• Motu-Koita;
  • sorcery;
  • magic;
  • death;
  • translation


This article is driven by the equivocal possibility of doing analytic justice to the cosmo-ontology of the Motu-Koita, of Papua New Guinea, as it was when early missionaries and colonial officers credited south-east-coastal indigenes only with unsystematized beliefs and superstitions about invisible forces. It focuses on an incident in which traditional ‘sorcerers’ were put to the test by the early colonial administration, which was trying to destroy local beliefs in sorcery. By interrogating the discursive stereotypes brought to this episode by the administration, and problematizing the translation and understanding of some Motu-Koita terminology, it attempts some first steps toward a more nuanced understanding of the pre-European-contact lifeworld of the Motu-Koita.