Woman is one in a growing list of scapegoats
(CNN) — A woman in rural Papua New Guinea was bound and gagged, tied to a log and set ablaze on a pile of tires this week, possibly because villagers suspected her of being a witch, police said Thursday.
Her death adds to a growing list of men and women who have been accused of sorcery and then tortured or killed in the South Pacific island nation, where traditional beliefs hold sway in many regions.
The victims are often scapegoats for someone else’s unexplained death — and bands of tribesmen collude to mete out justice to them for their supposed magical powers, police said.
“We have had quite difficulties in a number of previous incidents convincing people to come forward with information,” said Simon Kauba, assistant commissioner of police and commander of the Highlands region, where the killing occurred.
“We are trying to persuade them to help. Somebody lost their mother or daughter or sister Tuesday morning.”
Early Tuesday morning, a group of people dragged the woman, believed to be in her late teens to early 20s, to a dumping ground outside the city of Mount Hagen. They stripped her naked, bound her hands and legs, stuffed a cloth in her mouth, tied her to a log and set her on fire, Mauba said.
The country’s Post-Courier newspaper reported Thursday that more than 50 people were killed in two Highlands provinces last year for allegedly practicing sorcery.
In a well-publicized case last year, a pregnant woman gave birth to a baby girl while struggling to free herself from a tree. Villagers had dragged the woman from her house and hung her from the tree, accusing her of sorcery after her neighbor suddenly died.
She and the baby survived, according to media reports.
Killings of witches, or sangumas, is not a new phenomenon in rural areas of the country.
Emory University anthropology Professor Bruce Knauft, who lived in a village in the western province of Papua New Guinea in the early 1980s, traced family histories for 42 years and found that 1 in 3 adult deaths were homicides — “the bulk of these being collective killings of suspected sorcerers,” he wrote in his book, From Primitive to Postcolonial in Melanesia and Anthropology.
In recent years, as AIDS has taken a toll in the the nation of 6.7 million people, villagers have blamed suspected witches — and not the virus — for the deaths.