22 December 2012

Murder and witchcraft in Timor-Leste

ETLJB 22 December 2012 - A person has been murdered in the sub-district of Maubisse in the southern district of Ainaro amidst reports of allegations of witchcraft in a dispute between two families.

Police are searching for four people suspected of having been involved in the murder following an initial investigation of the case.

Police have interviewed witnesses and neighbours in the area to try to determine the cause of the murder.

Superintendent Orlando Gomes is reported to have said that "the motive of the case is that two families in the area accused each other of witchcraft" according to a report by Radio Timor Leste yesterday (21 December 2012).

Allegations of witchcraft are not entirely unusual in East Timor. In September, 2000, this first came to focus the attention of the judicial system when four men were tried for allegedly torturing and killing an elderly woman accused of witchcraft. The facts of that case came to light in the court in Baucau, East Timor’s second largest city. A 62-year-old woman was murdered in the easternmost region of Los Palos in December, 1999. According to the prosecution, the woman was tortured and left for dead by four men after having been accused of killing children by witchcraft.

In another case, on 7 January, 2007, three women accused of being witches were killed and burned along with their house in East Timor. The three women, aged 70, 50 and about 25, were killed at Maubaralisa (subdistrict Maubara, district Liquica), about 40km west of the capital Dili. They were Bui-dau, 70, Flora, 50, and another (unidentified) woman about 25 years old. They had been accused of being witches. Three suspects were arrested.

In May, 2009, the issue of witchcraft hit the nation’s headlines once again with East Timor’s national broadcaster, RTTL, reporting that the East Timor National Police Deputy Commander Inspector Afonso de Jesus had called on residents in the capital Dili not to believe in rumor-mongering that there was a witch named Margareta flying around the city.

In his paper, Institutions and the East Timorese Experience, Andrew Harrington discusses the following case concerning witchcraft.

“…in one case involving witchcraft, an UNPol officer directed a deeply upset local who approached him with this complaint to deal with it in the traditional way.

A man had accused the complainant’s daughter of witchcraft and cursing his family. The UNPol (United Nations Police) officer had no authority to deal with accusations of black magic. A few days later, the complainant returned and advised the UNPol officer that he had done as told, and dealt with the problem using traditional means; he killed the accuser.

Another anecdotal example involving witchcraft and local dispute resolution mechanisms resulted in draconian punishment; villagers fatally placed hot coals on [an accused] witch’s back for punishment.

It should be noted that generally witchcraft punishments are not so severe, but that is not always the case; it depends on the ‘severity’ of witchcraft involved, or the degree to which the wrongdoer has disturbed the community’s system of value-circulation and socio-cosmic balance.”

Author: Warren L. Wright BA LLB

Sources: Radio Timor-Leste, Witchcraft and Murder in East Timor, The Case to Intervene and Stop East Timorese Killing ‘Witches"

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