Papua New Guinea Law Reform Commission
LAW REFORM COMMISSION
OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA
THE EFFECTS OF SORCERY IN KILENGE,
WEST NEW BRITAIN PROVINCE
OCCASIONAL PAPER NO. 11
DEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY
The Law Reform Commission of Papua New Guinea was established by the Law Reform Commission Act 1975 and began functioning in May, 1975.
The Commissioners are:-
William Kaputin - Chairman
Francis Iramu - Deputy Chairman
Tamo Diro - Commissioner
Joseph Nombri Commissioner
Sam Nuakona Commissioner
Alexis Sarei – Commissioner
Samson Kaipu is Secretary to the Commission.
The Commission's office is on the 2nd Floor of the Development Bank Building in Waigani. The postal address of the Commission is:-
Law Reform Commission,
P.O. Wards Strip,
PAPUA NEW GUINEA.
From March 1977 to January 1978 my wife and I lived in Ongaia, the central Kilenge village on the coastal tip of northwest New Britain. We were there with two goals in mind: l), to do general ethnographic research with the Kilenge; and 2), to examine the effects of social change in the area. As part of the second goal, we wanted to study how sorcery beliefs had changed with the times, to find out if and in what manner the influence of the mission and the government had affected people's beliefs in and about sorcery.
The Sorcery Act of 1971 divides sorcery practices into two kinds, “good” and “evil”. Although the Kilenge have one general term to refer to all kinds of sorcery, navorau, they make the same kind of practical distinction as does the Sorcery Act. We found a still- functioning system of beliefs and practices of “good” or beneficial sorcery. People use spells and magical substances to increase the fertility of their gardens, give themselves extra strength for especially hard tasks, make heavy burdens lighter to carry, make public speaking easier and more convincing, in short to ensure success in various kinds of undertakings. Beneficial sorcery or magic is still firmly, rooted in Kilenge culture, although young people seem to be forsaking some of this knowledge.
On the other hand, after spending six months in Kilenge, we were quite convinced that homicidal or "evil" sorcery was truly something of the past. The Kilenge claimed that their parents and grandparents had given up the practice of sorcery even before missionisation in the early 1930's. Most adults knew something about homicidal sorcery, could describe in general terms how to go about sorcerising someone, and usually claimed that they did not believe in it. True, we had attended one sorcery accusation, but the accusation was about the threatened use of sorcery, and there was little consensus as to whether or not the accused actually had power. Also, we heard oblique references to another threat of sorcery, but general credence in this threat appeared to be absent. Beliefs in evil sorcery were generally stronger among old people than among younger ones, but several young men did believe that sorcery was something "real", while some old men pooh-poohed the idea. The only time that the threat of sorcery was taken seriously was when people from Lolo, the bush area bordering Kilenge, visited Kilenge villages. We had heard some fragmentary stories about the former paramount luluai's use of sorcery to intimidate opponents, but in general people did not volunteer too much information on the topic. Nor, may I add, did we ask too many questions: the entire topic of homicidal sorcery did not seem too profitable a line of inquiry. Had we left the field then, I 'm sure that I could have summarized all the relevant material on Kilenge sorcery in one or two pages.
Suddenly, the world changed. Someone got sick, and the disease was thought to be sorcery induced. For the next month, we spent at least 50% of our working time delving into the topic of sorcery, both relating to the specific case on hand and to the wider topic of sorcery in general. People recounted to us numerous cases of sorcery deaths, and readily spoke about the former paramount luluai's involvement with sorcery and sorcerers. The threat, and actuality, of sorcery as a means of social control in Kilenge life became clear to us. Not so clear, but equally as important, was the devastating effect that sorcery beliefs seem to have on local leadership in the Kilenge villages. In this paper, I will describe Kilenge beliefs about and in sorcery, and then examine the impact of those beliefs and practices on the social, political and economic development of the villages.
Beliefs About Sorcery and Sorcerers
Kilenge beliefs about sorcery per-se do not form a coherent or logically articulated system. This stems from the fact that there are now two systems of sorcery operative in the Kilenge area. The first system is the remnants of the traditional Kilenge-Lolo sorcery system. Very little of this esoteric knowledge survives. One informant, a renowned Lolo sorcerer, said that most of this knowledge was lost when a smallpox epidemic swept through the area some 60 or 70 years ago. Kilenge informants maintained that the knowledge was voluntarily abandoned during the process of missionisation. While most of the techniques of traditional Kilenge-Lolo sorcery are thus a thing of the past, Kilenge reactions to sorcery are still more or less based on this system, an important premise of which is that only the sorcerer who actually sorcerised someone is capable of removing the sorcery.
The second system is not really one system in and of itself. It is composed of sorcery techniques which have been purchased from other people of New Britain (mainly the south coast Mengen, and Tolai, both reputed to have very powerful sorcery), with a smattering of knowledge purchased from the New Guinea mainland. This imported sorcery differs from indigenous sorcery in that: 1), it is initially purchased rather than inherited; and 2), anyone who has the ability to cure and who recognizes the symptoms may remove the sorcery from the victim.
The presence of the two systems of techniques and related beliefs alters the sorcerer/victim/accuser relationship, and introduces
a certain flexibility of belief. In former times, if a man was ill and the illness adduced to sorcery, his relatives would ask around
the area to determine who was causing the illness. If a known sorcerer said that he wasn't but suggested the seekers try another sorcerer, they were virtually certain that the person suggested to them was, in truth, the sorcerer involved. They would then ask him. In most cases, unless the client had strictly
forbidden it, the sorcerer would admit his responsibility and then take actions to effect a cure, for which he would receive compensation
in traditional valuables (e.g. , pigs, Siassi bowls, shell money, etc.).
