Sorcery and magic in Papua New Guinea is something that is celebrated at the same time it is feared.
Every year, hundreds of suspected sorcerers and witches are killed and only in 2013 did the government repeal a law that criminalised the practice.
It is usually a taboo subject and not openly talked about in a region where religion is strong and people are “Christian in one form or another”.
But what about the shamanistic practice of Buai in East New Ireland?
This is the premise of What Lies That Way by New Zealand filmmaker Paul Wolffram.
Premiering at the New Zealand International Film Festival, Wolframm takes his audience on a personal journey to the rainforests of southern New Ireland and inside the spiritual world of the Lak people.
Having spent time with the Lak people in the early 2000’s for his documentary Stori Tumbuna: Ancestors’ Tales and gaining an understanding of their musical and dance traditions, Wolframm returns in 2015 and What Lies That Way for more of a spiritual understanding of this isolated and remote community.
By undergoing the dangerous initiation process into their Buai shaman cult, which involves fasting for four days and five nights, Wolframm hoped to do so.
Despite being the only white man to undergo such a secretive practice, Wolframm told the audience of last night’s screening in a Q and A session it is in danger.
“There are only four shamans remaining in the Lak region,” he said.
Wolffram explained this is due to the fact young men can now more easily travel outside of the community, where smartphones and internet is readily available.
“Technology is closer.”
But after showing the documentary to the Lak people in May this year, many have expressed their desire to become a shaman too, he said.
Although not allowed to impart the knowledge of his initiation and the psychoactive substances involved to anyone, the Victoria University film lecturer-turned shaman admitted the centrality of Buai is creativity.
“Dreams are songs. For those who have accepted the Buai spirit, they get up in the morning and sing their dreams.”
Touted as the film “by and about magic”, Wolffram hopes the audience will gain an insight into the people of Papua New Guinea and its culture.
“It’s not about me, I’m the vehicle through which the audience will experience this very different way of understanding the world,” he said.