Stories of "Sanguma" in PNG

Communities in Papua New Guinea destroyed by accusations. Three stories, one of a young girl. — Only in English.

Fr. Philip Gibbs reports on accusations of witchcraft in Papua New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea

Some people in Papua New Guinea are questioning whether sanguma is real. I have witnessed or been closely associated with many cases of accusations of sanguma in the PNG Highlands. Let me give examples of just three of the many and the reader can decide whether they are studies of good or evil and how real they are.

Mendaiwan's Story

Mendaiwan was accused along with another woman when after a feast a man got ill and died. Men accused and tortured them with heated bush knives and steel rods, demanding to know where the women had put the dead man’s heart. One woman died from the assault, but Mendaiwan managed to escape during the night. The next morning, she was able to alert a relative who took her to a mission hospital in another province. She was eight months pregnant and the baby was born dead the next day, having died from burns suffered while in the mother’s uterus. Mendaiwan was discharged from hospital several months afterwards, still professing her innocence.

Lapowan's Story

Lapowan was accused of sanguma after a young man fell unconscious. She was stripped naked and tied to a piece of machinery and tortured with hot irons to every part of her body. Despite the torture and demands that she confess that she is a sanguma, she maintained her innocence. She managed to escape and to get to a mission hospital where the sisters treated her for over a month. The young man, whose heart she was supposed to have taken and eaten, recovered, and her assailants claim that the torture must have forced her to put the heart back. She continues to profess her innocence, but wherever she goes people point to her and hide their children lest she “eat” them. She lives in fear of being accused again.

Tepowan is six years old. Men heated bush knives in the fire and applied them to the child’s body trying to get her to confess.

Tepowan's Story

Tepowan is six years old. She is the daughter of Angeline who was accused of sanguma and tortured and burned alive before a crowd in Mount Hagen in 2013. Just last week, one of Tepowan’s young playmates got sick and someone blamed it on young Tepowan accusing her of sanguma inherited from her mother. Men heated bush knives in the fire and applied them to the child’s body trying to get her to confess that she is a sanguma. Fortunately, she was rescued and is now recovering in a mission hospital.

Was she really a sanguma? I don’t think so. The men regarded the child as possessed by evil, but surely the reality of evil in that case lies in the beliefs and actions of her male accusers.


I could give many other examples, but I trust this is sufficient to raise serious questions about the “reality” of sanguma in terms of a creature or evil spirit possessing women who then kill and eat people.

I am aware that some accused do confess under the pain of torture, but I question the truth of such confessions under torture and I maintain that the reality of the evil of sanguma is in the pain of torture and death and betrayal as a result of false accusation.

In parts of the PNG Highlands this is a reality facing our mothers, sisters and daughters when the hysteria of sanguma breaks out in a community, all good sense is lost, and innocent people get accused.

All of us, men and women must work together to do everything possible to eliminate this very real evil that is destroying the peace and security of our communities.

Fr. Philip Gibbs has been a priest with the Societas Verbi Divini in Papua New Guinea for 45 years, mostly in the Highlands.

This article reposted from < >, used with permission.

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04 Sep

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