Twenty-nine people accused of being part of a cannibal cult in Papua New Guinea’s jungle interior have been charged with the murders of seven suspected witch doctors, police said.
The cult members allegedly ate their victims’ brains raw and made soup from their penises.
“They don’t think they’ve done anything wrong; they admit what they’ve done openly,” said Madang Police Commander Anthony Wagambie.
He said the killers believed that their victims practised “sanguma” or sorcery, and that they had been extorting money as well as demanding sex from poor villagers for their supernatural services.
By eating witch doctors’ organs, the cult members believed they would attain supernatural powers and literally become bullet-proof, he said.
“It’s prevalent cult activity,” Mr Wagambie said. He believes there could be between 700 and 1,000 cult members in several villages in Papua New Guinea’s remote north-east interior. All of them might have eaten human flesh, he said.
According to a report in The National newspaper, 28 men and women appeared in a Madang court on Tuesday. Mr Wagambie said they were charged with wilful murder.
It was not clear what happened to the 29th suspect. Murder is punishable by death in Papua New Guinea.
The suspects were not required to plead and were being held in custody.
Police will gather more witness statements before pressing charges related to the cannibalism allegations, he said.
Cannibalism was part of traditional culture in Papua New Guinea, where human flesh was known as “long pig,” and survived in isolated pockets into the latter part of the 20th century while the country was under Australian colonial rule.
Mr Wagambie, 36, said he had never heard of a previous case of cannibalism in his lifetime.
He expected police would make around 100 arrests over the weekend for cult-related crimes.