The belief in black magic revive from ancient times with an incredible outbreak of violence in Papua New Guinea

Ancient beliefs in sorcery or Sanguma are being catapulted into the modern age, driving incredible outbreaks of violence against women in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. If something unwanted or inexplicable occurs in a village individuals, mostly commonly women, are accused of committing black magic or of being a whitch. They will be outcast from their homes, attacked and often killed.

These are not secret crimes. An outraged mob will torture the accused women with archaic tools to death in public while no one is willing to help and the perpetrators will mostly not be sentenced. Visiting the most remote areas I talked to victims, survivours, offenders, police men, surviving dependants, researchers, human right defenders and people trying to help bring a resolution to this cyclical violence. I visited the torturing sites, the graves, the funeral piles and the burnt down property. I took pictures and short interviews. My photo essay offers nuance and enquiry into a complex and controversial topic.


Papua New Guinea is one of the most inaccessible places in the world. For centuries the remote highlands were thought to be uninhabited. It was as recent as 80 years ago that some communities encountered the outside world for the first time. There are still communities expected to be uncontacted today. Living an indigenous life with its own social order, and divided from modern society by their geographical landscape, the societies in the highlands were enmeshed in a culture of sustained belief in ghosts and black magic.

Globalised modernism intruded abruptly. Global legal and political systems and regulations as well as christianity clashed with the structures that underpinned the lives of those Papua New Guinean tribes. Lack of employment and education drove an increase of alcohol and drugs and one consequence was an increase of violence particularly against women. The phenomenen in the increase of sorcery related violence is a very complex issue and has even more factors who contribute to the accusations.

Gambu was accused of killing through black spirit
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The jungle in Papua New Guinea.
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Sanguma may fly around at night.
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The evil spirit can be carried through a ghost dog.
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Urka is a survivor. She lives in a shelter home now.
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Urka's body is covered with scars.
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Houses of suspects burned down to the ground.
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The spokesman of the village explains what happend.
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The grave of witches.
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The graveyard of a village in the highlands.
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Police officer
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Perpetrators showing their bushknifes.
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The lutheran bishop Jack Urame is a nationwide known fighter against the belief in black magic.
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Mungai is a glassman - a ghost doctor
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The glassman can see through people like glass.
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The glassman is doing his magic.
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Lyna Gene helps the victims of sorcery related violence.
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Angela Apa a founder of a women based organization for peace.
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Gerel remembers the day he was tortured.
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"I have good spirit in my life. I am not Sanguma man."
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Gerel now lives in his nephew's house.
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John during negociation in a sorcery case.
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John is a peacemaker in his village.
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After the ejection the children stopped going to school.
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Displaced family.
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Without own land displaced people can not provide for themselves anymore.
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The bishop of the Catholic Church is known for saving victims of a sorcery suspect.
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Karina spend many months in hospital.
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A hospital in the highlands.
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She does not know when she will walk again.
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Perpetrators in prison
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Confiscated self build gun at Kundiawa police station
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A villager presenting his self build gun
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Disrupted merry blouse along the way
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Leah fears for the safety of her daughter
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The founders of "Voice For Change"
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Lilly BeSoer from "Voice For Change"
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Margret lost everything
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Margret taking the ferry on her way to work
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Margret in a garden picking some oranges
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The black spirit can go into food
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J. was attacked by his own cousins
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Margret with her daughter in a shelter house
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Margret showing her scars
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A torturing site in a small village in the mountains
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The funeral pile still remains untouched
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Chris explained what happend here
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A village in the mountains
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Young men of the village speaking about the Sanguma case
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Victims and perpetrators living side by side
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Jungle in the mountains
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Joye recovering in hospital
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Police officer Kerry
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Kerry in his office in the police station
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The police station of Wapenamanda
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Merry blouse in the dirt
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Justice is a survivor
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The highlands of Papua New Guinea
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