The gruesome fate of “witches” in Papua New Guinea

IT BEGAN, as it usually does, with an unexpected death: in this case, of Jenny’s husband, an esteemed village leader in the province of Eastern Highlands, in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Some local boys accused Jenny of having cast a spell to kill him. She says they began beating her over the head with large branches. Her family supported her accusers. She fled into the surrounding fields, eventually making her way to the provincial capital of Goroka, where she has lived for the past three years. “I can never go back to my village,” she says, “and I never want to see my family again.”

Jenny was lucky: she escaped. Every year, hundreds of suspected witches and sorcerers are killed in PNG. Accusers often enlist the aid of a “glass man” (or “glass Mary”): a diviner whom they pay to confirm their accusations. Most of the victims are poor, vulnerable women including widows like Jenny. “If you have a lot of strong sons,” says Charlotte Kakebeeke of Oxfam, a charity, “you won’t be...

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