The belief in black magic revives from ancient times with an incredible outbreak of violence in Papua New Guinea.
Ancient beliefs in sorcery or Sanguma are being catapulted into the modern age, driving incredible outbreaks of violence against women in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. If something unwanted or inexplicable occurs, the village women are commonly accused of committing black magic or of being a witch. They will be outcast from their homes, attacked and often killed.
These are not secret crimes. An outraged mob will torture the accused women with archaic tools to death in public while no one is willing to help, and the perpetrators will mostly not be sentenced. Visiting the most remote areas I talked to victims, survivors, offenders, police men, surviving dependents, researchers, human right defenders and people trying to help bring a resolution to this cyclical violence. I visited the torturing sites, the graves, the funeral piles and the burnt down property. I took pictures and short interviews. My photo essay offers nuance and enquiry into a complex and controversial topic.
Papua New Guinea is one of the most inaccessible places in the world. For centuries the remote highlands were thought to be uninhabited. It was as recent as 80 years ago that some communities encountered the outside world for the first time. There are still communities expected to be uncontacted today. Living an indigenous life with its own social order, and divided from modern society by their geographical landscape, the societies in the highlands were enmeshed in a culture of sustained belief in ghosts and black magic.
Globalized modernism intruded abruptly. Global legal and political systems and regulations as well as Christianity clashed with the structures that underpinned the lives of those Papua New Guinea tribes. Lack of employment and education drove an increase of alcohol and drugs and one consequence was an increase of violence particularly against women. The phenomenon in the increase of sorcery related violence is a very complex issue and has even more factors who contribute to the accusations.
All images and text © Kristina Steiner
By Kristina Steiner
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