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Woman Burned Alive For Sorcery in Papua New Guinea: What If They Were Muslim?

None of the reports that I have come across mention the religion of the perpetrators of this chilling and horrific crime in Papua New Guinea. (h/t: JD):

Woman burned alive for ‘sorcery’ in Papua New Guinea


A woman has been tortured and burned alive in Papua New Guinea after being accused of using sorcery to kill a young boy, local media report.

The woman, a mother aged 20 named as Kepari Leniata, was stripped, tied up and doused in petrol by the boy’s relatives in Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands, said the National newspaper.

She was then thrown onto a fire in front of hundreds of people.

Police and firefighters were unable to intervene, the paper said.

The Post Courier newspaper said they had been outnumbered by the crowd and chased away. Both newspapers published graphic photos of the incident on their front pages.

Provincial police commander Supt Kaiglo Ambane told the National that police were treating the case as murder and would arrest those responsible.

In parts of the Pacific nation deaths and mysterious illnesses are sometimes blamed on suspected sorcerers. Several reports have emerged in recent years of accused people, usually women, being killed.

In 2009, after a string of such killings, the chairman of PNG’s Constitutional Review and Law Reform Commission said defendants were using accusations of witchcraft as an excuse to kill people, and called for tougher legislation to tackle the issue.

Local Christian bishop David Piso told the National that sorcery-related killings were a growing problem, and urged the government “to come up with a law to stop such practice”.

The US embassy in the capital, Port Moresby, condemned the killing as a “brutal murder”, the AFP news agency reports, and evidence of “pervasive gender-based violence” in Papua New Guinea.

“There is no possible justification for this sort of violence. We hope that appropriate resources are devoted to identifying, prosecuting, and punishing those responsible for Ms Leniata’s murder.”

There is more descriptive report of this horrific act on TIME magazine’s website:

A woman accused of sorcery was tortured, burned and set on fire on Wednesday in Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea, reports Australia’s Courier Mail.

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  • Reynardine

    Actually, Dr. Robbins was quite clear that the Inquisition was far more than the Spanish Inquisition, and that the latter was far more concerned with “heretics” than with witches; the worst abuses against women occurred in areas now counted as parts of Germany and France. Kramer and Sprenger were misogynistic as a matter of principle; they construed “femina” (woman) to come from “fe minus” (lacking in faith), a faith that postulated that God despised women, and therefore that women would commit the heresy of despising God, instead of submitting to deserved abuse. Women were even more roundly despised by Protestants, who rejected Mary as anything more than a vessel, and though Protestant clergymen were allowed to inseminate their lawful wedded vessels, this was understood to be a dull and joyless business conducted with dull and joyless “helpmeets”. Consequently, Catholic and Protestant clergy alike obsessed endlessly about the *wonderful* sex lush young witches were supposed to be having with the Devil. The same obsession held true in Salem, and we note that Dominionists are obsessed with the subject today, even though they now appear to be fantasizing about the *wonderful* sex that lush young men are having with each other at the Devil’s prompting.

  • Zakariya Ali Sher

    Well, to be fair the Inquisition and the witch trials are two different things. If you’re talking about the Spanish Inquisition, it was mostly about ensuring Catholic hegemony (and, consequently, persecuting Jews and Muslims, and more broadly anything the Church deemed too ‘heretical’). This isn’t to say that the Inquisition didn’t go after perceived ‘witches.’ In fact, the Inquisition was heavily involved in the Basque witch trials of early 17th century.

    However, some of the worst witch hunts occurred in Protestant countries, where the religious authority was much less organized. In fact, in most Protestant countries the anti-witchcraft laws were a mixture of secular and religious authority. Don’t forget that some of the most infamous witch trials occurred under James VI in Britain and Christian IV in Denmark (not to mention the Puritan communities in the New World). All Protestants, and thus, not celibate. This isn’t to say that they necessarily had the healthiest ideas on sex though. The Calvinists in particular had some… issues with both women and the act of sex (and, arguably, the Catholic Church’s ambivalence towards the issue was inherited by all Protestant Churches in Europe).

