Great Smithsonian Article on Obeah’s Role in Antigua’s Slave Revolt

antiguaFrom smithsonianmag.com, Antigua’s Disputed Slave Conspiracy of 1736:

Klaas is a figure of compelling interest to historians. Gaspar and others argue that his influence over his fellow slaves went further than the Antiguan planters of the day realized, since, according to the official report on the planned uprising, “it was fully proved that he had for many Years covertly assumed among his Countrymen, the Title of King, and had been by them address’d, and treated as such.”  They further identify him as an Ashanti, a member of a tribal confederation renowned for discipline and courage, not to mention abundant use of human sacrifice.

The most intriguing evidence relating to Prince Klaas concerns a public ceremony held a week before the planned rebellion. In the course of this ritual, Gaspar says, Klaas was enthroned by an “obey man”—an obeah-man, that is; a priest, shaman or sorcerer who practiced the West African folk religion known as voodoo or santería. In other Caribbean risings, it was the obeah-man who administered oaths of loyalty to would-be rebels with a mixture made of gunpowder, grave dirt and cock’s blood; strong belief in his supernatural powers helped cement loyalty. Michael Craton is not alone in arguing that the ceremony Antigua’s obeah-man presided over was actually a war dance,

Police Violate Religious Rights in Canada, Pose As Obeah Man

police-carAn undercover police sting in Ontario used an undercover officer of Caribbean ancestry, Andrew Cooper, to pose as an Obeah Priest in order to gain confessions from three suspects in the slaying of a drug dealer in Brampton. According to the-star.com:

Peel Region police breached the religious rights of a Jamaican Canadian family by having an officer pose as an Obeah spiritual adviser to extract information during a murder investigation, the Court of Appeal will hear Tuesday.

Evol Robinson, his brother Jahmar Welsh, and friend Ruben Pinnock are asking the court to overturn their first-degree murder convictions in the 2004 Brampton shooting of drug dealer Youhan Oraha.

The trial judge, Ontario Superior Court Justice Terrance O’Connor, erred in admitting statements made by Robinson and Pinnock to an undercover constable posing as Leon the Obeah Man, according to their claim.

The evidence was crucial to the Crown’s case against Robinson and Pinnock.

The Crown argues police did not play a “dirty trick” that would shock Canadians. “Deceit and manipulation are inherent in undercover operations,” it says in a written response.

The police officer, Andrew Cooper, donned a black robe and wore a head covering and chanted in a darkened room lit by candlelight. Most sessions were secretly videotaped.

To appear prescient, Cooper used information from police wiretaps. To demonstrate his power over evil, he had a dead crow placed on the Robinson family’s front steps. He broke open an egg at the murder scene with secretly pre-loaded red dye to look like blood.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines Obeah as a type of sorcery or witchcraft practised especially in the West Indies, but four defence experts at trial said it is a form of religious practice.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has intervened in the appeal, arguing that allowing police to impersonate religious advisers “shocks the conscience of Canadians.”

“People in Canada have a right to spiritual guidance and a right to a relationship with a religious advisor free from police interference,” the association states in written submissions.

A black man of Caribbean ancestry, Cooper had 17 sessions with Robinson, his mother, Collette, and/or Pinnock.

“Leon” claimed the Robinson family was cursed by an evil spirit, a “white boy” who had drawn police and the judiciary to them.

He offered Colette Robinson protection against the justice system (Babylon) and its stakeholders (judges, police — the “Beast man”) and engaged them in activities he claimed would quell the evil spirit.

The African Canadian Legal Clinic has intervened in the case, arguing the ruse preyed on the Robinson family’s deep-seated mistrust of police and the criminal justice system.

Police treated the Robinsons’ ethnicity-based belief in Obeah as a tool to extract information, assuming those beliefs are not worthy of equal respect, thus breaching their equality rights, the clinic argues.

Det.-Sgt. David Jarvis testified at trial that the Obeah idea was his. Obeah is not a religion, he said, and he would not have infiltrated Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims or Hindus.

