University of Sydney
October 25, 2019
To be presented in the session “Making the occult public” at the 2019 meeting of the American Anthropological Association on Saturday, November 23, 4:15–6 p.m.
Abstract: In Papua New Guinea, people's political participation takes place in contact zones among many different cultures, and public discourse circulates only when people create interfaces between disparate languages, systems of knowledge, and value orientations. Citizenship rests on one's capacity to translate oneself; yet translations are not treated equally in mass print media. In the same way that the national creole language Tok Pisin is subject to competing ideological evaluations about the nature of multilingualism, Tok Pisin public discourse is characterized by competing tendencies toward epistemic inclusion and exclusion. In this paper, I present several different frames found in Tok Pisin public discourse which privilege different epistemological positions on sorcery and other occult topics. In each case, talk of the occult involves both an openness to differences in knowledge and a tendency to treat particular knowledge claims as beliefs (bilip) to be overcome. While bilip has become the dominant way to constrain public talk about the occult, I also show that the bilip can be reinterpreted to index a moral stance of mutual recognition of differences as well. Competing tendencies of inclusion and exclusion in Tok Pisin discourse also feed into and reinforce each other. The struggle over ontological recognition will thus always be a part of creole cosmopolitanism in PNG. Keywords: occult, belief, creoles and pidgins, media, citizenship.
"Sanguma em i stap (Sanguma is real). From the government, you would notice that they are focusing on the violence against alleged sorcerers and their human rights, but what about the other side of the issue? As a government we have to come down and see the real issue that is affecting our people. Sorcery related killings are happening everywhere," said Mr Kain. "Mi laik appeal long gavman of the day, disla sorcery act em i stap pinis. Long dai blong disla innocent pikinini, mipla laikim osem gavman i mas wokim sampla action long enforsim disla lo (We want to appeal to the government of the day, the Sorcery Act is already there.)"
—“Community rallies to weed out sorcerers” (Arnold 2017) [The reporter only translates some of Jimmy Kain's quoted statement, and alters its meaning slightly. My own English translation of his full statement is: “I want to appeal to the government of the day, the Sorcery Act is already there. Of the death of this innocent child, we(excl.) demand that the government take action to enforce this law.”]
The occult poses an acute dilemma for Wantok Niuspepa:
|Long PNG, bilip bilong posin, sanguma, marila o puripuri i bikpela tru long planti rurel komyuniti. Maski wol i stap insait long 21 Senseri we bikpela senis i wok long kamap insait long wol dispela bilip i stap strong yet long planti rurel komyuniti long PNG.||In PNG, the belief in posin, sanguma, marila, or puripuri is very important in many rural communities. Even though the world is in the 21st century, and major changes are happening around the world, this belief still remains powerful in many rural communities of PNG. (Emphasis added.)|
Per Robbins (2007), both belief (English) and bilip (Tok Pisin) have two distinct senses:
|Sampela taim igo pinis long Fonde 9 dei bilong dispela mun June ibin gat wanpela man long Kunabau ibin indai.||Earlier, on Thursday, the 9th of this month June, there was a man of Kunabau who died.|
|Indai bilong man, Wagluo Fabian krismas bilong em 63 yias old na wanpela lida man bilong Kunabau eria, ol man iting olsem em ino indai nating.||The death of the man, Wagluo Fabian, 63, and a leader from the Kunabau area, people think that he did not simply die.|
|Igat dispela bilip bilong masalai istap yet wantaim ol lain istap long dispela hap olsem na ol ting olsem masalai ibin kilim indai late Wagluo Fabian.||They have a belief in a spirit that lives with the group who live in this area, and so they think that the spirit killed the late Wagluo Fabian. (Emphasis added.)|
“Spirit kills man” concludes with a statement that distinguishes the report from straight news:
|Kaunsola Aglua Daka [sic] i bringim kamap dispela igo long Simbu Nius na tok lukaut bilong em igo long arsait lain istap namel long ol Kombuku bilong Kunabau olsem ol mas raun stret long bush bilong ol na noken brukim lo bilong tumbuna, nogut bai ol kamap birua bilong masalai gen.||Councillor Aglua Daka [sic] revealed this to Simbu Nius and his warning for outside groups living among the Kombuku of Kunabau is that they must travel straight through their bush and they should not break the traditional laws, or else a spirit attack will happen again.|
Under this final sentence is an apparent byline “By: Agua Daka.”
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