    You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the Malleus Maleficarum yet. This is because that particular book was (ironically) used by witch hunters on both sides of the Reformation. Kramer and Sprenger were both Catholic clergymen, and the book itself was first published in 1487, before Luther came out with his 95 theses and kicked off the Reformation. Nonetheless, because of the miracle of the printing press, the Malleus Maleficarum spread widely across Europe and by the time of the Reformation, it had firmly established the popular idea of what exactly constituted witchcraft. Thus, both Catholics and Protestants turned the book. Indeed, these same ideas survive today in popular culture.

    That being said, the witch trial phenomena is fascinating and I feel compelled to check out that book. One that I would heartily recommend is Carlo Ginzburg’s ‘Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath.’ I think there is much work to be done in linking the European witch craze of the early modern era (which peaked in the 17th century; fairly recently by historic standards) with witch crazes in modern sub-Saharan Africa (which, while based on indigenous African notions of witchcraft, are ironically bolstered by Protestant and Evangelical missionaries today). Of course, such studies would require a much more critical review of Western culture and identity, which I’m not sure most academics would be all that comfortable with.

  • mindy1

    *Sigh* I thought we were the CIVILIZED species :(

  • Reynardine

    At the age of sixteen, I bought, remaindered, a copy of Rossell Hope Robbins’ “Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology”. It was actually a detailed and graphic ecyclopedia of the Inquisition. Dr. Robbins made no bones about where he thought it came from: supposedly celibate old men who craved and loathed women even as they held them in utter contempt, and secondarily, witnesses a colleague succinctly described as “purse-lipped biddies” who were out to destroy any woman who might be getting away with something they couldn’t. Add to that the hysterical adolescents of both sexes, troubled by urges deemed cardinal and capital sins by the superstitious, puritanical society around them…Inquisition. I think it’s the same thing behind witch hunts everywhere, including Papua New Guinea.

  • Zakariya Ali Sher

    It bears mentioning that this is not a Christian murder, but rather a murder that the perpetrators have tried to justify through traditional, pre-existing Melanesian beliefs in witchcraft, which have been bolster or reinforced through Christianity. Just as people who murder widows in Rajasthan by forcing them to jump on the funeral pyre seek to justify their actions through Hindu law, or terrorists who blow themselves up and kill innocent people on the streets of Baghdad, Kabul or Jerusalem seek to justify their crimes through the lens of Islam.

    The sad fact is that misogyny, violence and ethnic prejudices exist in many different forms, and in many different cultures. In truth, Islam (and Christianity, and Buddhism, and many other religious traditions) have sought to stamp out this sort of behavior… often unsuccessfully. Violence against women in the Middle East, for instance, owes far more to pre-Islamic notions of ‘honour’ and ‘manhood’ than anything. Unfortunately, you’ll never see the mainstream media acknowledge that. It’s far easier to paint us Muslims as the exotic ‘other,’ and blame our entire culture for the actions of a few bigots and misogynists.

    Just as the media will never blame Western culture for white Protestant men who beat or murder their wives, so too will this act of violence halfway across the world go mostly unnoticed. It will be a five second blurb at best, overshadowed by the Grammy’s. If it was a (nominally) Muslim suicide bomber, people like Geller and Spencer would immediately seize up on it as more ‘proof’ that all Muslims are evil. As is, I doubt Geller or her followers will even acknowledge them as ‘Christian’ in the first place. As I’ve said many times before, they tend to view ‘Christian’ as synonymous with ‘white’ and ‘Western European/North American,’ while ignoring that some of the biggest and fastest growing Christian populations are in the developing world.

    Honestly, I feel bad for this woman, and for her family, and for her entire village. We’ve seen these sorts of witch crazes in sub-Saharan Africa, India, Southeast Asia and elsewhere. It’s extremely difficult for the police to prosecute such cases, just as with the aforementioned spousal murders and ‘honour killings.’ It’s a bad situation all around, and one the people of New Guinea don’t deserve.

  • Tanveer Khan

    Crap. Burnt alive?

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