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How a missionary challenged Papuan sorcerers and miraculously survived

In 1957, a translation of the book by Belgian priest Andre Dupeyr “Missionaries: 21 Years Among the Papuans” was published in the USA under the much more resonant title “Wild Papua. Missionary Work Among Cannibals.”

In this book, Dupeyr recounted his experiences in the country of Papua on the island of New Guinea, where he arrived in 1930 as a missionary.

In past centuries, many Christian priests considered it their duty to convert wild tribes to their faith, venturing into the most remote parts of the earth by the hundreds and thousands. Many were unlucky and were killed, or they died from tropical diseases, but Dupeyr, apparently, was one of the lucky ones, because he not only survived among the cannibal Papuans but also miraculously survived an attack by their sorcerers.

Dupeyr “worked” with the Fuyug tribe, which lived in dense jungles in the very center of Papua. At the moment, this ethnicity numbers about 14 thousand people. He stayed at the missionary station Feyn-le-Roz, while another missionary post, Kur-de-Anj, was located in the neighboring Dilava Valley.

At that time, there were no other missionaries around them, moreover, in hundreds of small Papuan villages, the Fuyug had never seen a white person other than Dupeyr.

At first, Dupeyr’s missionary work proceeded quite standardly. He walked to the Papuan villages and persuaded them that there is only one God – the Christian one – and everything they believe in is devilry, that is, “evil”.

One day Dupeyr returned from a particularly remote settlement, and his assistant met him looking very troubled. He told Dupeyr that in the Dilava Valley, “the devil has settled again” because Papuan sorcerers returned from a raid on the coast with new and more powerful magical items.

These sorcerers came to the Kur-de-Anj settlement and began to frighten the local Papuans, who had already converted to Christianity, that they must return to their old (pagan) beliefs, otherwise they would face severe punishment.

Dupeyr was also alarmed by this news. He had certainly heard of Papuan sorcerers before, and he knew that they were highly respected among the Papuans and disobedience to them was akin to death. So he practically ran to the Dilava Valley, arriving there four hours later, covered in sweat and dirt from the road.

He saw that all the Papuan population was standing near the houses and apparently waiting for him. And he began to loudly reproach them for returning to their paganism, and then he made the following frightening speech:

“I will spend day and night in each of your villages, and in each one I will perform mass and recite the invocation of Saint Michael to drive out all evil spirits from your fields, from your homes, and from your hearts.

If during my journey the sorcerers manage to kill me, then so be it, then it will turn out that I am not a messenger of the true God, I am mistaken, and they are right. But if they fail to kill me, then it means they are mistaken, and you will never listen to them again! I said it. Now go!”

Only when Dupeyr entered the mission building did he finally realize that he had thrown a deadly challenge to the Papuan sorcerers – his spiritual enemies. After this, they would definitely try to kill him!

However, there was nothing to be done, and Dupeyr did not refuse from his promise to go to the villages and “drive out evil spirits” (he was not lacking in courage). The very next morning, he got up and went to the first village. And on the way, he was attacked by a poisonous snake.

Fortunately, he managed to jump away and kill the snake. However, he immediately realized that something was wrong here. There are many snakes in the Papuan jungles, including venomous ones, but they very rarely attack people, almost in exceptional cases.

Dupeyr recalled that some Papuan sorcerers liked to keep various reptiles, especially snakes, as pets. And he personally knew one who had trained venomous snakes to bite his enemies.

For this, the sorcerer first obtained a piece of the enemy’s clothing soaked with their scent. Then he placed the fabric in a container, into which he also inserted a snake, and kept it there for several days without food. When the snake became angry from being unable to escape and obtain food, it would bite the piece of fabric in rage.

Then the sorcerer would hang this container (usually a pot) not too high above a fire, so that the bottom would heat up, and he would strike it with a stick, further agitating the snake. Now it associated all the discomfort it experienced with the piece of fabric. Then the sorcerer only had to release this snake towards his enemy, and the snake would move towards them by smell and bite them.

Dupeyr wondered if someone had tried to pull the same trick on him. However, he still reached the village and entered a small hut specially built for missionaries. He was very tired, so he immediately lay down on the floor and fell asleep, only to be awakened by the noise of voices – some people were standing nearby and talking. And when he opened his eyes and raised his head, he saw the following:

“Less than two feet from my face was the head of a snake, swaying slowly back and forth. I instantly assessed the situation: the snake was at least six feet long, as thick as a human arm, gray-metallic in color with a reddish stripe running from the large flattened head to the tail – in fact, it was one of the most dangerous reptiles in the country!

… Its lower body was still wrapped around the central beam of the roof, but I could see its scales glinting slightly. It was moving! Slowly and inexorably, its venomous jaws approached my face.”

Obeying a strong instinct for self-preservation, Dupeyr decided to pretend to be dead. He lay down again and didn’t move. The snake fell from the roof and slithered past him. When it crawled a little further away, Dupeyr jumped up, grabbed his stick, and killed the snake.

In the next five villages he visited, snakes also attacked him. He found them under his blanket in his bed, in the bag with clean clothes, and even in the bag with church belongings. He had never seen so many venomous snakes in his life! And every time, miraculously, he managed to avoid being bitten and killed the snake.

In the last village, he lay down to sleep in a hammock stretched between two stakes driven into the ground. And two snakes simultaneously began to climb these stakes. They climbed to the very top and then fell from there onto Dupeyr’s body. But when he woke up, he managed to survive again, and he killed the snakes.

Now all the Papuans could see that the power of their sorcerers could not compare to what stood behind Dupeyr. The prestige of the sorcerers in these places was seriously undermined.

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