Once hailed as an untouched Shangri-La, the mist-shrouded highlands of Papua New Guinea are undergoing a dramatic resurgence in sorcery and witchcraft.
Police reinforcements have been rushed to a remote part of Papua New Guinea after officers clashed with a shadowy cult accused of beheading villagers and
offering them as human sacrifices.
Several people were reportedly killed and many injured after gun battles broke out between police and members of the cult, based in the mountains of Morobe province on PNG's north coast.
Religious cults flourish in many parts of the country, which is divided into more than 800 tribal groups and achieved independence from Australia in 1975.
The central highlands were only penetrated by white explorers in the 1930s and belief in black magic remains strong.
The recent spread of Aids has baffled villagers in remote areas and led to accusations of witchcraft, with alleged witches being tortured and killed.
Commander Augustine Wampe, of Morobe police, said a helicopter carrying a mobile squad of anti-riot officers had been dispatched to the area following reports of murders in which victims were beheaded and their heads impaled on stakes.
Some of the heads were then allegedly paraded around a village. "The reported activities of the people point to cult activity," Cdr Wampe told The National newspaper.
Police first suspected the existence of a cult when a child was kidnapped last month near the town of Finschhafen, formerly part of the colony of German New Guinea.
Four officers who were sent to rescue the child were ambushed and fired on by villagers. Gun violence is common in Papua New Guinea - tribesmen who once fought with bows and arrows can now buy automatic weapons from corrupt soldiers and police.
"Gunfire was exchanged and one of the policemen was injured in the leg with an arrow. Another policeman fell over a cliff. Another policeman who was lost was found a day later," said Cdr Wampe.
Eight reinforcements were despatched from the town of Lae but were forced to retreat after an exchange of gunfire with the villagers.
One man was reportedly killed and several injured.
The villagers then regrouped and went on a rampage, attacking police and government officials and burning down houses.
They also killed a man believed to be a tribal enemy, chopping up his body, Cdr Wampe said. Police were still trying to negotiate a peace deal with the villagers and bring to justice those responsible for the violence.
In March a cult leader calling himself Black Jesus was captured by police in neighbouring Madang province.
Steven Tari, 35, is accused of raping, killing and eating young sex slaves he recruited in remote jungle villages.
A failed Bible college student, he wore long flowing robes and claimed to be the "true Christ". He allegedly promised his 6,000 followers material
wealth and religious salvation if they joined his movement.
Steven Tari "Black Jesus"
Cult leader on the run in Papua New Guinea
June 2, 2006
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Item 14845 • Posted: Friday June 2, 2006
A cargo cult leader known as "Black Jesus" is on the run in Papua New Guinea after police clashed with his warriors and arrested 30 "flower girls" allegedly exploited by him for sex.
Police and prison officers went into mountains in the northern province of Madang to flush out the cult this week.
They met strong resistance from cult warriors carrying guns, spears and bush knives, police said.
Eight officers would have been overrun by the warriors during a half-hour clash if another seven-man police unit had not arrived in time, one of the patrol leaders, Inspector Jim Namora, told PNG's Post-Courier newspaper.
The patrol fired on the cult followers who retreated after suffering casualties, police said.
Police went on to arrest 30 "flower girls", some as young as eight years old, allegedly used for sex by cult leader Steven Tari, revered by his followers as "Black Jesus".
Tari and other senior cult members escaped before police reached Tari's remote camp at Gal village.
Dorothy Gasan, known as the cult's "queen", was captured and remains in custody, police said.
Provincial Police Commander Nema Mondia told AAP the cult's leaders had obviously "gone a little bit too far".
Such cargo cult beliefs have been around for a long time.
Leaders tell their followers that all sorts of goods and money would "just fall out of the sky" and they would not have to work for it, he said.
Hospitals and clinics in and around Madang have been ordered to report anyone seeking treatment for gunshot wounds.
Police have set up roadblocks in the region.
Oct. 25, 2006
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Item 16385 • Posted: Thursday October 26, 2006
Police in Madang are investigating an incident where a 14-year-old schoolgirl was allegedly killed as a sacrificial offering.
They are also looking into reports her body parts were eaten by her biological mother and the elusive leader of a cult movement in Madang, Steven Tari or "Black Jesus'', in a bizarre demonic ritual in Madang.
It is alleged the mother of the young girl lured her daughter to Black Jesus' hideout, then offered her to the cult leader by forcing her to have sex with him before the mother stabbed her to death. Police said the mother and Tari then collected her warm blood and drank it from one cup.
