Seven witch doctors have been murdered, their brains eaten and their penises turned into soup, according to charges filed against 29 people accused of being part of a cannibal cult living deep within the highland jungles of Papua New Guinea.
The accused, mostly men and eight women, have admitted to their actions, saying they believed the witch doctors were using sanguma, or sorcery, to extort money and sexual favors from the villagers. Killing the victims and eating their organs was necessary to end their corrupt practices and absorb their supernatural powers, they believed.
They don't think they've done anything wrong; they admit what they've done openly, Madang Police Commander Anthony Wagame told the Associated Press.
It's a prevalent cult activity, he added.
Ritualistic cannibalism is an established practice among some of Papua New Guinea's indigenous tribes, where human flesh is known colloquially as long pig. In pre-colonial times, warring tribes consumed the bodies of their enemies, but also venerated their own dead by eating them.
The practice has become less prevalent in modern times, and was officially outlawed in 1959, while the country was a territory under Australian administration.
Wagame estimated that there are anywhere between 700 and 1000 people that could still be practicing ritualistic cannibalism in remote villages, located primarily in the interior highlands in the northeast of the island nation.
It is the tip of the iceberg and more needs to be done to educate locals to eradicate the movement, Wagame told the National, a daily newspaper in Madang, Papua New Guinea.
Police cannot do it alone. It requires collective effort from government, responsible agencies, non-governmental organizations and the churches to work together.
Last Tuesday, 28 of the accused appeared in court, charged with willful murder. It is not clear what happened to the 29th suspect.
Under Papua New Guinea's justice system, a murder conviction is punishable by death.