If the sorcerer denied responsibility, the seekers would go to a third sorcerer and ask him. If this third sorcerer suggested they ask the second sorcerer, then they knew for certain who was responsible. Sorcerers could identify one another’s handiwork because each sorcerer knew only one type of sorcery with specific symptoms. Once a "hidden" sorcerer was identified, the relatives of the victim could confront him and demand a cure, or hire a sorcerer of their own to work counter-sorcery on the initial sorcerer. If the victim was already dead, the surviving relatives could have the sorcerer attacked with sorcery, or they could physically attack and kill him with spears and clubs.
Today the situation is much different. If someone's illness is ascribed to sorcery, his relatives will try to find out who is responsible. They ask around, but don' t make the round of sorcerers as they would have before. Instead, if they cannot ascertain who is the responsible party, they will hire a renowned sorcerer and curer to remove the illness. Initially, then, they are guided by traditional beliefs which emphasize the sorcerer/victim/accuser relationship: a settling of differences in a face-to-face manner by a payment of compensation to the sorcerer for the removal of the sorcery. Not only is the physical disease being cured: by dealing with the sorcerer responsible, confronting him and paying him compensation, the victim's relatives are also healing the social discord and divisiveness which brought about the sorcery attack. They find out why the sorcerer has done what he did, how he has been offended by the victim, and they try to heal this broken social relationship. If attempts at finding the sorcerer fail, emphasis is changed to effecting a cure of the sick person by anyone who has the competence. Who has worked sorcery on the victim, and why is not clearly determined by an admission of guilt by the sorcerer, and whatever perceived wrong induced the attack is still unknown and unsettled and hence liable to be used as the basis of another sorcery attack in the future. The social breech has not been corrected.
Although we did not witness any deaths caused by sorcery, I would venture to say that the different belief systems have not caused any major changes in the behaviour of the victim's relatives. If they wish revenge they would have to, as in tines past, identify the sorcerer and take the appropriate measures, usually hiring another sorcerer to seek retaliation. Now they no longer have the option of killing the sorcerer outright with spears, but this is a product of government law than different sorcery belief systems.
Currently, most sorcery attacks are thought to come from the Lolo. Although people speak of Bariai sorcery, in none of the cases that we recorded regarding Kilenge victims was the attack ascribed to a Bariai sorcerer. Traditionally, the Lolo did not sorcerise the Kilenge. Each Kilenge hamlet or men's house probably had its own sorcerer, a navorau tame (master sorcerer), who looked after the affairs of the group and the welfare of the members. They tried sorcery against one another, and sometimes the sorcerers of several hamlets united against a common victim. All the sorcerers of a hamlet cluster or village would meet to approve the sorcery death of someone within that cluster: if one or more sorcerers objected, the victim was not attacked. People maintain that sorcery became prevalent only after pacification, so it is impossible to tell if these sorcerer cabals existed before the coming of the Germans. When the Kilenge could no longer settle their hamlet and village disputes with spears, they came to rely on sorcery. Only after they gave up their own sorcery did the Kilenge start going as clients to Lolo sorcerers, and from this developed the Lolo reputation as sorcerers.
It is commonly believed that sorcerers perpetrate their evils at night. In the dark hours, they steal into a village to plant sorcerised materials under a man's house-ladder or bed, or collect a man's (or woman's) personal debris. Because of this, people regard anyone walking about at night without a light to guide their way and identify their face as being up to no good. But sorcerers also do part of their work during the daylight hours: they can collect materials for sorcery then, or attack a victim from a hidden vantage point. Sometimes, the sorcerer may leave his “calling card”. An inexplicable footprint made near a house during the night, or a stone thrown on the roof, is such a mark. These are signs that someone has been sorcerised. By the same token, a sorcerer may not provide his victim with any knowledge of the attack: the victim only finds out when he sickens and dies. The "calling card" approach to sorcery is definitely part of the traditional sorcery system. By informing the victim that he has been sorcerised, the sorcerer allows him the opportunity to seek out the aggressor, resolve the dispute, and pay compensation. The "hidden sorcerer" idea seems to have come in with the outside sorcery techniques, and puts up a barrier to the resolution of inter-personal conflict f the sorcerer remains unknown, the best that the victim can hope for is a physical cure, with the ultimate cause of the sorcery remaining unfathomable.
Sorcerers, in times both present and past, are always men. We have no cases mentioning women sorcerers, and people denied that women ever were sorcerers although they could be used as sorcerers' aides to obtain personal leavings of the intended victim. For this reason, it is a commonly accepted fact of life that one should marry someone to whom he is 'close' - a classificatory sister beyond the second cousin range. By marrying a 'close' person a man not only protects himself from his wife aiding sorcerers, but he also gains in-laws with whom he is acquainted and probably already related to. He is then protected from sorcery attacks by his affines. A man with 'strangers' as affines always runs the danger of seeing them at a ceremony, where they could get close to him and dip into his basket to remove some personal object for use in sorcery.
Anyone may be the victim of sorcery: man, woman or child. Children become victims not because of what they have done, but because of what has come before them. Thus, a man wishing revenge on someone may have his child sorcerised. The death of a child inflicts deep pain and grief on his parents. In some cases where a sorcerer fears retaliation for some previous act, he will sorcerise a child as a warning, the message to the child's parents being, "This is what will happen to you if you seek revenge for what I did before". The sorcerer may also kill the child of a man he has sorcerised, in an attempt to stave off any revenge in the years to come. In one case on record, two children were sorcerised because of a revenge feud that had started at least two generations before. The informant, a survivor of the feud, did not know why the feud was started, or who was involved, “My grandmother refused to tell me, because she did not want the feud to continue. She felt that if I knew the details, eventually I would seek revenge and continue the killing.”
