Since my return to Hewa I have been eager to hear if the two judges, who arrived to the Hewa village of Fiy on May 22, made decisions that will help protect the many Hewa women and children who are accused of being possessed by evil spirits that cause sickness and death. Over the weekend some of the believers including Waina and Yanis arrived back to our village and told me the news. Though the village level court sessions did not solve all the outstanding accusations, the legal proceedings provided a platform for a few of the believers to take a bold stand for truth. Below were summaries of two cases I heard about. If your time is limited, please feel free to skip to the second court case.
Court case #1
The Paiela men who are threatening many Hewa women and children have set their sights on the two sisters Kentam and Sopam. Their mother had been murdered as a “witch” and then later their brothers were also killed for the same reason. Since their last brother’s death in 2010, their uncle Iso has helped them move from one place to another in the mountains, hoping to spare their lives. During that time a man named Nelison took both sisters as his wives and since then a few children have been born while they were on the run.
Most of the men that are hungry to kill the two sisters and their children did not consent to come to the court session held in Fiy, but the judges decided to allow Iso to present the cause of his nieces who are currently in hiding. Iso has never shown interest in things of the Bible so he began his argument in the traditional way, with a history lesson to shift blame from the two sisters back to the Paiela people. He said, “The Paiela men keep saying sicknesses and deaths in their villages are caused by my clan, but the fact is it all started when a Paiela woman named Akak gave human flesh disguised as sweet potato to a Hewa woman named Patiyopoya. The Hewa woman unwittingly ate the flesh and immediately became possessed by an evil spirit who caused much sickness and death. Patiyopoya in turn later did the same thing, giving human flesh to another unsuspecting Hewa woman, who in turn did the same thing, which happened again until eventually Kentam and Sopam’s mother became spirit possessed. Subsequently she and her other children were murdered as witches. So you see the reason the two young ladies are now being accused by Paiela men is because much earlier one of their own woman started this whole mess. The Paiela men cannot blame my two nieces when the problem originated with them.”
The two government appointed court officials from Porgera listened to the case and heard the rebuttals of the few Paiela men who were present and after several hours of discussion made this offer to Iso. “We don’t really know what to say about this case but if you pay an additional 200 Kina to us we will write an official document that will make it a crime for anyone to murder the two ladies. If the men choose to ignore the document they will face time in jail.”
The Paiela men who were present were not happy and contested the idea saying they had a right to avenge the deaths of the people of their village and to stop future deaths by killing the women. They said that the court had no business interfering by making it illegal to kill the women.
The court officials stood their ground and said that if the Paiela wished to contest their decision they could later bring the case to a higher level court in Porgera. Iso was pleased with the outcome and purchased the court document in hopes that it will save the lives of his nieces and their children.
So, was this a victory for righteousness and justice? Iso may have bought a little extra time for the sisters and their children but I have lived with the Hewa long enough to know that when a few more people get sick and die, in the Paiela villages, of sicknesses such as malaria or pneumonia, the Paiela men will become enraged and kill the women in an effort to stop future sicknesses and deaths. The court document will not change their belief system and threat of jail will not curb their desire to kill women, and it certainly won’t stop them from using death threats as a way to steal Hewa land.
Court case #2
Waina and Yanis’ account of the next court session provided me with a little more hope for the future safety of Hewa women. Not long ago the Paiela men chose to blame a girl named Loreme for a few recent deaths. When she learned of these accusations she was so afraid of being murdered she deflected their accusations by pointing to a different young lady named Yamene saying, “Everyone knows she is a witch, so quit looking at me.” As pressure increased for Loreme her accusations of Yamene increased until she was leading a, “Get rid of Yamene,” crusade. Many Paiela men decided to join Loreme’s line of logic and even a few Hewa men jumped on board, calling for Yamene’s execution.
When this case was brought before the two judges who had arrived from the town of Porgera, they questioned Loreme as to why she was accusing Yamene. “Did you see an evil spirit?” they asked. “Do you have some sort of proof she is actually possessed?”
Loreme was unable to speak in the presence of the judges. She was so scared by having been pulled into court that after a little stammering and stuttering she got up to leave among ripples of laughter.
The older of the two judges named Evan, spoke up. “Everyone is so eager to murder women and children.”
The group who had gathered to listen became quiet.
“You are acting like ignorant heathens.”
He had everyone’s attention.
“I realize that us Paiela people and you Hewa people share the common practice of killing spirit possessed people, but that was before we started attending church. Earlier you villagers hadn’t heard about God but now that your missionary arrived you need to quit killing your witches. Instead, bring them to church. Jesus didn’t kill people who were possessed by spirits and He didn’t tell His disciples to kill them. Instead he sent the evil spirits into pigs so the possessed people would recover. You need to bring the possessed people to church to let God help them rather than to kill them.”
That’s when the young man Faimpat, who normally resides in our village, jumped to his feet unable to contain himself any longer. “You all act as if you have no understanding,” he said, pointing around to the crowd. “God gave us missionaries to teach us that if we turn to God we don’t have to be afraid of the spirit realm but you have continued to hold stubbornly to your ancestral ways,” he said, his face a deep crimson. “You are bent on killing women like your fathers and grandfathers did, and not one of you speaks up for the truth of God’s Word, only this judge is bold enough to remind you of stories from the Bible. You should be ashamed!”
No one objected and it was clear Faimpat was just getting started. He was still unmarried and because of his youth did not carry much weight among the clans but his zeal for the Lord had not gone unnoticed since he left the witch doctors school in 2008 and surrendered his life to Jesus. “The missionary showed us from Mark five and nine that our ancestors were deeply mistaken when they told us our mothers and sisters were possessed by spirits, and that even if they were possessed we were not to kill them, but instead ask for the power of Jesus to set them free. He started teaching us those things years ago, and yet here we are still killing and planning to kill our own family members. Each one of you men should be deeply ashamed that you listen to these accusations instead of crushing them with the truth that we have now heard from God’s book.”
According to Waina and Yanis, Faimpat continued for quite a while, calling for people to turn from the beliefs of the ancestors in order to save the lives of their own family members. A few of the other believers also joined in, supporting the Biblical concepts that are so foreign to the tribal way of thinking.
In the end, the court officials ruled on behalf of Yamene and demanded that Loreme and her Paiela relatives pay 500 Kina as an apology to Yamene. The judges also said that the Hewa who had joined Loreme in her accusations were to pay four pigs to settle the dispute.
“When you have paid the money and pigs, you are never to blame Yamene for sickness and death, do you hear?” the judge said. “These accusations have to stop here and now.”
Thank you for joining us in prayer for the sake of the Hewa women and children who are being accused of causing sicknesses and deaths. We realize this culture has been held in the grip of Satan’s lies since the beginning of their time and it will take years for the truth of God’s Word to spread to all the Hewa hamlets and villages to help change their way of thinking, but we believe that as you, God’s children, call out to Him to transform hearts, the old strongholds will fall. Please continue to pray that believers like Faimpat, Waina, and Yanis will be bold to speak for righteousness and that God’s Spirit will revolutionize this culture so that instead of the men killing women and children they will become preachers of righteousness who will bring these next generations safely into God’s family.