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15 February 2013


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No thanks. Save your prize, John.

Well, I will offer you something better than a 'rotten kaukau' as an Easter gift if you successfully complete an interview on the 7 million plus people of this country, and if your result shows at least 50% of them practice witchcraft and ‘sangumas’.

I know my statement 'not all Papua New Guineans practice witchcraft and sorcery or sanguma' was clear and there is no verge about it.

I have been employed (on & off) in PNG since 1970 and learnt much, including experiencing "spirit entities" which were purchased by the contract labourers from local sources.

Somehow I overcame the 'disturbance' to the open-mouthed shock and amazement of the labour line. I explained that the spirits accepted me. I was invited to several significant traditional events.

I have always declared that in most spiritual societies such strange things cannot be denied and that the rule applies in all cases - do bad or seek to have bad done to another - the payment the perpetrator or instigator must face is even greater than the damage done.

Also mentioned is "that governments need to be pressured to act - maski lon askim BS, liftim leg & han belon you and you yet do it. I am.

I am seeking to go to Milne Bay and help as a volunteer. I need a work visa and entry for my boat (exemption from import duty) too.

I have received an offer and accepted; now awaiting instructions for passport, visa and "work permit'

I hope to be back in PNG within two months... either having sold my boat and fly in or with a crew and clear entry at Samarai or Alotau.

This is where I feel confident that I belong. Working to improve agricultural opportunities and infrastructure as I may find opportunity and local need.

David, you're right, our reminiscences are going off thread.

But that's just it isn't it? There is so much more natural beauty and great history right in front of us, but people insist on steeping themselves in the darker aspects of our past.

Colin - the Finschhafen airstrip is no more for the simple reason that it is cheaper to travel into Lae by sea.

Yeah the Butaweng falls. There's nothing like it!

I am from the bush (Mindik) up in the Saruwaged ranges so my experiences of Finsch nambis are limited but I had an awesome four years at Dregerhafen when I came down to do high school.

I've never had a better swim in the sea since swimming between Dreger and the nearby islands then.

Anyway, I think that's going off from the topic here so we should reminisce in another thread.

Thank you, both, Michael and David K for the Mape updates.

Let's hope that the new Mape river vehicle crossing bridge is of a better structure than the first attempt.
I didn't know that the swinging bridge went down and a new one is now in place.

The pool at Butaweng was like a magnet for the locals and the Administration people and also for the charter planes that came in from either Madang or Lae for BBQ's and swims.

Thank God for the US military who saw a great place for a swimming hole, away from the pukpuks (crocodiles) of the river. Nothing like a good old big blast to make a pool.

My Dad in WW2 even went swimming in that pool. He flew in for some conference at Dregerhafen, then a military hospital and HQ's, came in from Milne Bay or Bougainville, well somewhere in that area. His plane crash landed at Finsch, no one was hurt, the plane was a right off - a DC3 Dakota.

I would after a swim and BBQ troop down to the river to see if I could see a crocodile, the kids at the school would tell me that they saw them. Alas I never did, even with my trusty binoculars. Foot prints - yes, crocs - no.

I recall the antics of some Education, Kiap and other departmental staff with their trusty motor bikes riding across that bridge.

I was asked once to get on behind. No way, I had no intention of either being killed in the fall or have the crocodiles waiting for me below. They rode and I walked after they got across.

Now as the two of you know this area well, what has happened to that Finsch airport?

I was told last year in Hahndorf, South Australia,where many of the Lutheran missionaries live, after years of service in the Finsch. area that the airport matting is no more, the trees are all over the place, thus no air strip? Is this so? If so, why?

Colin, I believe the swinging bridge at Mape was has been rebuilt.

My brother was on the Department of Works team, and they're now working on the road.

Colin - Mape bridge was washed away recently and people are having a hard time travelling to and from Gagidu.

It is a double blow for those of us from the mountains as the Mongi bridge too had been washed away some six years ago.

But life goes on and we still find alternative methods to access basic services.

Thank you David for your reply on this subject.

Even in my years in TPNG, and as you have written you are a Finsch person, I was limited to not even much of Finsch, no complaints I can tell you, between Kambili (Lae side) to Siki/Scarlett Beach (Madang side) and finally 1969 at Pindiu in the mountains.

The "Mape", when I was there, before a road crossing was put in place, that didn't last long got swept away with the first floods in the rainy season, was crossed by that "beloved" swinging bridge - vehicles on either side for further transport and mostly used by the Lutheran mission station personnel. Is that swinging bridge still there?

Sorry to learn that sorcery existed/exits in that wonderful area, I certainly never knew of it.

Colin - I am from Finschhafen and I can assure you belief in sorcery is alive and well there as it has always been.

But I can recall only one sorcery related brutal murder of a man in a nearby village. Fortunately, the community quickly moved to hand in the perpetrators to police and the practise stopped.

I grew up experiencing the "unseen world" mainly from the performance of rituals by my witch doctor grandfather. He was a curer.

The belief in the power of the unseen does exist. But it is the form of expression of that belief and the physical response to the belief that differs across PNG.

Hot headedness and brutal retaliation thankfully is something that is scorned upon where I come from.

Well done, John. I sometimes disagree with what you say, as I do with a couple of others who sit back here in Australia and give advice.

Strange for me, all this business, but in my six years in the then TPNG, 1963-69, I was for five in the Finschhaffen
sub-district and one year in Wau.

I can't recall any of this sorcery business. Maybe Finsch. was free from all this "business"?