Sometimes a person is the inadvertent victim of sorcery: the sorcerer "misses" his target and hits someone else. In one case the sorcerer missed twice, first hitting the younger brother, and then the younger sister, of his intended victim. In both instances, after treatment at the local mission hospital, the symptoms of the disease disappeared and the patients recovered. Some people ascribed this to the fact that the sorcerer realized he had "hit" the wrong person, and removed the sorcery. This belief indicates to me that the Kilenge see sorcery as highly personalized. Not any victim or member of an offender's family will do: the sorcery is directed at one specific person. If someone other than the offender dies, and the death is diagnosed as being sorcery induced, then the sorcerer did this on purpose, and the offender might live in fear of a later attack on himself.
Our case material shows that there are several kinds of offensive actions that can bring on sorcery attacks. In particular, disputes over ground ownership and unpaid debts might lead to sorcery, There are a variety of other causes. People are sorcerised because they use ceremonial marks or personal names to which they are not entitled, and refuse to pay compensation for the privilege of using them. Another proximal cause of sorcery is rape and/or adultery. In the case of rape, the husband or father of the victimized woman would work sorcery against the offender, either by himself or by hiring a sorcerer. With adultery, the offended person might seek retribution against either or both of the parties involved. Killing someone else’s pig is also cited as a cause of sorcery. In one detailed case history, a man inadvertently killed a pig that was not his own. The pig's owner was later seen fraternizing with a sorcerer, and shortly thereafter the offender's son died in peculiar circumstances. The offender let the matter rest there, not wanting to start a large-scale and long-lasting revenge feud.
Food provides a focal point for sorcery causes. Selfishness with food was noted as a reason why people died of sorcery, but no further explanation was given. If people complained about the quantity and quality of food distributed at a ceremonial cycle performance, and if the sponsor overheard the complaint, the people complaining were open to sorcery attacks. Today, young men are warned against making such complaints whenever they receive food in another village, but they are told that the consequences will be in terms of pig debts, rather than sorcery deaths.
Jealousy of success is another oft-cited reason for sorcery. Today, this jealousy and fear of sorcery may act as a brake on village development people fear that if they are successful in starting a business alone or with a small group, other people will be jealous and sorcerise them. Success also proved to be a liability for a traditional leader, a natavolo. If a natavolo was perceived by his fellow natavolo as being too successful, they would fear his competition and sorcerise him. Success for the natavolo had to be moderate.
Sometimes, at least in the past, sorcery was due to the sheer meanness of a person. Two generations ago, a villager became mad when a German lay mission Brother hid his basket as a joke. A day or two later the villager procured the butt of a cigarette used by the Brother, and proceeded to sorcerise it. A short time later the Brother died, and everyone in the village ascribed his death to this sorcery.
People believe that minor disputes and anger, if not brought out into the open, will stay within a man and when sufficient anger and cause has been built up, will result in the man sorcerising the object of his anger. Because of this, there is a social premium put on airing disputes in public so that they may be dissipated. Not surprisingly, though, this overt evidence of hostility may be used against a person later on, when people are trying to diagnose the cause of a particular act of sorcery. When men meet to assign the blame, the finger will be pointed at known hostile persons, i.e., those people who have aired their grievances.
I have frequently used the term ‘proximal’ when referring to causes of sorcery. This is because the 'ultimate' cause may actually be unknown. Although the Kilenge traditionally had ways of settling grievances, and today say that airing disputes dissipates them, they contend that men don't forget wrongs against them and that a list of wrongs and offences will build up over a lifetime. The pattern of disputes and arguments that we witnessed confirms this. Although a dispute will be triggered by a single event or incident, it is rapidly fuelled by mention of old grievances between the disputing parties, grievances which had supposedly been settled long ago. Thus, what appears to be the proximal cause of a sorcery incident may only be the triggering mechanism, the tip of the iceberg: years, and sometimes decades, of bickering and feuding lay beneath the surface. The ultimate cause of a sorcery incident can thus be the sum total of several minor incidents and causes distributed over time.
The causes of sorcery today are much the same as the causes of warfare in traditional times, and sorcery is used in a retaliatory manner in much the same way as warfare was. The major difference between the two is that warfare was a group undertaking, while sorcery revenge is usually a personal undertaking. It is the personal, rather than group, nature of sorcery which, I believe, has led some people to classify sorcery as illegitimate. But the Kilenge data demonstrate, at least for this particular society, that the socially sanctioned causes of warfare are the same as the causes of sorcery and that sorcery is not necessarily 'illegitimate'. The Kilenge regard sorcery as being legitimate or illegitimate based on the causes of the sorcery and their own personal stance in the affair: they evaluate sorcery in terms of whether the sorcerer and his client were justified or unjustified in taking the action they did, and this in turn is conditioned by their relationships with the sorcerer and/or victim. Thus, if some action against a person or group would have resulted in warfare in pre-pacification days, sorcery as retaliation may be considered a justified or legitimate response by those persons so offended. On the other hand, sorcery with no apparent justification, such as killing a man to obtain his wife, is considered illegitimate. In the old times, it would have caused warfare between groups. Today, it can result in sorcery revenge, which is seen by the society as being justified because of the initial unjustified attack.