The pair also reportedly ate her body parts. Madang police station commander, Chief Inspector Jim Namora said the incident happened about three weeks ago but was reported to them only on Monday. He said about 5.30pm on October 1, the young girl, Rita Herman, from Gohe Village, Mawan in the Trans Gogol area, was lured from her village to Tari, or Black Jesus", at a small village called Suguneir.
Rita was then told to have sex with Tari while her mother watched before killing her and offering her body in live sacrifice in a demonic ritual.
The mother, Barmarhal Herman, also known as the queen of Black Jesus' flower girls, allegedly discussed Rita's fate with Tari. They both chose the young girl as their sacrificial lamb. Mr Namora said it was also believed the proposition was allegedly discussed and agreed to by Rita's parents, before her murder.
Police say when Rita arrived at the hamlet Black Jesus was hiding in, she was ushered into an empty hut by her mother where Tari had sex with her (Rita) before she was stabbed to death by her mother. Mrs Herman reportedly told Rita that Steven Tari was going to "bless" her and that she should not refuse or resist him. Mrs Herman was later "blessed'' by Tari when he finished with her daughter.
Mr Namora said Mrs Herman admitted the story to her family members, saying she was grateful for Tari's blessings as they would receive goods and large amounts of money free.
One of Mrs Herman's daughters is serving time at the Beon Jail after being convicted earlier this year by the Madang District court for her active
role as the chief "flower girl" for Tari. Tari is on the run from police over his cult movement which has a big following in the remote area,
about an hour's drive from Madang.
Steven Tari / Black Jesus:
Feb. 8, 2007
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Item 17425 • Posted: Friday February 9, 2007
Scores of police have been sent to the jungles of remote Papua New Guinea to hunt for a cult leader known as the Black Jesus, who is said to have sacrificed three young women to the devil and eaten their bodies.
In one case reported by villagers, a mother who had fallen under the cult leader's spell led her 14-year-old daughter to his hideout, offered her to him as a virgin then stabbed her to death.
The Black Jesus, 31-year-old Steven Tari, started his cult last year after he was expelled from a Bible college for stealing from fellow students.
He has enticed girls as young as 12 from their homes to be sex slaves, and is thought to have more than 6,000 followers who believe in human sacrifice.
Mar. 20, 2007
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Item 17768 • Posted: Tuesday March 20, 2007
Police have alleged that Steven Tari killed and ate three young women he recruited as sex slaves.
The former bible student was arrested after almost two years on the run but has been too ill to appear in court.
He said he was the "true Christ" and promised his followers great wealth and redemption. Among his disciples were allegedly dozens of sex slaves.
The cult leader was said have called them his "flower girls".
Police in Papua New Guinea have claimed that three young women were raped, murdered and then eaten by Steven Tari in his jungle hide-out.
After being on the run, he was captured by a group of villagers and was apparently beaten so badly before being handed over to the police that he has been too unwell to appear in court.
In the regional capital, Madang, hundreds of people gathered outside the police station to get a glimpse of Mr Tari.
He had studied to become a Lutheran pastor but disappeared from his theological college after disputing the Bible's teachings.
He turned up in the mountains surrounding Madang wearing flowing white robes and surrounded by an army of devotees. There were allegations of cannibalism and sacrificial killings, which led to Mr Tari's arrest two years ago. He then absconded and melted away into the jungle.
Papua New Guinea has a strong Christian tradition but witchcraft and superstition remain powerful forces in some parts of the country.
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Item 19616 • Posted: Thursday October 11, 2007
Tari, who is of mixed Morobe and Manus parentage, has been charged with seven counts of sexual penetration.
The matter went before Justice David Cannings, who is on a 20-day court circuit in Madang, for mention last Wednesday, but had to be adjourned for a week because Tari did not have a lawyer.
At yesterday's appearance the court heard again that he still did not have a lawyer to represent him. When asked by Justice Cannings if he wanted a lawyer from the Public Solicitors Office to assist him with his case, he accepted.
Tari was read the charges laid against him before being asked by the judge whether he would be able to give the court an indication on his likely plea.
He replied: "Those women were flower-girls and this was the work of the minister and permitted by the religion. And I don't know if the charges laid against me are wrong or right," he said.
He was told by Justice Cannings that a lawyer, and not the judge, was the best person whom he could get advise from regarding his queries.