Pacific Scoop

‘Witchdoctor’ satire on Obama’s healthcare policy angers PNG

The controversial image ... condemned as racist or satire.

The controversial political image ... condemned as racist or satire.

By Sinclaire Solomon in Port Moresby

Papua New Guinea has been inadvertently drawn into US President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform plan controversy which has now turned into a raging debate about racism.

At the centre of the controversy is a  “doctored” – digitally altered – photograph from an image of a Huli wigman from the PNG Highlands in full traditional regalia.

It mischievously portrays the black president as an African witchdoctor.

It has been placed on emails, on websites and in the form of posters at anti-healthcare plan protests for weeks.

It was also published in The National’s latest weekend edition.

The racist slant has made headline news in the US for the past three weeks and PNG expatriates there have emailed their friends and relatives in Papua New Guinea to voice anger that the photograph was not only racist but it also demeaned PNG culture.

“Many Papua New Guineans living in the United States and around the world are angered by the picture which was used by an opponent of President Obama’s healthcare plan. The picture depicts a warrior from the Highlands who is in his traditional attire,” said David Ketepa from Detroit, Michigan.

The original image of a Huli wigman.

The original image of a Huli wigman.

“This is totally absurd and whoever did it needs to apologise to the people of Papua New Guinea for insulting us. This is our culture and we love it!” one Papua New Guinean said on his blog.

‘Ignorant idiot’
“To the ignorant, racist idiot who distributed this picture, this is not an African witchdoctor’s dress like you claim,” another said.

Yet another PNG writer said: “Keep my country out of your foolishness.”

The photograph shows the Huli wigman from the newly-created Hela province sitting outside a round house, holding a stone axe while another rests on his right side.

His feathered wig clearly shows a stuffed bird of paradise in the middle and on both ends. Through his nose is a pig tusk.

The bigger debate though came from Americans themselves on whether the doctored image was racist or satirical.

Most were of the opinion that it was the former.

However, the organisers of the protests, a group called Tea Party, said the portrayal might be racist but it reflected anger about where President Obama was leading the country.

Tea Party said there had been too much US government intervention, particularly concerning healthcare and taxes.

However, critics countered that the witchdoctor image was blatantly racist.

“Presidents get made fun of all the time, and the election of a black president has only made racially charged political satire more sensitive,” one US website commentary noted.

Sinclaire Solomon is a senior journalist on The National daily newspaper in Papua New Guinea.

Original url

The official US health reform policy websit
Cafe Pacific comment on the controversy


  1. Colin, 29. September 2009, 20:06

    Whoever thought of the that idea to have President Obama face pasted onto the Huli has to be pretty dumb and ignorant of world geograpical knowledge .To think Africa and the Huli Warrior are in the same place can only mean the person is ignorant of the fact that there are cultures in the Paciifc where skin colour is similar to African nations yet cultures, lanaguge& traditions are totally miles apart .
    Maybe that person or persons should come to PNG and get a first hand experience of the Huli Warrior culture before classifying it as African .He will be in for a big surprise.

  2. Zah, 1. October 2009, 21:27

    This is absurd and totally uncalled for!Whoever put that image down I would seriously invite you to come over and visit Papua New Guinea yourself and see what our culture is like!And to think that you are classifying us along with the Africans is hilarious!Most people wonder where Papua New Guinea is and yet they have ways to discriminate and portray bad image about our counrty. Talk about developed nations being more educated and well aware of the outside world,this is a laughing issue.Whoever came up with that image,I suggest you come down to my homeland and discover what a real witchdoctor is really like!

  3. David Ulg Ketepa, 2. October 2009, 15:17

    Some of them are totally ignorant and have not thought much abut who is around them; let alone figuring out where Papua New Guinea is located. That makes them look stupid and fools on their own soil.

  4. Shaun Putman, 27. March 2010, 17:28

    wow i wish i was black so i can throw out the race card whenever something negative is said about being black does have its advantages that white people dont have.A white person who says prowhite is called prejudice but blacks are justified by throwing out the race card.Applause

  5. Liu Muri, 28. March 2010, 17:27

    You are wrong, Shaun. You need to appreciate that media, not only in USA, Britain, NZ and Australia, but universally, is still very white, and it is the white media which has been portraying (stereotyping) the black population in certain ways. The whole thing is about the power and racism which is more often than not, by an Anglo Saxon towards a black, coloured or other ethnic person.
    Yes, because of the power of the white media, the black person is justified in throwing in the race card. It is or can rarely be the other way round. Sorry, brother Shaun, for a change, being white happens to be your disadvantage -in this instance.

  6. Tony, 30. March 2010, 9:07

    Shaun,in Australia you’ll hardly see aboriginals or other black children appear on commercials on Australian TVs-kids add like Toys,Mcdonalds etc etc is only for white kids.

  7. Chris, 19. August 2012, 4:49

    To Tony….
    I can see where an advertiser will advertise to the type of people that purchase their items. I don’t believe that many of the aborigines have television sets, nor do they hang out at Toys R Us. It is also very unlikely that McDonalds will set up shop and sell Big Macs for Roo Pelts or Dingo Pelts.