Western legal responses to sorcery in colonial PNG

In this talk, Mel Keenan from Monash University examines the legal response made by Anglo-Administrators in colonial Papua New Guinea.

Keenan argues that administrators applied the imported common law framework to the issue of sorcery- related crime. Colonial administrators did make efforts to establish how sorcery operated to maintain social equilibrium within tribal groups by reference to the evolving discipline of anthropology.

However, this recognition was effectively limited to the sentencing process, in that sentences were relatively light for murders arising from the sincere belief that the victim was a sorcerer. This talk considers whether the practice of this weak legal pluralism contributed to what would appear to be the contemporary inadequacy of the Sorcery Act 1971.

This podcast is from the landmark Sorcery and witchcraft-related killings conference hosted by the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific’s State, Society and Governance and Melanesia program and Regulatory Institutions Network on 5-7 June 2013.   



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