Not all deaths and illnesses in Kilenge are ascribed to sorcery. Only a few deaths, and less than one-quarter of all illnesses, are thought to be the result of sorcery attacks. Any sickness or illness which runs a short course, and where the victim recovers spontaneously, is not ascribed to sorcery: it is a natural disease. Furthermore, any disease which is cured by treatment at the mission-run and government-owned hospital is also regarded as a natural disease. When the hospital personnel fail to effect a cure and the disease either lingers or the patient dies, then people suspect some other etiology for the sickness.
Sorcery is not the only supernatural cause of death in Kilenge. The sacred stones in the men's house in Ongaia are said to be capable of harming individuals who treat the men's house or the stones themselves with disrespect. The stones, it is said, can cause death or injury by changing into a variety of creatures including fish, snakes and men, which then attack the offender. The stones can also wreak havoc by causing ‘accidents’: a man will ‘accidentally’ cut himself with his bushknife or axe and bleed to death, or go fishing and drown, or be out walking in the bush and have a tree fall down and crush him. Although the 'power' of the stones had supposedly been removed in the 1930's when a priest sprinkled holy water on them, we have several cases on record dating from a more recent period where the stones are said to have caused injuries, mostly in children who played near the men’s house and disturbed the stones.
Deaths, injuries and illnesses are also caused by going into restricted areas of bush known as naruk (masalai) . It isn’t clear whether naruk refers to the ground or to a power that resides there: it may be either or both, depending on the place and case. Some people today say that the power of naruk has gone and a couple of adult men in Ongaia, noted sceptics about supernatural matters, have recently cleared naruk areas for use as gardens and coconut plantations with no ill effects. On the other hand, in 1977 a seven year old girl of Ongaia died. Consensus was that she had drank from a spring that was naruk, and that the snake spirit which dwelt there had eaten her soul. Naruk are not restricted to land: several places along the fringing reef are naruk, and men who fish in those places are rarely seen again alive.
Nausang and Natavutavu, the former represented by masks and the latter by hats, are reputed to be agents of supernatural death, but Kilenge beliefs on this point are not clear to outsiders. Most people maintain that Nausang and Natavutavu were motivated and animated by human, and that physical attacks by those agents were actually caused by and due to men. Historical legends about the retribution taken when women saw either of these objects support this Kilenge interpretation. However, there is also the belief that if a woman sees a Nausang or Natavutavu and is undiscovered or does not report it, then she will be struck by a supernaturally caused death, injury or illness. Further confusion is added by an occurrence in 1977. A man who had promised a pig for a Nausang performance learned that the pig might have been killed by a village adolescent, who discovered it ravaging a garden. The pig owner was afraid that Nausang would punish him for failing to live up to his promise. Part of the time, it seemed as if he feared that the sponsors of Nausang would sorcerise him; at other times, it seemed like he feared a direct attack by the particular Nausang itself.
Supernatural agents are not the only causes of death. People know and accept the fact that individuals will die of diseases, old age and accidents that are not supernatural in origin. Traditionally, a man killed by a spear or other weapon in a fight was considered to have died a 'natural' death. The diagnosing of the cause of death in any given instance will reflect the particular circumstances of the individual's life and death. If an old person dies and people cannot remember the deceased having participated in any sorcery revenge or having done anything to exceptionally anger someone, then the death is simply ascribed to old age. If an accident befalls someone, and no proximal or ultimate supernatural cause is immediately apparent, i.e., there are no circumstances surrounding the death, then the death is regarded as a real accident. If someone sickens and dies, and once again nothing 'peculiar' or 'strange' taints the case, the disease and death are thought to be natural in origin. In particular, cases of tuberculosis and related respiratory diseases among people of any age are regarded as natural illness and deaths. But, if the victim believes himself to have been sorcerised (or otherwise supernaturally attacked), or if the surviving relatives believe that some interpersonal conflict preceding the illness or death was in some way related to the death, then an inquiry is held to ascertain the cause of the sickness of death.
The inquiry may be public or private. We have little information on private inquiries: they are well hidden from the public eye because survivors fear the possible wrath of sorcerers. But in order to determine that they are potential victims of sorcery, they must meet and discuss the case amongst themselves. The little information we have indicates that if the victim was a mature man or woman, the surviving natal siblings and perhaps other members of the sibling group (in the case of a man, his residential group, in the case of a woman, her brothers living elsewhere) will meet in secret to talk about the death. If an old person has died, his children will meet, and if a child is thought to have been victimised, then his parents' siblings make up the group. Private inquiries are held because the survivors fear that if the sorcerer or client responsible for the death hears about the meeting, he will fear that the survivors are plotting revenge and act to stave off that revenge, i.e., the sorcerer will kill more people. The survivors meet to determine whether or not sorcery was actually the cause of death, and if so, what action should be taken. In many cases, the decision is to do nothing and to let the matter drop, reflecting the Kilenge belief that "In cases of sorcery, either just one person dies or many, many people die". The sorcery will claim just one victim, or many people from both sides will die in an extended feud. The private inquiry also allows the survivors, if they so chose, to plot a course of revenge in secrecy. Several years may elapse between the time of a sorcery death and the time that the survivors deem it appropriate to retaliate. The private inquiry hides their actions from public scrutiny, thus protecting them from pre-emptive strike by the sorcerer or his client. On occasion, a sorcerer will make a pre-emptive strike even if the survivors have chosen not to take any action of their own. This is done "just to make sure", to keep the survivors in line and the sorcerer out of harm's way. Thus, when an inquiry is kept private, there is no public accusation of sorcery, the proximal and ultimate causes of the sorcery are never satisfactorily resolved, and the resultant tension may be manifested at a later date. A final factor contributing to keeping inquiries private is that the Church frowns upon sorcery beliefs and practices. People try to hide their actions not only from each other, but from the mission. This is especially important in cases where revenge is being plotted.
