It should come as no surprise that the witchcraft related violence in Papua New Guinea is based mostly upon simple human jealousy. Experts say the witch hunting appears to be spreading to parts of the country where those practices never took place before. Those experts, as well as government officials in the South Pacific nation, are at a loss to explain it appears to be growing.
Some argue that the recent violence is fueled not by the nation’s widespread belief in black magic but instead by nothing more than economic jealousy that comes from a mining boom that has widened the country’s economic divide and pitted the haves against the have-nots.
“Jealousy is causing a lot of hatred,” said Helen Hakena, chairwoman of the North Bougainville Human Rights Committee, which is based in the area Rumbali was killed. “People who are so jealous of those who are doing well in life, they resort to what our people believe in, sorcery, to kill them, to stop them continuing their own development.”
Rumbali’s assailants claimed they had clear proof the 40-something former schoolteacher had used sorcery to kill another villager who died of sickness: The victim’s grave bore the marks of black magic, and a swarm of fire flies apparently led witch hunters to Rumbali’s home.
The United Nations has documented hundreds of cases of sorcery-related violence in Papua New Guinea in recent years and many more cases in remote areas are thought to have gone unreported. It found the attacks are often carried out with impunity.
Until last month, the country’s 42-year-old Sorcery Act allowed for a belief in black magic to be used as a partial legal defense for killing someone suspected of inflicting harm through sorcery. The government repealed the law in response to the recent violence.
“There’s no doubt that there are really genuine beliefs there and in some circumstances that is what is motivating people: the belief that if they don’t kill this person, then this person is going to continue to bring death and misfortune and sickness on their village,” said Miranda Forsyth, a lawyer at Australian National University who has studied the issue.
But she said recent cases in Papua New Guinea don’t appear to be motivated by a genuine belief in the occult, but instead are a pretext under which the wealthy can be attacked by poorer neighbors, and, many times, get away with it.