The locals were hard working village people. I refused point blank to learn any Tok Pisin. I got a smart kid to do all the go between talk.

The villagers were impressed, the kid was elated, the parents of the kid were "over the moon with pride" and I was satisfied. No problems.

I did know some basic stuff which helped. I often wondered what talk took place when after school the young bright kid returned to his home in the village.

The strange thing after many years, four of these translators now live overseas, all with university degrees, initially from the UPNG, and then from overseas universities.

One in Minnesota USA, two in Guam and one in Cairns. Also interesting, that none comment on this blog. I do know that two did look.

Having viewed so far the comments, John, I have to agree with Cygil, Michael, David and Tony. Now I am not sure where any of these four come from - Australia, overseas or PNG. However, I cannot agree with Barbara.

I think, even if I sometimes appear to be "grumpy", that this matter should be looked at post haste by the PNG government before it becomes a source of acute embarrassment.

I have just read the 1971 Sorcery Act. It is indeed an extraordinary piece of legislation and I think I agree with the prime minister that it needs to be repealed.

But I also think that, however flawed, the intent of the Act was to deal with the very real issue of sorcery in a society that profoundly believes in it.

I think what PNG might need is "Pikinini blong Sorcery Act long 1971". Unlike the existing act, this would provide that:

-- Anyone practising or purporting to know sorcery, sanguma, or similar, shall be jailed. Not as a sorcerer, as in the 1971 legislation, but /as a fraud/.

-- Similarly, any "glasman" or witchfinder shall similarly be jailed /as frauds./

-- Anyone fingering a particular individual as a witch shall be charged with soliciting murder, or the PNG equivalent. In the current cultural context, a witchcraft accusation amounts to nothing less.

The key thing is the change of frame: PNG law currently criminalizes sorcery by endorsing the idea that it is real.

This framing should be changed: PNG law should shift to criminalizing it by adopting the stance that it is fraudulent.

Additionally, it should adopt the idea that sorcery accusations are fraudulent and amount to soliciting murder of the victim.

This at least would give the police a tool with which to deal with the problem. Enforceability is, of course, another issue.

David Wall, I appreciate your concern for PNG, but I understand that any helping hand that Australia offers us must be in response to a hand raised in the right time and place.

Barbara's practical acts demonstrating her faith are not the same as churches taking a religious stand against sanguma.

My opinion is that people are fearfull of the 'spiritual' forces that are associated with sanguma and therefore maintain a 'conspiracy of silence'.

And I also feel the same as Tony about the 'unfocused anger and resentment' in many disadvantaged communities.

This disadvantage can be as simple as the lack of running water in two households that nevertheless are both home to university graduates.

John, as always in your articles you hit the nail on the head.

I've just returned from a month in PNG, and I can vouch for what an unholy mess the country is in.

For crying out loud, we should all appeal to the powers-that-be in Australia to get more involved in the affairs of PNG and help to turn the place around.

Forget about Afghanistan and rescue our neighbour.

So many Papua New Guineans want and pray for this!

There is a deep feeling of unfocused anger and resentment throughout our society.

Everywhere there are people who will take to take mindless violence when the opportunity arises.

Car accidents, drunken incidents, civil disturbances and, of course, allegations of sorcery all act as focuses for this anger.

I maintain that sorcery is an evil symptom of a sick society.

I knew of a case of a resistant infection; the young doctor at the hospital said that he could not fix it and it must be caused by "samting bilong ples". This caused the death of an alleged sorceress.

I am 75 years old and sometimes I feel a desire to smash something when I think of the inequalities and inefficiencies as they affect me; I am one of the more fortunate ones and can balance the greater good against lesser evil.

Very many others do not have much to offset the lack of a good life.

And the Scots were a superstitious bunch. One of my Scottish ancestors got burnt to death as a witch as she "read her bible with two pairs of glasses" - so they say.

John, you may call the Anglican faith, "superstition", but I'm sure that somewhere in your upbringing in that faith you were taught that sorcery or, "sanguma", is all based on lies.

It gave you the strength to stand up to the sorcerers of the Purari.

When I was in PNG as a teacher I always taught that if you believe in "sangume/sorcery" it can hurt you but if you don't it wont.

I have my story of standing up to a PNG sorcerer, in front of a whole village, while he was in the middle of working his magic! I won! Ha!

But I attribute my skills to my Christian faith!

PNG people desparately need to find a way out of the hell of belief in sorcery. It is a lie. Satan is the father of all lies. Satan is alive and well on planet earth.

PNG people who become Christians will find the power and the understanding to not believe the lies of sorcery and to stand up to the PNG sorcerers, as you and I have done.

They are tricksters but they can have great power if people believe in them.

Over the years my understanding of the occult religion, found in PNG, has grown.

Although my job in PNG, as a teacher, was to help them to reason, and to find the truth in things, I came to see that their belief in sorcery and the occult was a spiritual thing, something of the soul as well as the mind.

The difference between the mind and the soul is not easily and firmly drawn and my task as a teacher had me drawing on my Christian faith as well as all my university training as a teacher.

An impassioned plea from a man who truly loves PNG.

What you say is true, there are not enough people working together, putting their hands up or putting their heads down to get the job done right.

It manifests itself as simply as, one person has a good idea so the rest leave it up to him to do whatever it takes, no ownership, no aligning, no cooperation.

Everyone just wants to do their own thing.

That's not a bad thing, except when the jobs need a lot more braves than chiefs.

We fail to remember that 'we' are the government.

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