The widespread and problematic practice of sorcery and witchcraft in Melanesia, as well as related violence and killings, are the focus of a research conference taking place at ANU next Wednesday.
The three-day conference, Sorcery and witchcraft-related killings in Melanesia, brings together researchers, human-rights activists, policy-makers, and victims of violence to develop solutions to the issue. The conference will also feature human rights defenders working with Oxfam International to stop sorcery-related violence in Papua New Guinea.
Conference co-convenor Dr Miranda Forsyth from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific said that belief in and practice of sorcery and witchcraft was pervasive in the region and impacted on many different areas of life in Melanesian countries like PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
“For example, these beliefs and practices impede economic development, because people are often afraid to be too successful because there are then accused of sorcery,” she said.
“They also impact on understandings of health as people are not inclined to seek medical assistance because they attribute illness to sorcery. They also lead to increased crime, because women or men who are accused of sorcery are attacked by the population who think that this is the only way to stop a misfortune that has fallen upon their community.”
Colleague and anthropologist Dr Richard Eves said the conference aimed at starting a conversation on how to best deal with the impact of sorcery and witchcraft.
“We are really keen to start moving towards developing appropriate interventions – whether they are legal, cultural, or educational – that we can make to address this issue,” he said.
“While beliefs about sorcery and witchcraft are widespread in the region, the issue of people being attacked is actually less common.
“The fact that some cultures and societies in the region don’t actually engage in those horrific acts, opens the question of why. Therefore, we can start thinking about what factors inhibit people going down the path of violence to solve these issues.”
“Sorcery requires a whole range of regulatory responses,” added Dr Forsyth. “Although the focus in the media at the moment is on the killing of women in PNG, in particularly horrible ways, the problem is much broader than that.
“As well as discussing some of these broader problems, people will also present papers showing how some of these issues have been dealt with by various NGOs, community groups, churches, and also by the state. We hope that we are able to learn some lessons that might benefit the region more broadly.”
Sorcery and witchcraft-related killings in Melanesia is hosted by the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia program and Regulatory Institutions Network in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.