BY KELA KAPKORA SIL BOLKIN
ONE RAINY NIGHT in March 2004 in Port Moresby, a lake close to the South Sea Evangelical Church near the junction of Eight and Nine Mile roads broke its banks and inundated the nearby savannah grassland before draining into the Waigani swamps and leaving its basin empty.
That morning everyone travelling to Port Moresby by PMV bus had a comment to make when they saw the empty lake.
“I heard that a taxi driver from Morata once travelled to Sogeri and saw a snake in the stones and caught it. Upon his return he decided not to keep it as a pet and stopped somewhere here and threw it into the lake,” said a well- dressed man who was travelling to work in a bus from Nine Mile to Gordons.
“The snake lived in the lake and fed on the fish. It grew into the size of a tree trunk but now that it has eaten all the fish it needed to go elsewhere for food. Hence it broke the lake and has gone into the swamps.”
Others who heard the story added and subtracted to it in their retelling and by the end of the week the story of the snake had been heard and commented on by all the residents of Port Moresby North East, Sogeri and their friends travelling in from the Hiritano Highway.
It became a suburban myth and the two daily newspapers ran pictures of the burst lake on their front pages.
The curious thing about the myth is that it had been invented and spread by city people who were largely literate and well educated. No one thought to find out the real cause for the draining of the lake. They all went along with the myth and it assumed the status of fact. Some were so convinced by the story that they regarded it as a biblical truth.
The people forgot that there was a big rain the night before the lake burst its banks. Furthermore, they ignored the fact that the wet season in Port Moresby had filled the lake to brimming over the last two months. They forgot all about the relationships between mass, pressure and kinetic energy that they had been taught in school.
That the relatively well educated people of Port Moresby were convinced of the perspicacity of what was patently an untrue myth tells us a lot about the status of sanguma in Papua New Guinea. In some ways it places in perspective the beliefs about sanguma in more isolated areas like the Galkope.
A young man in the Bari with HIV was sick from an opportunistic infection caused by his defective immune system and admitted to Kundiawa General Hospital.
A relative went and visited the young man in his hospital bed and took along some food, as was the custom. Soon after the relative left the hospital the young man died. The young man’s other relatives concluded that the visitor had used sanguma against him.
“Ekopro had recovered and was ready to be released from hospital when he visited and killed him. He is a well-known sorcerer in the Bari and everyone knows about him. We will take the body home and sort it out there,” cried the other relatives.
The news had already reached the accused sorcerer and his family and they were ready for a conflict when the body left the morgue and came home.
The people were gathered at Gur Tol when the ambulance arrived. The brother of the deceased jumped out of the ambulance with an axe and attacked the accused sorcerer and hit him on the head. The accused sorcerer fortunately had many sons and he was quickly rescued and rushed to hospital. In that way he was treated and saved. Two weeks later the village leaders’ brokered peace and compensation was paid to the accused sorcerer.
Had the accused sorcerer not been rescued by his sons the story could have ended quite differently; probably in war.
In the 2007 National Election a Galkope man was declared the winner in the seat that he had contested. When he was flown to Port Moresby his supporters rapidly followed with inflated mental images of money, goods and women.
One of these was a Kulkan Arkal man called Bopa. It was the first time he had been to Port Moresby. He spent two weeks at 5-mile hill living with relatives but one fateful day he left 5-mile to go to Gordons.
For a simple villager the sight of the lanes of vehicles speeding up and down made his eyes spin. He was used to seeing lines of ants running to and fro in the bush but not speeding cars doing the same thing.
He became confused while trying to cross the road to get to the Gordon’s Market and was hit by a speeding vehicle. The car sent him flying and he was killed on impact.
News of his fate reached the Galkope in the Simbu. His relatives assumed that he had died because someone had used sanguma against him. They went in the night to round up a family at Kolatoa who were thought to practise sanguma to cross-examine them to reveal the names of those who were responsible for his death.
“All the men are needed in the men’s hut tonight to sort out a pressing issue,” said one of the relatives.
“Oh, we didn’t know that. What exactly is it about?” asked the husband from inside his hut.
One of the relatives replied, “You shouldn’t be sleeping in the women’s hut anyway.”
“Ah, no one sleeps in the men’s hut these days. Stop this nonsense,” laughed the husband and opened the door.
The relatives then held the man and his son at gun point. “Follow us and don’t make any noise,” they ordered. The wives of the man and his son were left behind in the hut to worry about the fate of their husbands.
“Sorcerers here have travelled to Port Moresby and killed Bopa. Give us the names of the sorcerers and we will spare your lives. Otherwise we will blow your heads off. Look, we have plenty of bullets.”
“My goodness you have come in the night to say this. We are not sorcerers; how should we know who killed Bopa?”
“Stop telling lies. You are both sorcerers. Give us the names of those responsible.”
They were led to the Wahgi Bridge in the night and were bashed and tortured in an attempt to get them to reveal the names of the sorcerers responsible for the death.
The fingers and nails of the man and his son’s were cut off with a bolt cutter while they begged for mercy. Suddenly one of the relatives shot the father in the chest with his gun. The father yelled in agony and staggered forward before collapsing. His son watched in horror.
“Look, I am a young man. I have many productive years before me. Please let me go. You have already killed my father,” the young man begged.
One of the relatives then shot the young man in the head. The young man grasped for air for a while before he died. Both bodies were then thrown into the fast flowing Wahgi River. The bodies vanished quickly into the night.
The relatives had acted like a judge, jury and executioner. Nobody questioned their verdict because they said they came from a family of sorcerers.
Their wives cowered timidly in their hut at Kolatoa and cried in silence. They had both lost their husbands for someone killed by a speeding car in Port Moresby!
In early 2008 a top government bureaucrat died of AIDS and his tribesmen back at home accused some innocent people of sanguma and killed them. After their execution they were buried in pit toilets.
In recent times HIV/AIDS has killed at random and the incidence of associated sorcery deaths has also increased.
Deaths from lifestyle diseases, HIV, natural catastrophes, car accidents and even a death of the elderly are invariably interpreted as the work of sorcerers using sanguma in the Galkope. In that sense it is correct to say that death and sanguma go hand in hand in the Galkope.
Much of the Galkope’s socio-economic, political and spiritual life is overshadowed by the fear of sanguma; either as its victim or of being accused of its use.
While sanguma is entrenched in the Galkope information about it is seldom forthcoming because of the associated fear, shame, guilt and anxiety. While people might talk about tribal warfare and the deaths thus incurred they will not talk about sanguma.
Just like in Port Moresby, even the educated men and women of the Galkope believe in the efficacy of sanguma. They are cautious about their whereabouts, the food they eat and the visitors, including animals that frequent their homes in the evenings.
They think just like that well dressed man on the bus who talked about the snake that burst the lake in Port Moresby to get to a bigger supply of fish. They still fear something that they cannot even prove exists, except as some sort of sixth sense.