The consequences of a public inquiry are radically different. A public inquiry into, and accusation of, sorcery acts to resolve the matter and thus dissipate the tension generated by the suspicions of sorcery. Before the accusation and inquiry are made public, the victim's kin usually hire one or more people to diagnose and divine the cause of illness or death. We have one description of traditional Kilenge divination. On the first night following the burial of the victim, a close relative of the deceased will hide himself near the special paths by the beach which souls are said to frequent. Eventually, the soul of the victim will come walking along the path. Trying to hide behind it will be the soul of the sorcerer. In this way, the victim's kin may "positively" identify the sorcerer responsible for the death. Today, other methods are used for divining the identity of the person(s) responsible. In one recent case where divination was used, two specialists were employed to utilise dreams to identify the culprit. One specialist was a Tolai man, working at the government station at Cape Gloucester, and the other was a man from New Ireland visiting in Portne. No one involved in the case mentioned anything about Kilenge methods of divination, although one old man kept commenting that this was not how things were done traditionally, and that the younger men were making a mess of the matter. As is so often the case with divination in Melanesia, the results were ambiguous and open to favourable interpretation by both sides.
The Kilenge feel that a known sorcerer in their midst is a marked man. They say that in the old days, the people of a village would steal up to a sorcerer at night, capture him, tie him to a house post, and kill him. Barring that, they would have to hire a sorcerer themselves to rid them of the undesirable villager, but informants' accounts indicate that this was a poor second choice: direct physical violence was much preferred to sorcery. Today, people have few effective options in dealing with a sorcerer. The traditional sanction and control of the threat of a physically violent death is no longer operative. Even if a person did murder a sorcerer, eventually he would be found out, tried, and sent to serve a prison sentence. Catholic morality further dissuades people from murder. A new sanction against sorcerers, the threat of trial and imprisonment for committing acts of sorcery, is very ineffective. People say that even if a sorcerer is jailed, this does not remove the threat of sorcery. The sorcerer can retaliate by attacking people from his jail cell, or can wait to seek his revenge when he is released. As in other parts of Papua New Guinea, people feel that the only effective way to deal with a sorcerer who repeatedly intimidates and sorcerises people is to execute him.
Today, the sorcerer is a man not to be trusted, except by his close relatives. What, then, does a man gain by acquiring a reputation as a sorcerer? For the most part, such a reputation appears to be a liability, as people never trust and always suspect a sorcerer. At the same time, a sorcerer is treated circumspectly, and no one dare to offend him for fear of a vengeance attack. Sorcerers gain materially: they are paid when they sorcerise someone, and again when they remove the sorcery. Sorcery is a lucrative part-time specialization, and increases a man's wealth in cash, trade goods and traditional valuables. This wealth stays with a sorcerer longer than it would with an ordinary man, because relatives ask less help of a man suspected of being a sorcerer than they do of an ordinary man. There is less of a drain on a man's resources, as kinsmen avoid asking for the usual help in terms of resources, as kinsmen avoid asking for the usual help in terms of traditional valuables and food for sponsoring ceremonial cycles, organizing brideprice payments, and the like. People will not borrow from a sorcerer for fear of the consequences of a delayed repayment. In essence, the man who is thought to be a sorcerer, and who promotes that impression, has largely opted out of the responsibilities of being a kinsman. He has partially removed himself from the web of kinship obligations.
The Concert Master of Sorcerers
It is impossible to understand the importance of sorcery in Kilenge today without knowledge of the former paramount luluai, Aisapo Talave. He was a man who strongly influenced and manipulated beliefs about sorcery, and the consequences of his actions affect contemporary Kilenge life. Aisapo was appointed paramount luluai by the Australians and Americans after they had retaken the Cape Gloucester area from the Japanese during World War II. Before the war, Aisapo had travelled extensively about the Territory, working in Rabaul, the Bulolo gold fields, and as a ship's captain. Although both of his parents were born in Kilenge, his father's father was Kove, from 100 km east of Cape Gloucester, and for that reason Aisapo was never truly accepted as a Kilenge native son.
The war was an unsettling time for the Kilenge, as it was for many of the people of Papua New Guinea. The Japanese forced the villagers to help them build the airstrip at Cape Gloucester: they also looted Kilenge homes and gardens, killing pigs and destroying many treasured heirlooms. Most of the villagers eventually fled into the bush where they lived on the produce of old gardens and wild foods, wary of lighting cooking fires for fear of being bombed.
After American soldiers secured the area, the Kilenge and Lolo were gathered and temporarily housed at the airstrip, and Aisapo was appointed paramount luluai. The office was a new one, the Kilenge had never before had a paramount luluai, and the exact nature of this position was unclear. Aisapo set about to make the most of his new office. He was a physically large and muscular man; he used his size to intimidate people into obeying him. Shortly after his appointment he beat to death a Lolo man accused of adultery and sorcery. Aisapo went to prison, but for only a few months, and he retained his office.
