Directed from the sub-clan’s ‘parliament’, its men’s house, contemporary anti-witchcraft ‘Operations’ in Simbu Province, Papua New Guinea, deploy gender segregation and the separation (in time and space) of exemplary, interrogatory, and punitive torture, to realize and enforce patriarchal order. I understand the witch-hunt as a neo-initiation: a new ritual affirmation of patriarchal sovereignty that emerged following the colonial destruction of rituals that once exalted agnatic strength and unity, and the simultaneous colonial introduction of justice procedures founded on oral testimony. In the postcolonial era, the ritualisation of women’s speech and punishment offers a novel arena for the performance of masculine solidarity, strength, charisma, and lethal power. Based on this historical and ethnographic analysis, I argue for a new feminist epistemology in the anthropology of witchcraft that centers women’s experience as victims of torture during witch hunts and attends to the ritual innovations that arise from the encounter between local and colonial patriarchal sovereignties, exacerbating misogynistic violence.

About the Presenter

Chloe Nahum-Claudel is lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester, UK. She works across the Brazilian Amazon and Papua New Guinea on diverse themes, including gender and kinship, environmental anthropology and human-animal relations, ritual innovation and diplomacy. She is currently writing a book about witch hunts and feminism based on fieldwork in highland Papua New Guinea in 2015 and 2018.

About Anthropology Working Papers

The Working Papers in Anthropology seminar series provides a forum for dissemination of anthropological research and ideas among UQ scholars and invited researchers. All students are invited to attend the series and postgraduate students, from honours upwards, are invited to present their research. The aim is to provide opportunities for students, staff and those from outside UQ, to present and discuss their work in an informal environment.


Email s.haggar@uq.edu.au for the Zoom Link