I SAID MASS at St Paul's church in Mt Hagen on Sunday realising that a number in the congregation would have been witnesses to when Kepari Leniata was burned to death last week.
I spoke with some people who said they actually tried to stop it but were unable. If, as an expat, you tell people they are longlong to believe such superstition, many will just close down.
I found it quite difficult to discern just what to say to the congregation. I spoke in my sermon about how many people have a sense of confusion with one leg in the Christian faith camp and the other in the tumbuna one, and many nodded in recognition.
I spoke too about how just one person is powerless in such situations and how we need to support one another to counter this sort of thinking and inhuman behaviour as a group, and many, particularly the women showed signs that they agreed.
At a forthcoming conference on sorcery in Canberra, I hope to take a constructive approach developing what Bishop Anton Bal has been doing in Simbu.
Basically there are 5 points to it:
(1) Helping people broaden their understanding of the causes of illness and death
(2) Early intervention before or during a funeral,
(3) Promoting law and order in communities,
(4) Fostering faith to influence attitudes and emotions
(5) Immediate family members taking ownership of the death of a family member
I want to look at the effectiveness of this as a strategy and examine how it might be revised and promoted elsewhere.
It is good that we change or develop laws but that is not enough. We need an approach that will affect peoples attitudes and feelings and in fact their worldview - and this is not easy.
One thing that concerns me is that the Simbu form of witchcraft and sorcery seems to be spreading to other places like Enga and the Southern Highlands.
People used to look at it differently there - and would kill pigs not people, since the cause of death and misfortune was attributed to spirits of the dead.
The change and spread of a more violent form is a great concern for me. It worries me also that some of the more fundamental, evangelical churches seem to reinforce traditional demonic beliefs.
I would not argue for total secularism, but we need to promote more of a scientific viewpoint especially when it comes to misfortune and death.
Responses from Papua New Guineans will be much more convincing to the broader populace than that coming from outsiders.
It was good that Bishop Douglas Young along with the two national bishops, Arnold Orowae and Anton Bal from Enga and Simbu respectively, spoke on EMTV last week. Many people saw that.
Maybe we need more forums on national TV with prominent and thoughtful Papua New Guineans.
Fr Gibbs was born in Lower Hutt, New Zealand in 1947. In 1966 hewent to Holy Name Seminary, Christchurch, and studied for a BA in Sociology at Canterbury University. In 1971 he went to Australia to join the Divine Word Missionaries and, after the novitiate year, studied post-graduate Anthropology at Sydney University. After a year and a half in Papua New Guinea he spent four years studying Theology at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago returning to New Zealand for ordination as a priest in 1978. Since then he has served in various capacities in PNG (parish priest, directing a pastoral centre, seminary lecturer, researcher) with time away to study for a Licentiate and then a Doctorate in Theology at the Gregorian University, Rome