Aisapo set about to return Kilenge life to some kind of normalcy, and to remove the uncertainties of life that had accompanied the
war. One of his first acts was to call the area's sorcerers together on the beach. There, he had all the men of power take their
magical substances and aids and cast them into the water. He declared that henceforth there was to be no sorcery among the Kilenge
and Lolo. By removing the threat of sorcery, he made life less uncertain for the people of the area. Another of his actions had a
similar intent. Around 1950, he had village men dance all the sacred Nausang masks and Natavutavu hats publicly in front of women
and children. He intended that this exposure would remove their power so that people no longer would fear them. (The attempt was
not totally successful, and thirty years later people still fear and respect
Nausang). The public dancing of Nausang set into action a chain of events the consequences of which would become evident years later. During the dancing, a traditional leader (natavolo) from Ongaia accepted betel from a fellow dancer, a natavolo from Kilenge proper. Some time after the dance, the Ongaia natavolo became sick, suffering for several years with a lingering disease. People suspected that the Kilenge natavolo had sorcerised his rival with the betel during the dance. The Ongaian's death around 1960 set in motion the revitalization of sorcery activity and fear in Kilenge. But before I speak of that, it is necessary to describe Aisapo's career.
Aisapo’s desire to develop the Kilenge area went beyond his attempts to rid the area of sorcery and supernatural killers. Following a directive from Talasea in the mid 1950’s, he had all the Kilenge plant coconut palms in the area behind their villages. He violated land tenure laws by assigning people to plant on specific plots of ground: many people were forced to plant the coconut lines on ground to which they had no claim. Today, many people say that Aisapo issued this order because his own men's house was short of land and this was the only way that they could get sufficient land for coconut plantations.
Although the villagers disagreed with the order to plant on someone else’s land, they were afraid of Aisapo; they were afraid of his physical power, and they were afraid of the government which stood behind him.
In 1959, Aisapo was successful in getting the government to authorise a patrol post for the Kilenge-Lolo area. Some villagers frustrated his attempts to secure a plot of ground close to the airstrip, but he eventually negotiated for the land which is now the site of the Cape Gloucester sub-District Station. According to the villagers, he never gave the purchase money to the owners of the ground, keeping it instead for his own use. He organized the Kilenge and Lolo to construct the buildings for the patrol post. He then laid out a road from the post to Sagsag, and mobilized the people of the area to build it. People take pride in the road and the fact that they built it themselves under Aisapo's direction. Around the same time, Aisapo organised the refurbishing of the Gloucester airstrip. People see all of these actions as initiated by Aisapo, not the government, and they say that Aisapo brought the government to him. "He was tired of going to Talasea, so he ordered the government to move close to him." For the Kilenge, Aisapo was not an agent of the government. Rather, the government was an extension and agent of Aisapo. They believe that Aisapo controlled the government, that he could hire and fire kiaps, and that the government was afraid of their paramount luluai.
Once the government infrastructure was secured, Aisapo turned back to economic development. In 1960 he began negotiations for the establishment of a co-operative society, and in September of 1961 the Ongaia Native Society was incorporated. People from Kilenge and Lolo villages purchased shares in the enterprise. Aisapo appointed a chairman and a board of directors to aid in accomplishing the Society's aims. The Society was to act as a local buyer of copra, selling it in turn to the Copra Marketing Board, and after sufficient funds had accumulated, the group built a trade store where people could spend their money. Throughout the early 1960’s, the standard of life in Kilenge improved, and people enjoyed many of the material benefits they had grown accustomed to during the American occupation of the area.
Aisapo's star was rising: his policies and goals were successful. During this time, he devoted some efforts to legitimizing his social
standing in Kilenge. Although he was the paramount luluai, he had no local traditional status, In Kilenge, traditional status is
important to a person's social standing in the community, even today. One way in which Aisapo increased his status and prestige was
to develop his reputation as a weather magician. More importantly, Aisapo set about to establish his reputation as a natavolo,
a traditional leader. He traced his genealogical connections, and showed that his mother's mother had been a nagarara, a high status woman in the village. He used this connection to support his claim that he was a natavolo. Having a traceable claim, he began to act like a natavolo, by spansoring feasts and ceremonies, arranging marriages and brideprice
payments, and the like. Because he was powerful (even though his power came from the government), acted like a natavolo should, and wanted to be called natavolo, people came to refer to him as natavolo. Today, they claim that he was not truly a natavolo but people were so afraid of him that they did what he wanted.
Things went well for Aisapo until the middle of the 1960’s, when he suffered several reverses. His economic policies began to fail. Because the store lacked proper management and bookkeeping, it frequently went into debt and was closed for long periods. Shipping became erratic, having a negative effect on copra production. People were unwilling to produce copra just to see it rot on the wharf, and production fell off. Consequently, people had less money to spend. Aisapo's reputation, which had been built on success, was starting to crumble. As his position became weaker, some traditional leaders challenged Aisapo. Several natavolo tried to wrest power from his hands and return themselves to positions of authority in the villages.
In an attempt to retain control, Aisapo assumed a hostile attitude towards the villagers. As I mentioned earlier, a death in 1960 was attributed to an act of sorcery a decade before. Some people say that Aisapo sought revenge for the killing by contacting former Lolo sorcerers and asking them to kill the Kilenge natavolo reputedly responsible for the death. Other people say that it was actually Aisapo who had the Ongaia natavolo sorcerised. Whatever the explanation, by the mid 1960's as his policies failed and his control of the situation weakened, Aisapo began a campaign to regain his pre-eminent position by killing off his rivals. He talked to the Lolo sorcerers and told them that they could practice again, under his control. As one man put it, "Aisapo became the concert master of the sorcerers". Before the sorcerers could attack a person, they had to first clear it with Aisapo. In return for the privilege of practicing sorcery, they would have to assassinate the people whom Aisapo wanted dead. Several natavolo died during the late 1960’s and villagers attribute the deaths to Aisapo and his agents. They say that Aisapo had all the traditional leaders sorcerised so that they would not challenge him. As his developmental policies failed and his basis of power weakened, Aisapo turned to intimidation and assassination to retain his control over the villagers. In the later years of his life, he ruled by fear and terror. There is some suggestion that during this period he used the threat of sorcery to promote economic development. People would have abandoned all the failed enterprises, and not tried new ones, without the fear of Aisapo. But they were afraid of him and his sorcerers, and continued t o support the Society, produce copra, and tried planting a new cash crop, cacao.
