A true story:
The woman was sitting on the ground bumched up like a little ball. Her head-loosely bandaged with a bandana marked with blood – was resting on her thin knees as she sat squatting on the dirt-packed ground. She was old, weak and feeble. Even the slightest breeze migh take her away. Her situation was uncertain.
She did not move when I arrived. Fear had stolen her heart. Death – the all-consuming intruder, the great equalizer showing no respect for young or old alike – had come the night before and stolen away her son, Markus (real name protected), at the age of 35; and it had just now escaped her by nothing short of a miricle as she was accused by a ‘glasman’ of killing her very own son. In the eyes of the commuunity, especially her immediate family, she was a ‘kumo-meri’, and thus needed to be killed immediately. Attempts were made.
I bent down beside her and held her. Whether accused of sorcery or not, this elderly woman was born in the image of her Creator, and she was destitute, rejected by her own family and felt no hope, only the tentacles of death closing around her.
Welcome to the world of sorcery-related killings in PNG. As a missionary, an outsider looking in, I am a mere child to the feelings, the emotions, the fear, the anger, the revenge and hatred surrounding those who are suspected of killing a loved one by engaging the spirit world, the sunguma wold, the world of black and dark magic. Yet I have preached and taught in the settlements of Lae for almost nine years now and I weep at the revenge killing of those who have (without any evidence, save the lying tongue of a witchdoctor) been accused of an act of sorcery. Families are being torn apart. Mums, sometimes with their children, killed. Communities divided. All because of an accusation to sorcery. It is PNG’s very own witch-hunt. “But ‘so and so’ put a curse on him,” they will say, “and so he must die.” But why are these people accused of sorcery almost always women with the occasional (elderly) man thrown in? Rarely, if ever, is it a yong or middle aged man. Os that not curious, when in Jesus’ time evil spirits did no respect age or gender?
The thought is the sanguma spirit, the evil spirit, or whatever it is, must die… and supposedly by killing this person (a woman) the sanguma will die. But no one really knows. Does it? There is no proof that it is dead! None. Sadly, the only proof that something is dead is the charred remains of a body – a mother, a wife, a grandmother or bubu who wanted to keep living and serving her family as she had been for many years. There blood, like Abel’s blood, cries out to God for justice.
Let us back up tow days. It was a Tuesday evening and I had just finished preaching the Gospel of God’s abundant grace and love to a group of some 80-100 people in a settlement, known for it’s production of steam, its theivery and even its murders. As I preached, Markus (mentioned earlier) was listening rather intently. After I was finished, I shook his hand and said ‘gutnait,’ not knowing this would be the last time I would speak to him. That evening he went to sleep, never to wake up again. The intruder had come. And God, as Sovereign over death, had marked his last breath sometime between midnight and six am.
But what transpired after his death was not mounring as one might expect. Rather is was blood-thirsty revenge. The question that needed an answer was who can be charged? No one killed him. There was no evidence of murder. The family was right there – his wife, mother or others would have heard someone. But revenge had to be meted out. ‘Who killed him?’ means, ‘Who put a curse on him? He must have been cursed.’ It didn’t matter that Markus lived on beer and and home brew, betelnut (buai)and drugs for the last 20 years of his life. It didn;t matter that he had some organ failure the week before and was ‘cleared’ from the hospital because they couldn;t do much more. Thos facts mean nothing when death rears its ugly head. Who killed him is the only legitament question that needs to be answer. is the thought of many.