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07 February 2014


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From an SBS report in 2005.

The chief enters the inner sanctum of the men's house to appease and properly put away the sacred images.

REPORTER: There's your son, he's followed you into politics but he's not really following you into the chiefly life.

SIR MICHAEL SOMARE: No, no, they never grew up here. We only come for - when they come for holidays.

REPORTER: Does that make you sad though? You know, this has been a long line. This is hundreds of years old, probably thousands of years old and it's coming to an end.

SIR MICHAEL SOMARE: Yeah, well, you know, it's sad it's coming to the end because most of these people who are standing around here, most of these, they have forgotten it all. They now speaking pidgin and it has killed the enthusiasm of the tradition.

SIR MICHAEL SOMARE: I'm the custodian of these images. They have spirit, the power with them. For a Westener you think, "Oh, they're just image, what in them?" But if you decide to stay for a couple of days here, you will feel the effect of the movement in your own body.

REPORTER: Should I film these or not film these?

SIR MICHAEL SOMARE: This one you can take it but the one on the top, no.

REPORTER: If you come and you put these away properly then your son will be safe whereas if you don't do it properly...

SIR MICHAEL SOMARE: Yes, that's right, if don't do it properly anything - the evil, evil can curse on him.

REPORTER: Does your son know you've come to do this?

SIR MICHAEL SOMARE: Yes. He knows? Both of them know I'm here to do this because I told them, you know, and I didn't want anything to happen.

REPORTER: They're taking a bit of a risk.

SIR MICHAEL SOMARE: Yes, yes, yes.

It occurred to me that these violent incidents against alleged sorcerers has something in common with the recent destruction of the carvings in the National Parliament and now the crazy idea to do away with the Nokondi symbol in the Eastern Highlands.

The repeal of the 1971 Sorcery Act was made because it was construed that by using sorcery as a defence in assault and murder trials the Act inadvertently recognised the existence of sorcery.

The repeal of the Act was a clear statement by the government that sorcery did not exist.

The destruction of the carvings took this a step further into the realms of culture and spirituality.

Ironically, the moves to destroy Nokondi and the carvings reverses the government's belief that spirituality, including evils like bad sorcery, exist.

By destroying the carvings and removing the Nokondi symbol the perpetrators are acknowledging their belief that these things are real.

You can't have it both ways.

The confused government needs to make it clear what it actually believes.

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