This evening I have received an update from Jessica who together with her husband John Michael partners in the ministry to the Hewa people of PNG. You will recall joining us in praying for some young women who were accused of witchcraft because a large number of Hewa people died in a measles epidemic.
Jessica wrote in her blog (http://tribalwife.blogspot.com.au/) :”I have had a lot of questions about the recent witch events in Hewa, so I wanted to address some of those FAWQ (frequently asked witch questions).” I found that my understanding of the beliefs of the Hewa concerning witchcraft [sanguma] was greatly expanded through reading Jessica’s answers and I expect you will find they help you also.
“Now to answer your questions…
1. How do they decide who is a witch and who isn’t?
Sometimes it is random, sometimes it involves a personal vendetta, but the general idea is that a woman unknowingly ate human flesh disguised as sweet potato or pig meat and she is now possessed by an evil spirit that craves human flesh. That spirit leaves her body at night and eats the insides of other people causing them to become sick and die. The marked woman has no control over this action and can do nothing to stop it. If she is nursing a child, then the child is automatically a witch as well because it has consumed human flesh through the act of nursing.
2. Will the witch who accused the others be punished?
No. She is actually an accused witch herself. She has survived by marking others. If she keeps her commitment to no longer name others as witches then she will probably eventually be killed.
3. Has this ever happened before? Someone taking back the claim that someone else is a witch?
I honestly don’t know, but I have never heard of it happening. Sometimes a person in a village will accuse someone of being a witch and later a shaman or witchdoctor will come in and say that the accusation was wrong. Typically, though, once the seed is planted in the Hewa minds that someone is a witch no amount of recanting can change that. People who have ever even been in question have to live very cautiously.
4. Will this stop the witch killing in Hewa?
No. These events happened in one specific village in one specific area. It will certainly help. It will definitely buy time for these ladies and probably all the others marked as witches. When sickness and death occur in the villages, the fear and drive to do something to stop those deaths becomes overwhelming. People (especially parents) will revert to what they have always believed-what they have been taught since birth- when they feel hopeless and powerless in the face of the illness and death of a loved one.
What will truly help the situation is when inevitably another witch murder occurs, for local law enforcement to carry out legal punishment for all those involved.
And of course the only real solution is for the Gospel to be proclaimed in ALL of Hewa and for the Holy Spirit to convict their hearts that this is wrong…but that will take time…time that these women did/do not have. So… as of now we are so very thankful for the help and intervention of our local government and the other church officials who spent the time and money to come in and defend these innocent women and children.
I also wanted to thank all of you for caring and praying for these ladies and their children. Your prayers are felt and greatly appreciated! Please keep praying for all of Hewa and this specific tragic practice.”
Jessica included some photos of a young woman and her child whom the team were able to rescue from being murder by evacuating her to another tribal group quite a long distance away with whom NTM missionaries are also working. In the incident in January this year it was not possible for the team to enable the accused women and their families to escape to some other location.