit to the allegation.
Enga province police commander George Kakas blamed police in rural areas of lacking awareness and the education to deal with such matters.
The Papua New Guinea Government was supposed to fund the Sorcery National Action Plan, but that never eventuated. Mr Tanda warned if there was nothing done to deal with the issue right now, the nation was going back into the dark ages.