After growing up with the constant dull blare of depressing things on the news and weird, disturbing stuff on the Internet, it is seldom that something is able to shock people to their core. But this story, to me, is one of those that makes your stomach feel sick for days: a woman in Papua New Guinea was burned alive last month at a garbage dump after being accused of witchcraft, and nobody in the enormous crowd was willing — or able — to stop the violence. And this incident of witch burning appears not to be isolated.
Kepari Leniata, 20, was accused of sorcery by the relatives of a 6-year-old boy who had died in the hospital in the Western Highlands provincial capital of Mount Hagen. An enormous mob took her to a trash heap, stripped her naked, tortured her with a hot iron rod, doused with gasoline and lit on fire as hundreds of onlookers watched, including many children and teenagers.
Police took 40 people into detainment but had to release nearly all of them due to lack of evidence. So far, just two people have been charged with the killing. Janet Ware and Andrew Watea are believed to be the little boy’s mother and uncle, and more arrests are expected to come eventually.
As unimaginable and shocking as this is to hear of happening in the modern world, it’s not a one-time incident: The Daily Beast reports that just days after the witch burning incident above, two elderly women were accused of witchcraft because an 8-year-old girl was raped and murdered. Despite the girl dying as a direct result of the horrible actions of two known suspects, her relatives were encouraged by a witch-doctor of sorts, known as a “glassman”, that the women were responsible. They were taken by a mob, tied to a stake and nearly killed before being rescued after somebody tipped off the police. One of the scariest parts: three of the people attempting to burn her included the girl’s two suspected killers and the glassman.
So, how are these events possible in 2013? In rural Papua New Guinea, witchcraft is still something seen as a valid reason for terrible things occurring. “Unexplained misfortunes” and frightening occurrences are blamed on sorcery rather than rational arguments or science. Unfortunately, though many Papua New Guineans have been just as infuriated and revolted by the attacks as the rest of the world, these pervasive myths are widespread in certain parts of the nation that adhere to traditional beliefs of looking for the “who” rather than the “why” or “what” when people die, even if it’s of actual natural causes.
As people all over the country try to piece together what’s happened, the police continue to investigate Leniata’s unjust death in hopes of finding more evidence to arrest and convict all responsible for it.
Photo: shakestercody / Flickr