Belief in sorcery has persisted in this Melanesian island nation, despite roughtly 60 years of contact with the West. In recent years, this belief has metasticized in ways that are not even recognizable to traditional culture. It has echos in the witch accusations, trials and executions that took place in Salem, Massachusetts in the late 17th Century.
There is a swell of determination and outrage to put an end to this barbarous practice. In the Southern Highlands, the Catholic Church has taken the lead in convening the various sectors of the community to develop strategies for combating both the persistent belief in sorcery, but more so, the practice of accusing and harming innocent people (usually older women). The Diocese of Mendi sponsored a major forum in 2015 which counted on the participation of the Honorable Walter North, then Ambassador of the USA to PNG; lawyers, NGO's, government reps, etc., that raised this issue in a very powerful way.
In the course of the recent discussions, an interesting parallel was drawn between the intial approaches to HIV/Aid and now, Sorcery-related violence. We can learn much about changing both attitudes and behaviours by remembering how HIV/Aids was approached in the early years.
The Task Force will meet again in Mendi in about six weeks to elaborate a Strategic Provincial Action Plan for the Southern Highlands. Let's all pray and have courage to stand against sorcery-related violence and any behaviour that threatens the innocent and vulnerable.