YANGON – A self-proclaimed sorcerer who allegedly beat three children to death in an exorcism ritual appeared in a Rangoon court on Friday, telling reporters he was possessed by a “dark spirit” at the time of the killings.
Police say the black magic practitioner, Tun Naing, punched and kicked two toddlers and an eight-month-old baby to death last month in a tiny village outside Myanmar’s commercial capital.
According to witnesses he told villagers the children were possessed by evil sprits and then killed them over two days as their families watched.
Speaking as police led him away from the court hearing, Tun Naing told reporters he had been possessed when he attacked the children.
“I did it because I lost control of my mind at that time as the dark spirit took over me,” he said.
The uncle of the dead boy, also named Tun Naing, said the villagers lost their senses after he fed them “blessed” water and made them stand in a circle as he recited incantations.
“Because of what he did everyone was out of their mind,” he told AFP reporters who visited him in Twante, south of Rangoon several days after the killings.
A police report on the incident said the bodies of the children — a three-year-old boy, two-year-old girl and a baby — showed evidence of being punched, kicked and stamped on.
Hospital workers alerted authorities after the father of another little girl who had been beaten brought her to hospital covered in bruises.
While the majority of people in Myanmar are Buddhist, many also believe in spirits, astrology and “yadaya” — magic used to ward off evil or misfortune.
Former military ruler Ne Win was famously superstitious and caused economic chaos in the late 1980s when he changed the denominations of the currency to add up to his lucky number nine.
Despite the onslaught of smartphones, Western brands and luxury hotels that have arrived since the junta ceded power in 2011, many people still consult fortune tellers and mystics for guidance.
â€œIn all countries, people believe in the afterlife,â€ Kapol, one of Thailandâ€™s most famous ghost experts, tells AFP.
â€œWesterners may believe in Satan. In the nations of Southeast Asia, we believe in ghosts. This kind of belief helps people refrain from doing bad things. Mr A may think â€˜If I kill Mr B, he may become a ghost and come back to haunt meâ€™.â€
The spirit world is everywhere in Thailand where animism and folk beliefs [folklore] are deeply infused with Buddhism.
Most buildings boast a â€˜spirit houseâ€™ â€” a shrine placed in an auspicious corner of a property where offerings can be made to appease ghosts lest they turn malevolent.