Obeah man in Jamaica: Man’s Quest to Delineate Practices of the Centuries
For hundreds of years, man has peered into the strangest of places for answers to
some of the strangest experiences they have learnt of, or even encountered
themselves. When the medical doctors failed to cure with needles and pills, men
sought after “bush doctors”. The power of Obeah has been known to protect the
fisherman at sea, help the farmer to experience a greater yield from his crops, make
the corner shop man’s business more profitable, help a woman to get the promotion
she desired, help the man’s boss give him a raise, help people find love or even help
the Lawyer win that difficult case.
Occult powers have been known to control both the living and the dead. The words
Obeah, Spiritism, Occult, Satanism, Voodoo, Black Magic, Witchcraft or Necromancy
(or as we call it in Jamaica ‘negromancy) have been known to evoke feelings of fear,
mystery, curiosity and even terror. Most of these feelings are owed to lack of
information, created myths and misconceptions, as persons failing to dig deep for
information, for truth, resort to their own opinions or suspicions which sometimes
transform into common beliefs and practices, later becoming accepted realities.
What is Obeah – Definition
As a Caribbean island, many of us are familiar with the word Obeah, pronounced
“Obeya, or Obihay”. Obeah is a system of spiritual healing and justice-making
practices developed among enslaved West Africans in the West Indies. It is
considered to be a form of “black magic”. Obeah does rely heavily on the existence of
the supernatural. Obeah can be equated to other African diaspora religions, such as
Palo, Haitian Voodoo, Santeria, and Hoodoo in that it includes communication with
ancestors and spirits and healing rituals.
It is believed that what constitutes Obeah in Jamaica has been constructed by white
society, particularly law enforcement. Therefore, different Afro-Caribbean
Communities use their own definition for the practice, such as “spell casting”, among
the Jamaican Windward Maroons.
Many persons fail to realize or acknowledge the power and persistence of Obeah in
Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.
Obeah – Its’ Origin
Obeah was brought to the Caribbean centuries ago by African slaves, and has thrived,
enhanced by superstitions prevalent among the Scottish and Irish, spiced with
Christian rituals and enriched by the expert knowledge of herbs and spices contributed
by the Carib Indians.
MAN’S QUEST TO DELINEATE PRACTICES OF THE CENTURIES Cont’d
Interesting to note, is the fact that there are some aspects of these folk religions that
have survived through the coming together of different religions, cultures or schools of
thought with Christian symbolism and practices introduced by colonials from Europe
and even slave
Most Plantation Owners believed in the power Obeah had over their slaves, as the
practice of Obeah and Black Magic helped them in maintaining “order in the camp”.
Obeah – A Popular Practice
Obeah is a practice sought after and practiced by individuals within their own
privacy. Obeah is technically illegal on most islands. Therefore, it is a practice kept
silent – not spoken about in the public domain.
People who practice Obeah live in seclusion – in the bushes or in the country areas,
away from the law. Their powers are known both to harm and heal. Their services are
in demand by the rich, the poor, the black and the white. Obeah practices are not
restricted to any class, racial group or educational background. Of course, everyone
wants peace of mind and will go to the end of the earth to find it and will obtain it at
Obeah is considered a popular practice in Jamaica and can be found predominantly
in St. James, St. Elizabeth, St. Thomas, St. Elizabeth and St. Mary. In fact, speaking
of St. Mary, it is said that finding an Obeah man is very easy in the hills of St.
Mary. Persons living in St. Mary point out a property that is surrounded by an old
rotten metal fence, painted in blue and yellow. This location is not exclusive. The man
in his sixties, known as Judge, refers to himself as an “Obeah man”. He says he is
not a science man. He says he is blessed with the gift of seeing into the future. He is
very proud of his ‘gift’ , speaks very openly about it; as he says he has nothing to
hide. He administers help from the openness of his veranda. He claims to possess
the ability to solve all kinds of problems from removing curse to curing illnesses.
Obeah – Outlawed in Jamaica
Obeah has been outlawed in Jamaica since 1760, over 200 years ago. So Judge and
others like him are technically breaking the law. However, it has been decades since
anyone was convicted.
