One of many such stories. The photograph accompanying this article was taken in 2013. Or 2012 at the earliest. This is not ancient history. What follows are excerpts from an article at The Global Mail about Papua New Guinea, where belief in black magic persists and women are blamed, accused of sorcery and branded as witches — with horrific consequences.
On the opening day of her “trial” for witchcraft, Angela (not her real name) was tortured, humiliated and interrogated; an absurd prosecution in which she was in one moment accused of causing the deaths of those she was accused of harming, and the next being asked to give up the name of the real witch — “kolim nem, kolim nem [call the name]“, the gang demanded.
The next day, Angela was naked, staked-out, spread-eagled on a rough frame before a crowd of villagers, a blindfold tied over her eyes, a fire burning in a nearby drum. She breathed the smoke and felt the heat of the fire where the irons being used to burn her were warmed until they glowed. She knew what had happened to other women. One woman’s genitals had been burned and fused beyond functional repair by the repeated intrusions of red-hot irons.
The photographs witnesses took of Angela’s torture are shocking, both for the cruelty of the attackers and the torpid body-language of the spectators. Stone-faced men and women and wide-eyed children huddled under umbrellas, sheltering from the drenched highlands air as Angela writhed against the tethers at her wrists and ankles, twisting her body away from the length of hot iron which a young man aimed at her genitals.
It was around 5pm when they let Angela go, more than four hours after they began their assaults. When Angela’s elderly mother tried to attend to her they set upon her too, breaking her leg and her pelvis. Later a police car delivered Angela and her mother to a local clinic. Then a mob showed up, shouting and throwing stones on the clinic roof, insisting that the women be sent out. Fearing the clinic would be burned down, the clinic staff called the police.
A police officer arrived, and helped smuggle Angela and her mother away by car, taking them a long way away, eventually finding them care in another hospital. When their physical wounds were healed, Angela was relocated again. She has now joined the ranks of sorcery survivors who are not only damaged but forever displaced by their experiences, refugees within their own country.