Aisapo did not restrict his killing to traditional leaders. Anyone who opposed him or angered him was liable to be sorcerised, and the deaths of several adults are blamed on Aisapo.
During the same time as he was revitalizing and controlling the practice of sorcery, Aisapo tried t o introduce cargo cults into the Kilenge area. He met with little success. The Kilenge are sincere Catholics, having invited the mission of the Sacred Heart to establish a station in the area in the late 1920’s. Also, they are a very pragmatic people, and realize that you can't get something for nothing. This combination of religious belief and pragmatism was the main anti-cargo doctrine, propounded by a Kilenge catechist who was also Aisapo's classificatory son. It was probably this close kinship connection which saved the catechist from being sorcerised.
As Aisapo died in 1973, he perpetrated his final act of sorcery against the people. He made a magical bundle of taro shoots, and sorcerised all the Kilenge gardens. After his death people called in taro magic experts from Kaliai and paid them a large sum of valuables to remove the sorcery from their blighted gardens.
When Aisapo died (probably of old age and disease he had been wasting away and weakening for some time), people ascribed his death to sorcery. While there is general agreement that he died a t the hands of sorcerers, there is no consensus about why he died. We were able to discover at least four reasons for the ultimate cause of his death.
1. Aisapo died because of the ground at Niavukea. The ground is claimed jointly by people from Lolo villages and the Kilenge village of Portne. Aisapa tried to remove all Lolo claim to the ground, and insinuate his own so that he and his descendants would be able to plant coconuts there. There is also some hint that Aisapo might have kept for himself part of the payment that was made to the Portne people when much of Niavukea was leased by two Australians for use as a coconut plantation. This would be consistent with Aisapo's policy of keeping other land-use money. Many people say that because of Aisapo's fraudulent manipulations with land "the ground ate him". The action is ascribed to Lolo sorcerers, who had a claim in the ground.
2. Aisapo died because of unpaid debts. While he was paramount luluai, and later as president of the local government council, Aisapo would go around to the Lolo villages and collect traditional valuables for use in the staging of various ceremonies and ceremonial cycles. Popular belief has it that Aisapo regarded these contributions as tribute, and he never paid them back. People feel that the Lolo thought this was tantamount to theft, and thus had Aisapo sorcerised to gain vengeance. Some people say that repayment of the debts is still incumbent on his heirs, but others feel that the matter has been settled with his death. A few villagers think that Aisapo was sorcerised because of his dishonest dealings with the Lolo in general: he was killed because of both the ground and his outstanding debts.
3. Aisapo died because he was responsible for the death of a natavolo in Portne. There is no agreement as to why Aisapo had him killed. Some say because the Portne natavolo was an independent man who flaunted Aisapo's orders and did not believe that Aisapo was entitled to be called natavolo, while others maintain it was because the Portne leader had a man sorcerized, and Aisapo sorcerized him for revenge. The story goes that Aisapo hired some Lolo sorcerers to do the job, and eventually they became afraid that Aisapo would tell the villagers exactly who had done the actual killing. Fearing the possibility of revenge if the information were made public, the sorcerers killed Aisapo to keep him quiet. To the best of our knowledge, no one attributes the death of Aisapo to revenge by the Portne natavolo's surviving family.
4. Aisapo died because he had the Ongaia natavolo killed. Some people in Ongaia subscribe to this theory, but were reluctant to talk about it as they feared that the sorcerers who had carried out Aisapo's bidding were still alive, and would act to squelch any plans for revenge before they bore fruit. In all likelihood, had I examined other deaths attributed to Aisapo and sorcery, I would have discovered other explanations of why Aisapo died. The only reasons publicly acknowledged are the first two mentioned above. Generalized reasons such as land manipulation and unpaid debts remove the responsibility from any persons living in Kilenge, and thus leave no one open to the danger of retribution by the sorcerers actually responsible for any acts of sorcery.
Aisapo's impact on village affairs did not cease with his death. He remains a power to be reckoned with, even though he has been buried for years. Four years after his death (in 1977) his influence is still felt: the storekeeper of the Society maintains that he cannot be replaced or voted out of office, because Aisapo appointed him; the matter of Aisapo's burial and dying wish is brought up in a dispute that threatens to rupture one of the men's houses in Ongaia, and this increases the fear of sorcery within the village; people bitterly man and mourn his passing as the end of the age of development, business and strong leadership within the village.
The Consequences of Sorcery
The reintroduction of sorcery under Aisapo's rule, and the use of it for personal ends, has had widespread effects on the social, economic and political life of Kilenge villagers.
Socially, the fear of Lolo sorcerers has probably damaged and limited Kilenge relationships with their bush neighbours. Many Kilenge are very reluctant to travel up into the bush to visit the Lolo for trading purposes. They take care not to discard any personal leavings where they can be found and used by sorcerers. When a Lolo is visiting the Kilenge in the coastal villages, the Kilenge are visibly uncomfortable and upset. They take exaggerated care not to offend the guest, for fear of retaliation by sorcery. Although only a very small fraction of the Lolo are actual sorcerers, the whole population is negatively stereotyped and treated in the same cautious, distant fashion. We did not find out how the Lolo feel about the Kilenge, but many Lolo that we met did not seem to mind the negative stereotype. In fact, they seemed to use and manipulate it to their advantage in extracting favours and gifts from the Kilenge.
