Sorcery, Christianity and the Decline of Medical Services in Melanesia

Event details

SSGM Seminar Series

Date & time

Monday 19 October 2015


Lecture Theatre 2, Hedley Bull Centre (130), corner of Garran Road and Liversidge Street, ANU


John Cox and Georgina Phillips


Louana Gaffey
+61 2 6125 1527


In Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, witchcraft and sorcery accusations appear to be proliferating and, in many cases, leading to horrific violence, torture and murder of those thought to be sorcerers. Our contribution to the debates about sorcery-related violence is to see it as the result of poverty and failing services. We reject interpretations of sorcery accusations and violence as grounded in the ancient traditional culture of Melanesia. Instead, we see the resurgence of sorcery as an effect of poverty and social inequality, particularly the neglect of medical services and training.

Sorcery accusations are largely associated with untimely or unanticipated deaths, therefore the contest between these ways of thinking and biomedical understandings of disease and illness is important to examine. In this presentation, we argue that the explanatory power of biomedicine in PNG and Solomon Islands is hampered by several factors, not least poor access to and resourcing of medical services. Reinvigoration of medical training and service provision is crucial to demonstrating the efficacy of biomedicine and improving health outcomes in Melanesia, as well as combating the spread of competing understandings of illness and disease that give rise to maltreatment, social division, misogyny and violence.

About the presenters

Dr John Cox is a Research Fellow at SSGM. His anthropological work explores the developmental and political values of the emerging middle classes of PNG and Solomon Islands.

Dr Georgina Phillips is an emergency physician working at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne and The Canberra Hospital. She has two decades of capacity development experience in emergency medicine across various countries including Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Fiji, East Timor and Myanmar. 

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