In 2006, a then six-year-old boy was condemned to be ritually sacrificed and eaten in a cannibalistic ritual because he was accused of being a witch. This boy escaped with the help of a regional guide, and now at twenty and a Christian, he returned to his tribe to forgive them and teach them not to eat each other.
A six-year-old boy who was condemned to death by his cannibalistic tribe because they thought he was a witch after his parents died has returned to the jungle to reunite with the people who planned to eat him.
Wawa Chombonggai grew up in the Korowai tribe in West Papua where villagers believe bad spirits are to blame when a person suddenly dies.
The clan traditionally hunt the person they believe is responsible for and unexpected death, before killing them and eating their flesh for their perceived crime.
When both Wawa’s parents died in 2006, they believed it was because he was a witch and began planning his gruesome death.
But Kornelius Sembiring, a former guide in the region for Channel Seven, heard of Wawa’s plight and rescued the child – taking him into his home in Sumatra 13 years ago.
Wawa is now 20 and still living with Mr Sembiring and his family – thankful for his second chance at life.
Now, the sports science university student returned to his former tribe, saying he wanted to tell his people they shouldn’t kill and eat one another.
Wawa went into the jungle with his foster brothers and sister Wilhelmus, Devi and Lepina for the emotional reunion last week.
The devout Christian shook hands with the tribe’s leader before his aunts embraced him and lamented the lost years with their nephew. (source)
Papua New Guinea, along with parts of Africa and other very remote places, are some of the last areas in the world where cannibalism is still considered a common practice. However, cannibalism was once upon a time found everywhere as commonly as it was then, and this has been proven consistently by historical and archaeological records all throughout the world.
It must be very difficult to imagine what goes through one’s mind after learning that one’s own family and people were about to ritually murder and eat you because of being accused of being a “witch” after losing both of your parents. It is to go from a normal child to a hated orphan who is about to be put into a literal cooking pot.
Children do not forget things like this when they happen, and some speak of carrying the trauma of the memory for life.
I cannot speak to what goes through Wawa’s mind when he recalls this. What I can say is that as the story notes, he is a very devout Christian, and he returned to his people not only to forgive them, but to tell them not to eat each other any more.
The kind of forgiveness that he is showing is not the kind that comes from men, but is one that comes from God.
Christ came to reconcile the world to Himself, and in so doing, men must forgive each other and work toward doing this for those who are slow or refuse to.
This does not mean that one should abandon justice, for to refuse justice in the name of mercy is not mercy, but license, and this is also evil. To the contrary, forgiveness is about making peace for the sake of justice as well as giving the same mercy that Christ gave to a human race that did not deserve it.
The struggle to balance mercy and justice is something that has always been a challenge, and it must be continually calibrated and recalibrated to adapt to the various circumstances of society, for moral truth does not change, but how one addresses the same truths are as diverse as the people to which they are applied.
What this man did was incredible, and in many cases, his approach may not work. However, he knew what he had to do, and he did it, and it appears to be resulting in forgiveness and even perhaps the spread of the Gospel.
When St. Isaac Jogues went to what is today New York and Vermont, he preached to the Indians and was severely mistreated by them, in particular the Mohawks, who captured him, tortured him, and would gnaw off his fingers in front of him. While he was sent back to France for a time after his mission work, he did not complain about “those Mohawks”, but he prayed, fasted, and eventually returned to his work where he was martyred.
I am not saying that all people are to respond in the exact way that St. Isaac Jogues did, but some certainly may be called to do this. Moral truth does not change, but how one responds may vary based on a situation.
Consider also the case of St. Anthony of Padua. Twice he tried to sail to Morocco because he wanted to preach to the Muslims and suffer martyrdom at their hands. However, both times he was violently prevented from doing so, the second time crashing on the Italian coast near Padua, where he spent the rest of his life as a teacher and it was there he became a great saint.
St. Anthony of Padua was not called to be a martyr in the way that others were. However, he was still made a saint because his path to sainthood was different.
St. Paul warns that all men are to work out their salvation “with fear and trembling”, and the path that each one takes will be different in action but not in their essence. All of the time, it is the balance of mercy and justice that must be pursued, as doing this is to seek after the love of God.
Perhaps this is why St. Peter writes in Sacred Scripture that “love covers a multitude of sins”, for while a man may not be perfect, if he seeks to love his fellow man, and he can demonstrate this through seeking mercy and justice in their proper balance, then he can actively demonstrate and partake in the love of God which seeks the salvation and not the death of the sinner.
Some people may have to go back to their cannibal tribe and forgive them person-to-person and teach them the truth. Some may have to suffer martyrdom at their hands. Some may have to go about a silent life of prayer and work. It does not matter what the path that is laid before one it, but that one follows it, for each path leads to the death of the self, and by this death one is lead in the way of eternal life.