Some politicians argue that if it is right to rescind punishments such as flogging with a
wooden switch and whipping with a cat o’nine tails, the whole law should be
repealed. Mr. Tom Tavares-Finson, Senator and Lawyer expressed that Jamaica
needs to get rid of the Obeah act. The Jamaican government is open to giving this
Obeah – Outlawed in Jamaica Cont’d
For hundreds of years, Jamaicans have been prevented by law from practicing Obeah,
a belief system with similarities to Haiti’s Voodoo. Now, influencers of the law believe
they have a chance to overturn the law. Until recently, the practice of Obeah was
punishable by flogging or imprisonment, among other penalties.
The government recently abolished such colonial-era punishments, prompting calls
for a decriminalization of Obeah to follow. However, Jamaica is a highly religious
country. Christianity dominates nearly every aspect of life; and it is practiced
everywhere from small, wooden meeting halls through to large churches with
congregations with population exceeding the thousands. Jamaica is famous for the
highest ratio of churches to people in the world. Therefore, the proposal to
decriminalize what many Christians regard as black magic, a scam, or even evil, is a
very controversial subject
Types of Obeah Practiced In the Caribbean etal
However, different types of Obeah are practiced in the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize,
Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines,
Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and the Virgin Islands as well as in Nigeria.
Obeah – The Black Magic of The Caribbean
Obeah is considered the Black Magic of the Caribbean; and people have turned to
Obeah for solutions in their day-to-day affairs. Popular in Jamaica, an individual may
want a promotion, another individual may want a spell to make him or her irresistible
to the opposite sex, an individual may want to see his friend or competitor’s business
go under or a woman may want to protect her new born from evil or demonic
spirits. You will visit someone’s house and see a new born with a red string tied to its
hand or a red band around its head with a Bible open above the bed. You will see
another individual wearing a ring or a necklace or a wrist band for protection and peace
Obeah is also associated with our National Heroes and is proof that its embedded in
our heritage as a people and is probably one of the many reasons many of our
Jamaicans and Caribbean nationals hold to it so dear. The word ‘Obeah’ dates back
as far as the 18th century in connection with Nanny of the Maroons. Nanny was well
known for her spiritual powers. She is said to have used her Obeah powers to kill
British soldiers in Nanny’s Pot, a boiling pot without a flame that she would use to
quickly provide food for her hungry soldiers. It is said that soldiers would lean into it
and fall in. It was also used to catch British bullets and either fire them back or attack
the soldiers with a machete.
Though not many individuals believe in the practice of Obeah in the cities, those who
practice it have to come or send to Kingston to purchase the lotions, potions, candles
and whatever products needed to resolve their issues.
Obeah – The Black Magic of The Caribbean
The operator of a drug store in downtown Kingston has most of the popular goods that
are needed by these Obeah men, from soaps, sprays, candles and potions with the
claim to either attract a new lover or get rid of an existing one or prevent an existing
one from leaving. The Obeah man sends their clients with a list and the owner of the
drug stores fills the orders as would a pharmacist a prescription.
Spiritualism swept the English-speaking nations in the mid- 19th. Century, appealing
to those in the Afro-Caribbean diaspora, gaining prominence in Jamaica, as spirit
contact, especially with the dead became an essential part of many African religions.
Spiritualism and Spiritism
Spiritualism is a movement based on the belief that departed souls can interact with
the living. Spiritualists seek to contact the dead, usually through the assistance of a
medium, a person believed to have the ability to contact spirits directly.
The Journey of Spiritism
Spiritism includes reincarnation and the archaic mediumistic methods of American
“Occult Spiritualism” of the Fox sisters but is more Christian than the American.
Spiritism spread from France to Cuba and Brazil, where in some instances it blended
with Cuban and Brazilian African traditions.
Spiritualists believe in the possibility of communication with the spirits of dead people,
whom they regard as “discarnate humans”. They believe that spirit mediums are gifted
to carry on such communication, but that anyone may become a medium through
study and practice.
The Journey of Spiritism Cont’d.
Spiritual Societies are present in Jamaica, however, not as accessible as the common
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