This article investigates yafuni ('witchcraft' or female sorcery) accusations among the Maisin people living in Collingwood Bay, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea. It takes as its primary case a public meeting at which two women were accused of killing a man. During the meeting, reasons for the victim's unexpected death and why he was subjected to 'witchcraft' were questioned and explored. While sorcery and witchcraft accusations might have violent outcomes, I argue that among Maisin they can be understood as performative rituals in which tensions and frustrations are vented in controlled ways, effectively preventing aggression and violence towards those accused. Accusations must be understood in the context of local identity politics that entail the questioning and redefining of relations and boundaries between gender, clans and cultural groups. In the case examined in this paper, the meeting provided a forum for the predominantly male accusers to re-establish gender hierarchies and social boundaries in order to restore social balance, albeit at the cost of victimising two women.
- gender relations
- Papua New Guinea