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Arise, Skeptics in Papua New Guinea!

Posted: Wed, February 20, 2013 | By: Leo Igwe

This is a wake up call to skeptically-minded people in Papua New Guinea. This is a call to action - a call to become involved in transforming your society; a call to become visible, to discard the garb of passivity and anonymity and don the robe of social engagement. 

From recent news reports, there is a tendency to think that PNG is a nation of Stone Agers, of barbaric people who are trapped in the past, of unrepentant witch believers and blind adherents to blind magic and sorcery. 

Of course the scale of murders and abuses in the country is appalling and horrifying. It indicates the prevalence of belief in the occult. But sorcery-related abuse is not unknown in human history or in other parts of the world.

Like other societies in the world, PNG is diverse, comprising people who entertain different opinions and views. Surely all Papua New Guineans do not profess the same beliefs in the same ways.

PNG may be dominantly Christian, or witch-believing, but there are hierarchies of belief and unbelief. There are those who doubt, question or disbelieve, although they may not doubt or question aloud or be organised or visible in the country’s demography. The doubters and disbelievers in PNG exist and constitute part of the population.  

I am strongly persuaded that there are people in Papua New Guinea who do not believe in sorcery or in the alleged powers of the occult and the supernatural. There are people in Papua New Guinea who are ashamed of the wave of sorcery -related murders, and the underlying mindset. There are Papua New Guineans who think that such misconceptions and killings should not be associated with the PNG of the 21st century. There are rationally minded people in the country. There are critical thinkers, philosophers, scientifically tempered persons who regard sorcery as superstition, as lacking any basis in reason, science and common sense. 

20-year-old Kepari Leniata was burned alive last week in New Guinea, for
20-year-old Kepari Leniata was burned alive last week in New Guinea, for “witchcraft”

These Enlightenment-minded individuals are only a few - an invisible minority - but they do exist, in PNG. There are people in Papua New Guinea who are skeptical about sorcery-related claims, suspicious or doubtful of allegations of witchcraft and malevolent magic.

So, will the skeptics in PNG now stand up? Cecause now is the time to be counted, to make your voices heard. Now is the time to apply skeptics’ rational compassion to dispelling the looming Dark Age in the country. Now is the time to put the skeptical resource at the country’s disposal as it grapples with the problem of puripuri.

Ending sorcery-related murder in PNG requires not only the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators and the protection of the rights of women, it also requires a change of mindset - reorienting the mentality of the people. Sorcery is ‘a problem of the mind’ based on a mentality that imputes magical agency on any instance of evil or misfortune. And magical agency evokes panic, anger and revenge sentiments. 

Proactive skepticism is needed to help the people of PNG realize their mistaken ideas, notions, associations and imputations. It will help bring an end to witch hunts and other superstition related abuses in the country.

Arise, skeptics in Papua New Guinea!


Hi Leo - good article.  I am currently based in PNG, and am a friend of the JREF.  If you’d like to know more about what is happening here on the ground, do drop me a line.

By Oke Millett on Feb 20, 2013 at 12:37pm

A most timely article, Leo. Wouldn’t it be great for some skeptics groups to start up in PNG? I am sure they would be most welcome to attend our conferences in Australia.

By Tim Harding on Feb 21, 2013 at 3:34am

Arise, skeptics in PNG—and carry a fire extinguisher with you at all times…

By Alan Brooks on Feb 28, 2013 at 8:33am

I shall be on Manus Is for a month Aug4-Sept 5 with the refugee centre, are there any skeptic minded people there?

By BRYAN WALPOLE on Apr 07, 2013 at 10:40pm

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