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Program Information
 Unreported World 
 Regular Show
 For non-profit use only.
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Reporter Ramita Navai travels toPapua New Guinea where "Witch Hunts" resulting in many killings of mostly women in the

(This is audio of the video)

We weren't prepared for just how endemic witch hunts are in Papua New Guinea. The country is not only one of the most isolated places in the world – many areas were living stone age existences until very recently, and first had outside contact in the 1930s – it's also extremely under-reported.

There are over 800 different tribes dotted across the vast land, and few functioning roads, so many are cut-off even from each other. And sadly, most media organizations simply don't care what happens here. Which means there were few detailed reports of 'sorcery killings', as they are known.

We travelled straight to The Highlands, the dramatic mountainous interior of the country where we'd heard most witch hunts happen. Wracked by tribal wars, blood feuds and poverty, crime is rife here. The remote nature of the area presented its own problems –we were working in the rainy season and vertiginous rocky tracks, often the only way into a village, would be destroyed in a beat by landslides.

The first major hurdle, however, was entry into a community. This must be sanctioned by a village leader and outsiders cannot simply turn up. Just to complicate matters, clan and tribal affiliations preside over every aspect of life, so we needed local contacts from each place we wanted to visit. None of this would have been possible without our fiercely dedicated and protective guide, Tony Fofoe. Using an extended network of friends, spanning over eight tribes throughout The Highlands, Tony delicately negotiated our way into the deepest parts of the region.

Getting to villages was the least of our worries - witch craft is a secretive and dangerous subject for Papuans, a taboo never talked about in public. We saw the burnt-out huts of villagers who had fled for their lives when they were chased away simply for being related to women accused of being witches. So the producer, Katherine Churcher, and I had to ensure that we put no one in danger, which meant talking to people in private and in hidden locations. Trust is everything.

It is then that we were regaled by accounts of witch hunts at every turn – in every single village, we spoke to people who had either witnessed a witch hunt, had taken part in one, or had been directly affected. We learned that witch hunts are nearly always sparked by a death. When somebody dies, natural causes are not accepted, and it's believed that jealousy and greed drive so-called sorcerers to bewitch people.

Most disturbing of all, nearly everyone we spoke to believed in witch craft and so believed that by killing so-called witches, the community was being protected from murderers and purged of evil. And in nearly every case, the victims were the the vulnerable in society – older women, or women on their own. People with no-one to protect them against angry, armed mobs.

The hardest part of covering this story was not seeing an end in sight to these killings. Even the police admitted to us the situation is out of their control. They told us they are under-staffed and under-funded leaving much of The Highlands lawless. One detective said his force often has to borrow paper and pens from complainants in order to file their reports.

But what left the most enduring mark on me sums up the strange and paradoxical nature of this country. Despite the horrific accounts of torture and murder all around us, I encountered some of the warmest, most generous, passionate and loyal people I have ever met – and it is that, not the killings, that will stay with me.

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00:24:06 English 2009-05-08
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