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Obeah

Obeah

West Indian witchcraft. The term is believed to derive from an Ashanti word, obayifo, a wizard or witch, although there are claims that it refers to Obi, a West African snake god. Author M. G. Lewis (1775-1818) spent some time in Jamaica, where his father owned large estates, and reported cases of obeah. In his posthumously published Journal of a West India Proprietor (1834), he wrote an entry on January 12, 1816, describing how ten months earlier a black man "of very suspicious manners and appearance" was arrested,

" and on examination there was found upon him a bag containing a great variety of strange materials for incantations; such as thunder-stones, cat's ears, the feet of various animals, human hair, fish bones, the teeth of alligators, etc.: he was conveyed to Montego Bay; and no sooner was it understood that this old African was in prison, than depositions were poured in from all quarters from negroes who deposed to having seen him exercise his magical arts, and, in particular, to his having sold such and such slaves medicines and charms to deliver them from their enemies; being, in plain English, nothing else than rank poisons. He was convicted of Obeah upon the most indubitable evidence. The good old practice of burning had fallen into disrepute; so he was sentenced to be transported, and was shipped off the island, to the great satisfaction of persons of all colourswhite, black, and yellow."

Jamaican legislation of 1760 enacted that "any Negro or other Slave who shall pretend to any Supernatural Power and be detected in making use of any materials relating to the practice of Obeah or Witchcraft in order to delude or impose upon the Minds of others shall upon Conviction thereof before two Magistrates and three Freeholders suffer Death or Transportation."

(See also Voudou ; West Indian Islands )

Sources:

Bell, Hesketh J. Obeah: Witchcraft in the West Indies. London: Sampson, Low & Co., 1889.

Emerick, Abraham J. Obeah and Duppyism in Jamaica. Wood-stock, N.Y.: privately printed, 1915.

Lewis, Matthew Gregory. Journal of a West Indian Proprietor. London: J. Murray, 1861. Reprint, New York: Negro University Press, 1961.

Williams, Joseph J. Voodoos and Obeahs; Phases of West Indian Witchcraft. New York: Dial Press, 1933.

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obeah

obeah a kind of sorcery practised especially in the Caribbean. Recorded from the mid 18th century, the word comes from Twi, from bayi ‘sorcery’.

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