Kepari Leniata Burned Alive on Charges of Sorcery in Papua New Guinea

A suburb of Mount Hagen City, in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea (a country in Oceania, known as Melanesia in the 19th century), is the scene of a superstitious public slaying on Wednesday morning, around 7 AM. A 20 year-old mother, Kepari Leniata was stripped, tied up with rope, rubbish and old tires tossed on top of her, then lit afire; burned alive!

Onlookers watched and photographed the public execution, as if it was warranted (or that’s my impression from a handful of news stories). Kepari Leniata was accused of sorcery by the relatives of a six-year-old boy, who recently died in a hospital under unclear circumstances (or the cause of the boy’s death has not yet been reported).

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What is clear, however, is that the boy’s relatives decided to take the law into their own hands and mead out justice, as a vicious expression of vigilantism.

Oddly enough, the persecutors were able to garner support from local citizens, who agreed with what they were doing, and even blocked firefighters who had raced to the scene to put out the blaze.

We’re hearing that people were videoing the burning of Kepari on their iPhones (or mobile phones), although I haven’t seen any of these videos on YouTube yet. Of course, making these films public would help to identify those culpable, who seemingly participated in the primitive, ritualistic execution without any guilt.

Another ghastly detail, not so easily disclosed, is that the poor woman was tortured with a branding iron before being completely burned to death, in the unspeakable aforementioned bonfire fashion (doused with petrol), (as reported by the BBC and local media Post Courier and Times Alive).

Another unsavory detail I need not leave out, is that there were schoolchildren amongst the crowd of onlookers (gawkers), who openly sanctioned the burning of Kepari Leniata.

As for what’s behind this local (Papua New Guinea) belief in witchcraft or sorcery, I haven’t had enough time to engage in any substantive research that will indicate precedents, or reveal how some lingering superstitions cling onto the indigenous people, that certain women are still practicing black magic.

I suspect it dates back to a time when New Guinea was still a British colony, yet it doesn’t look as if some of these conjurings have yet flickered out.

It should be noted that the Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has condemned this killing, and identified it as a reprehensible crime against women; furthermore he’s vowed to bring these perpetrators to justice. I take that to mean the vigilante participants also. They did nothing to stop the burning, even preventing the police from shutting the public execution down.

MSN reports (to top it off) Rashida Manjoo (UN special rapporteur on violence against women) filed a study that two-thirds of women in relationships are victims of domestic violence.

The New World was plagued with such beliefs that would blame women as the source of undetermined deaths, where spells of incantation by witches were seemingly the cause of sudden death. I need not spell out the misdeeds of Salem Massachusetts in the 17th Century, where this hocus-pocus was imported from England, with the likes of the infamous WitchHunter, Matthew Hopkins (as portrayed vividly by Vincent Price).

Not that the comparison is apt, but I’m too ignorant at this juncture to make a clear delineation of this current incarnation of sorcery beliefs in Papua New Guinea.