Pacific Fears Spread of Sorcery-Killings
Papua New Guinea brings back death penalty as countermeasure
By Kate Seamons, Newser Staff
Posted Jun 5, 2013 8:24 AM CDT
Updated Jun 9, 2013 11:37 AM CDT
Papau New Guinea.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – A conference being held at Australia's National University generally would fly under the radar—but when the topic is witchcraft, the equation changes. What experts are talking about: The fear that sorcery-related violence could spread from Papua New Guinea to other parts of the Pacific. Time reports that deaths from diseases like AIDS tend to spur witchcraft accusations. And the former head of the Solomon Islands National Museum tells the AFP, "The reason why it’s growing is because there is some kind of economic benefits people are receiving from these practices."

Ignore the problem, and that country "might end up in the same situation as in Papua New Guinea where they are actually physically killing people." It's those killings—including this horrific February example in which a 20-year-old accused witch was burned alive—that led PNG to last week bring back the death penalty (to deter those would would commit these murders) and repeal the 1971 Sorcery Act, which outlawed "evil sorcery," reports Time. But Richard Eves, an Australian anthropologist who is co-convening the conference, notes that legislative changes "don’t necessarily mean an end to the problem because the ratio of police to population is quite low. When you’ve got an armed mob screaming for blood, there's nothing much a few policemen can do. And the fact is that police in PNG are just as likely to believe the accused are guilty as charged."

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Jun 10, 2013 6:26 AM CDT
I taught in east Africa for a year and a local friend of mine believed in witches. He was a pretty smart guy other wise. Another teacher I knew would talk about how her school was closed down because of an outbreak of students being possessed by demons. It is amazing what you will believe if you were raised with it. It is easy to forget though that not that long ago western society believed in witches.
Jun 9, 2013 8:05 PM CDT
Hard to believe it's the 21st Century, isn't it? Spook, spirits, gods, and supernatural gobblins are still around.
Jun 9, 2013 4:31 PM CDT
Scapegoating is a thrilling human experience, one that has outlasted all civilizations. It is a great way to get rid of the most vulnerable members of your group, stir up a bit of excitement, and have a nice party at the end to pat each other on the back, for a job well done. Good times.