Born again, again: Witchcraft, Pentecostal conversions, and spiritual rebirth in the Trobriand Islands

Michelle MacCarthy


In the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea (PNG), yoyowa (consistently translated as “witches” by English-speaking Trobrianders) are a constant threat, causing illness and death to those who arouse their envy or ire. While some women are widely known to be yoyowa, accusations are never made publicly, and there are no reprisals. People exercise caution when dealing with known or potential yoyowa, and always try to “make them happy,” in a common phrase. Recently, however, with the arrival of Pentecostal Christianity and a broader Revival movement, some Trobriand women who undergo spiritual rebirth have publicly acknowledged their previous status as yoyowa. In this paper, I examine the parallels and paradoxes, as well as the broader implications, of being born again in Trobriand cosmology—first, to become a yoyowa, and later, to reject such a status in favor of being reborn as a true believer in Christ.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/715483