Ryan Schram Yawahigu ana amwahao

“Sanguma em i stap (Sanguma is real)”: Sorcery stories and the ethnographic citizenship of Tok Pisin print journalism

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), citizenship rests on one’s capacity to translate oneself. Political participation takes place in cultural contact zones, and public discourse circulates only when people create interfaces between disparate languages, systems of knowledge, and values. Yet these translations are not treated equally in mass print media. The uniquely ethnographic citizenship of PNG demands that people decide how their social identities relate to their political agency, yet without a guarantee that their solutions will be validated. Just as the national creole language Tok Pisin is subject to competing ideological evaluations of multilingualism, Tok Pisin public discourse is characterized by competing tendencies toward epistemic inclusion and exclusion, particularly when sorcery and other occult topics are discussed. In each case, discussion of the occult involves both an openness to differences in knowledge and a tendency to treat particular knowledge claims as beliefs (bilip) to be overcome. While bilip has become the dominant way to constrain public discourse on the occult, I also show that the bilip can be reinterpreted to index a moral stance of mutual recognition of differences.

(This paper was accepted for publication in Current Anthropology in October 2020, and will appear in print soon.)