The Scourge of ‘Witch Burnings’ in the South Pacific
When a woman was tied to the stake and burned alive in Papua New Guinea, it wasn’t an isolated attack. Jo Chandler reports.In this Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 photo, bystanders watch as a woman accused of witchcraft is burned alive in the Western Highlands provincial capital of Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea. The 20-year-old mother of one, Kepari Leniata was stripped naked by several assailants, tortured with a hot iron rod, bound, doused in gasoline, then set alight on a pile of car tires and trash. (Post Courier/AP)
Just days after last week’s fatal “witch burning” on a rubbish dump in Papua New Guinea, which provoked international condemnation, an 8-year-old girl was gang-raped and murdered in the same highlands town, and two innocent elderly women also accused of witchcraft narrowly escaped being burned at the stake in a vengeance attack.
The 8-year-old girl died at the hands of two known suspects, according to local divisional Commander Teddy Tei. But the girl’s grieving family was persuaded by a “glassman,” a kind of witch-doctor, that the two old women were responsible for the girl’s death.
Captured by a mob and tied at a stake near Mount Hagen airport, they were rescued after a tip-off to local police, according to The National newspaper.
Tei said the men preparing to torch the women included the “glassman” and the two suspects for the girl’s death. Details of her post mortem—which revealed evidence the girl had been raped and strangled—were later released to try to quell talk of another sorcery payback.
About 20 suspects have reportedly been rounded up in relation to the two attacks, but police were continuing to look for the killers of 20-year-old Kepari Lanieta, the mother of a young baby who was tortured and set alight before a large crowd after being accused of using magic to cause the death of a child in the Mount Hagen Hospital. Spectators took photographs of the pyre on their mobile phones.
The passivity of the watching crowd, as much as the viciousness of the attack, has horrified and embarrassed many Papua New Guineans, who “recoil in fear and disgust” at such lawlessness, the editor of the national daily Post Courier, Alexander Rheeney, observed.
“They stood idly by as she screamed and burned, writhing in blinding pain,” observed one commentator on the popular Sharp Talk Facebook page. “No one cared to save her. No one.”