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United Against PNG's 'Sanguma'

-       Nigel Akuani


Port Moresby: A detailed and thought-provoking discussion on Sorcery, Witchcraft, and ‘Sanguma’, was recently held in light of the rampant crimes stemming from Sorcery Accusation Related Violence.


The discussion was hosted by the Catholic Bishops Conference of PNGSI on 18th August at 10am, via online video communication platform, Zoom. It had the engagement of around 60 participants joining in from around and outside of the country. Participants included three Bishops, Catholic Priests, Religious, professionals from the Social, Health, Environmental and Legal sectors, and media personnel.


While several contributed, the panellists were: Archbishop Anton Bal, Archbishop of Madang; Bishop Donald Lippert, Bishop of Mendi; Fr Philip Gibbs, Deputy President of Divine Word University; Michelle Taumpson, Director Policy Planning and Development; Marcia Kalinoe, National Coordinator for the Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee of the CIMC; and Dr Uma Ambi, a pioneer in mental health. There were several others who addressed different points on the agenda and added to the richness of the discussion. 


“The discussion is designed to be a time of awareness, reflection and a way of supporting victims of SARV and their families”, said Fr Ambrose Pereira sdb, Social Communications Secretary of CBC, as he opened the discussion. It served as a build-up from: 

1)    a panel discussion held on 5th August, over Triniti FM in Mt Hagen, that focused on SARV; and

2)    the first International Day Against Sorcery Accusation Related Violence observed with a massive demonstration on 10th August in the Diocese of Mendi and in other parts of PNG.


Commencing discussions was Archbishop of Madang and President of CBCPNGSI, Anton Bal. He said the term ‘Sanguma’ referred to the cultural practice of giving reason to situations that had no logical explanation. “It was used to give reason to unexplained diseases, misfortunes and death. It is a belief that does not require any substance and that seeks to give an answer to a situation especially during times of loss and grief,” he said.


Bishop Donald Lippert of Mendi, said the appalling atrocities of SARV continued to hinder peace and respect in society, and warned that such practices, left unchecked, could have devastating consequences on society as a whole. “In the Southern Highlands SARV is on the increase and has become something that was never part of traditional culture,” he said.


“It is a complex issue and a terrible atrocity that now, in many cases, has a very perverse sexual aspect to it. So, it is something that we really need to address and do whatever is necessary to stop the practice,” he said.


Fr Philip Gibbs, Deputy President of Divine Word University, stressed that many people believed in sorcery as a way to cope with the experience of a misfortune or loss. “The whole issue of ‘Sanguma’ deals with the ‘Why’ question. Science can say how someone died of cancer or a heart-attack, but this still does not answer the ‘Why it happened’. It is a difficulty not just faced here in Papua New Guinea but by all of humanity,” he said.


Michelle Taumpson, Director Policy Planning and Development, said the solution lay in changing the current belief systems practiced by societies, and stated that the Churches had a crucial role to play in this aspect. “We need to change people's behaviours first and foremost in order to influence the change in their beliefs,” she said.


“The practices and belief in sorcery give rise to a lot of invisible social problems, and this in turn creates a vicious circle of downward spiral for villages and communities, that eventually affects the province and the country as a whole,” she added. She spoke of the ‘National Strategy’ for Churches to address Sorcery Accusation Related Violence (SARV) that was released last year and encouraged the churches to include awareness and advocacy in education and at the level of the communities. 


Marcia Kalinoe, National Coordinator for the Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee made the point of need for relevant organisations at the Provincial level. She urged for these organisations and local communities to work as a collective unit in resolving the issue.


Bomai Witne from Brisbane Australia, recalled the local mentality practiced in traditional societies and said sorcery was one of those beliefs deeply embedded in their subconscious mind. He said to clear the mindset from this concept, it required a long-term commitment through education of the population. “Spiritual education is what is needed and only the creative Word of God has the power to transform an individual and influence the collective life of the community,” he said.


The requests of the participants were to have a platform to highlight the issue and a roadmap to assist the victims as well as those engaged in the practice. 


The meeting brought together persons who are passionate and wish to address Sorcery Accusation Related Violence in Papua New Guinea.

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