Charmed, Bewitched and Harry Potter are just a few of the TV shows and movies that made magic and witchcraft cool. Quite some time ago however, if you were a witch, you simply had to die. Even if you were only assumed to have been practicing sorcery, you were hunted down and burnt or drowned. Pretty extreme for a mere assumption.
In today’s world, witch hunts are something that we read about in Shakespearean novels or history books, not something that’s reported on TV in real time. That was, until Papua New Guinea started giving us something to report about.
In 2013, 20 year old mother Kepari Leniata was tortured and burned to death at a local rubbish dump in the central highlands of Papua New Guinea after she was believed to have used sorcery to kill a six year old boy.
The tragedy began when Miss Leniata’s six year old neighbor fell ill, complaining of pains in his chest and his stomach. Although he was taken to Mt Hagen hospital for treatment, the young boy died a number of hours later. The boys’ relatives believed that sorcery was involved in the young boy’s death and sought answers from two self-confessed witches. Both women denied any involvement and pointed the finger at Kepari Leniata.
The young boy’s family marched to Miss Leniata’s hut where they proceeded to strip her and drag her away to harm and kill her. Whilst she was being dragged naked from her hut, Miss Leniata was said to have allegedly confessed to the murder and the use of witchcraft, resulting in the start of her ordeal brutal torture with hot iron rods.
Both Police and fire trucks were chased away from the rubbish tip by angry villagers where two people allegedly set her twisted, tortured and petrol-soaked body alight. It was reported that when the flames appeared to be ‘slacking off’ tyres were soaked in petrol and thrown onto the rubbish heap surrounding Miss Leniata’s charring body.
Sorcery and witchcraft is commonly practiced and widely believed in Papua New Guinea, predominantly in the more remote, outer villages of the island. It is believed that a price can be paid to hire a Witch Doctor to reveal a cause of death or to cast out an evil spirit, and they’re not just asking a hefty sum, you also have to throw in a pig and some grains.
In an attempt to eradicate violence, the 1971 Sorcery Act was introduced to criminalise the practice. In later years however, the country has seen a rise in attacks and violence against innocent people being accused of witchcraft or sorcery, like that of Kepari Leniata. Convictions are being handed out by what are called ‘kangaroo courts’ which are for the most part made up of village elders. In fact, in 2009 a man met his maker when he was hacked to death by machetes after being convicted of sorcery by such a court. 29 people were reportedly arrested after accusations of black magic and cannibalism following the death of seven people in which their brains were eaten and genitals used for some form of witch ritual.
Ultimately, two people, relatives of the young six year old boy, were arrested for Miss Leniata’s torture and murder. Witchcraft, sorcery and the killing of witches is still common practice in Papua New Guinea and it is not advised to travel to the country if carrying a wand, cauldron or pointy hat.