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article imageWitch hunts in Papua New Guinea turn fatal

By Aditi Chengappa     May 10, 2009 in World
After a local man dies in a car accident, witch hunts begin in Papua New Guinea, claiming innocent lives of women believed to be witches.
In Papua New Guinea, a local man died after a car accident, and suspicions arose in this village that he had been bewitched or cursed by sorcerers.
The Independent reports in the village of Koge, Papua New Guinea, residents watched mercilessly as Julianna Gene and Kopaku Konia were dragged from their homes, hung on trees and tortured for several hours with bush knives. The villagers felt they deserved to die as they were witches, and no one stepped forward to help.
"They used their powers to bewitch a man to death", said Kingsley Sinemane, a community leader. "We had to get rid of them, as they could have killed others. We had to protect our village."
Where homes stood is now only a black, charred, barren land. The socio-emotional stigma of being a witch is so high that almost 30 of the victims's relatives were forced out of the village. They had no were to flee as they were already labelled as witches, and are now living in slums in the nearest town.
The first prominent witch trials took place in Salem. In 1962 in the village of Salem, Betty Parris, 9, and Abigail Williams, 11, daughter and niece of Revered Parris respectively, began to experience fits which were apparently "beyond the power of Epileptic fits or natural disease to effect" by John Hale, minister in the nearby Beverly.
The girls even complained of supposedly feeling like they were being pricked by pins. And a doctor could find no physical evidence of the illness. When other women in the village began to exhibit similar behaviour, sorcery, witchcraft and black magic were suspected. And so the witch trials began.
Centuries later, in Papua New Guinea, the horrifying trend seems to continue, the increase in witch-hunt deaths has prompted the government to launch a parliamentary commission of inquiry which aims to a tougher law.
Joe Mek Teine, the chairman of the nation's law reform commission, has publicly declared that sorcery killings are "getting out of hand".
Witch hunts mostly took place in the Highlands, the mountainious interior that spoke of centuries of tribal wars and blood shed. It was only in the 1930s that some of the ethinic groups established contact with the outside world. Though there are no official statistics on sorcery killings, more than 50 were reported in the Highlands last year.
"Umame Gamano survived a witch hunt after she was accused of causing her husband's death. One of her daughters helped her to escape a baying mob armed with bush knives after she had been hauled before a community gathering at which villagers urged her to confess to being a witch. Ms Umame fled the village, leaving her children behind and has not seen them since the attack that happened over a year ago. Her attackers were her own relatives and have threatened to kill her children if they visit her.
"I don't know why they think I'm a witch and I don't understand why they think I killed my husband," she said. "I loved him so much."
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