As long as this negative stereotype remains, efforts to develop the region as a whole will meet with the problems caused by the Kilenge reluctance to have anything to do with their bush neighbours. The image the Kilenge have of the Lolo as sorcerers will impede any local or outside attempts to develop a sense of regional unity and identity for economic or political purposes.
Furthermore, sorcery can have debilitating social effects within the Kilenge villages. Suspicions of sorcery have resulted in accusations of sorcery, and some of these accusations are directed at Kilenge living close at hand, not Lolo who live far away. This means an increase in tension and conflict within the village, making life far less satisfying. Elsewhere in Papua New Guinea, such tensions caused by sorcery have forced people to flee the village, usually ending up in town. In many ways, this is the only thing a person can do. To prosecute an accused sorcerer in the courts does nothing to remove the threat of the sorcerer. Chances are that it will make the matter worse, as the sorcerer will seek revenge against those who are responsible for his trial and imprisonment. People have no way of fighting back at a sorcerer, other than hiring another sorcerer to bring justice, or making the sorcerer's life in the village so miserable that he leaves of his own accord.
The full impact of sorcery on economic development in the Kilenge villages is not yet fully clear, but it appears that sorcery may work to restrict business development. If a man becomes too successful in running his trade store or producing copra his neighbours may become jealous of his success, and may resort to sorcery as an outlet for this jealousy. This interpretation was given by villagers in a sorcery case in 1977, where a successful business man, who ran a copra buying and selling business with his brothers, was thought to be the victim of sorcery. Many different explanations were given for his illness and for why he had been sorcerised, one of them the fact that some people were jealous of his success. It does not appear that sorcery is employed against business groups with large memberships. This can be explained by pointing out that large business groups are rarely, if ever, successful: with large memberships men feel little personal involvement or interest in the group, money gets "lost" and assets can become the targets of sorcery commissioned by their own group members. Naturally, this would have terrible divisive effects within a village, since business groups are usually groups of kinsmen working together. But so far, it seems that sorcery is used only against individuals or small groups of brothers who may run successful enterprises.
Given the Kilenge belief structure of sorcery, the specific beliefs about Aisapo's actions have major ramifications for contemporary leadership. Those people who are genealogically qualified to be natavolo are reluctant to fulfil the role expectations for proper leadership. This reluctance is a product of their beliefs and fears about sorcery and sorcerers. One person genealogically qualified to be a natavolo was willing to discuss the problem candidly. He said that the qualified people were reluctant to assert themselves because they feared that the same sorcerers who killed their fathers would kill them. They would be killed because of the sorcerers' own fear that an assertive natavolo candidate, in the process of establishing his leadership credentials, would to seek revenge for his father's death. The sorcerer, in trying to protect his own life, would resort to a pre-emptive strike against the aspiring leader. With this situation, any person in a potential role of leadership would not assert himself because of the possibility of a sorcerer misinterpreting his actions. The informant, who had recently begun a slow but steady attempt to validate his natavolo credentials and had become active in political affairs, recounted one abortive attack of sorcery against his own life. He maintained that the attack was traceable back to the same people who had killed his father and uncle. He noted several other natavolo candidates who, he said, had admitted the same fears to him. We tried to discuss the matter with one or two other natavolo, but they were exceedingly hesitant, and the results of the interviews were unsatisfactory.
Other factors have led us to accept this one informant's analysis and explanation of constraints on current leaders. Non-leaders in the village, with whom we discussed this, thought that it was an accurate explanation, and a couple of them suggested the constraint of sorcery on leadership before we mentioned it. From our perspective, the analysis provided an accurate explanation of the behaviour of local leaders, and made intelligible many of their actions. Their actions became understood when put in this context. While eliciting information from the natavolo of the various men's houses in Portne, we were consistently given names that we did not recognise.
It turned out that nearly all the responses were the name of dead men. The informants said that most of them had been killed by Aisapo and his agents, and that since then none of their sons had come forth to replace them. For Ongaia, we were given the names of living men, but rarely did the lists gathered from different persons coincide exactly. Furthermore, eliciting the information at two different times from the same informant usually produced at least one change in the list. This situation, where occupation of traditional leadership roles is unclear and confused, is indicative of the ineffectiveness and unassertiveness of the people supposedly occupying those roles. This low profile approach to leadership is not restricted to the traditional realm: in Ongaia, it is manifested in the elected role of councillor. The current councillor in Ongaia is also the genealogically senior natavolo in Ongaia. The low-profile attitude is not present in the elected officials of Portne and Kilenge proper, but they are, to a man, not natavolo. This would suggest that purely elected officials, with no claims to traditional status, are free of the constraints and fears posed by sorcery for natavolo, and hence should be more effective leaders. However, because they have no traditional standing, councillors and committee are not regarded as truly legitimate leaders in the village setting.
Thus, the Kilenge are facing a crisis in local leadership. The councillors are not seen as being legitimate leaders, and hence their leadership is being ignored. People look to the natavolo for leadership, but the natavolo are afraid to assert themselves and act like proper leaders; they are afraid of being sorcerised. The Kilenge are facing a crisis in leadership which they have not yet resolved.
It would be unjust to blame sorcery for all the problems currently facing the Kilenge. Many of the problems are rooted outside of the Kilenge environment, and the Kilenge have no control over them they can only respond to impositions from the outside. However, the effects of sorcery on social, economic and political development are real, and an understanding of sorcery and its impact must inform any decisions made about planning and development. Until an effective means is found to control sorcery and neutralise its negative effects, sorcery must be regarded as a crucial factor in the social environment.