Papua New Guinea Bush Knifes And Black Magic

Friday, September 11, 2009

Unreported World travels to one of the most remote parts of the world, to investigate the growth of 'witch' murders in Papua New Guinea. More than fifty people accused of being witches were tortured and murdered last year in two provinces alone and the programme reveals that the problem is now spreading from remote highland areas into the towns. Reporter Ramita Navai and producer Katherine Churcher meet the victims, the so called witch hunters and the police struggling to keep order.


The Unreported World team begins their journey in the Highland province of Simbu, a hotspot for witch-related murders. In the remote village of Koge, they uncover a number of burnt-out huts where locals tell them that more than thirty people were forced to flee after two of their female relatives were accused of being witches and killed

Moving on to the neighbouring province, Navai and Churcher meet a grandmother who says she was accused of being a witch after her husband died. She reveals that in the Highlands when someone dies the community thinks they must have been cursed by a witch and then looks for someone, generally a woman, to blame. Umame says she managed to escape after being slashed with a bush knife, but she has lost everything.

Still deep in the Highlands, the team tracks down a witchdoctor. She says her job is to deciding who in the community is a witch. But in a chilling twist, Navai uncovers that this witchdoctor is herself a survivor of a witch-hunt. She claims she was set free after she revealed, under torture, her skills at determining other witches.

The team travels to the capital of Simbu Province to meet the homicide detectives at the police station serving the whole of the area. They reveal that at least two-thirds of the murders they deal with are witchcraft-related. Navai and Churcher accompany the police to Giu village where in Nov 2008 a woman was accused of being a witch and murdered by an entire community. The police say they are under-resourced and lack the manpower to deal with the problem. People won't come forward as witnesses, as everyone backs the witch-killers, they tell Navai.

In Goroka, the capital of the Eastern Highlands Province, Navai meets Jack Urame - a leading expert on witch-killings. He explains that the belief in witches is an ancient custom, but that killings are on the increase. He says the changes occurring to traditional Papuan society with the introduction of western goods, money and education haven't been matched with a corresponding, modern form of social control provided by the government. Jealousies arise as some do better than others and people have resorted to their own ways of resolving disputes and resentments - namely through accusations of sorcery.

The team travels to a community meeting in Simbu Province set-up to try to resolve witch-hunt accusations peacefully. Navai sees local justice at work. It's raw and tense and the team is forced to leave as the meeting heats up.

Still in the Highlands they manage to track down two 'witch hunters'. Appearing anonymously, disguised by traditional headwear, one of them produces a skull which he claims is of one of his victims and tells Navai that he is a guardian angel, protecting his community, and has no fear of police repercussions.

Ending up in Mt. Hagen, the third largest city in Papua New Guinea, the team discovers that witch-hunts are now spreading to towns. A witness reveals a shocking case of a woman burnt alive on tyres at a rubbish dump. It is the first case in the town. Perhaps more disturbing, the belief in witchcraft appears already well developed in the area. While the witness found the incident disturbing, he believes the woman needed to be killed or she would be a threat to the community. The practice of witch-killings appears to be going from strength to strength.

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