According to authorities in Canada, Obeah is not a religion. Do Canadian authorities believe it is fine to use magicians tricks and deception to manipulate a criminal suspect in the name of an African religious Spirit – say, Eshu – but it would not be appropriate for them to use the same tactics claiming to be from a Christian Angel, or from Jesus Christ. Can an undercover police officer in Canada pretend to be a Minister of Christ, using wiretapped information to convince a suspect that they are communicating with Jesus?

The issue is not endorsing or excusing any criminal behaviour – especially a murder – but rather the ignorance surrounding the beliefs and practices of traditional African religions such as Obeah. It is good to see that the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the African Canadian Legal Clinic both took up the banner to fight not only for the rights of the suspects, but for the dignity of Obeah, its religious beliefs and its authenticity as a religion, a spiritual belief, equal and on par with a Catholic, Hindu or Muslim.

The Leader-Post added additional comments from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association:

Further, the association argued, “the failure to recognize a protection to the integrity of the relationship of trust and confidence with a spiritual adviser creates a chill on all Canadians’ right to engage in meaningful religious practices and expression.”

Progress in Jamaica Toward Tolerance of African Cultures

Jamaican Information Service has taken steps to remove current laws making specific crimes punishable by flogging. The practice of Obeah, widespread in Jamaica, is included on that list along with petty theft and larceny. The Obeah Act was passed in 1898 but has remained on the books and has been spuriously enforced to this day.

The Obeah Act was created in order to suppress slaves who feared that Obeah could be used to overthrow them. In the end, it turned out they were right. Many practitioners of Obeah escaped into Maroon communities where they live to this day, practicing Obeah as they did in Africa. Ironically, Obeah was also embraced by early slave owners as well as the new politicians of a democratic, independent Jamaica. Of most note is Edward Seaga, a man who was Prime Minister of Jamaica and subsequently held a position of political power every day of his life. It is no surprise that the Jamaica Observer ran the headilne: “Seaga Weighs in on Obeah Debate“:

Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, under whose administration Myal was elevated to national importance as an aspect of Jamaica’s African religious heritage during and after slavery, said he had no idea that the law had equated Myal with Obeah.

“If that is so, it is totally wrong, Seaga said. “Myalism was developed during slavery as a means for the slaves to express themselves spiritually, because they didn’t have a single language. It is still called Myal in St Thomas, but it eventually became Zion Revival, in other places”.

According to Seaga, Myal was created in Jamaica by African slaves, from a mixture of African religions, cultures and languages.

“Obeah is not a religion, it is a spiritual doctor and it is totally wrong to mix obeah with Myal,” he commented.

Seaga was an adherent and activist int he Myalist community when he secured power as the fifth Prime Minister of Jamaica. This was when Myalism was distinguished from Obeah; Myalism as the religious aspect and Obeah ass the practical, or doctoral, aspect. Seaga’s involvement and sentimentality for Myalism  – which has largely been suppressed like Obeah – shew through.

An Obeah Video Selection

As I was watching YouTube I came across a vibrant community of individuals discussing and practicing Obeah. It is so nice to see this tradition being discussed and embraced. Here are some of the videos for your enjoyment and inspiration.

“What Is Legitimate Voodoo Hoodoo and Obeah” by The Divine Prince Ty Emmecca

A very insightful commentary by Prince Ty on getting results and dropping the pretensions in spiritual work. You can feel a very strong spiritual vibe from this man and a very positive message. You can contact him at House Of The Divine Prince.

Next up is a video from The African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica, a virtual walk through of an Obeah exhibit in Jamaica called Guzzum Power. Notice in the video how the curator refers to Obeah still being illegal in Jamaica (The Obeah Act). Also take note of the sparse amount of Obeah relics and paraphernalia in the exhibition. Even today, Obeah is well-guarded and a secretive practice.

The walk through did a very good job of highlighting how there is both good and bad Obeah – it is not all evil as commonly described. In the video he showed a traditional Obeah Thanksgiving table, a positive rite and blessing.

A prayer to remove Obeah by MrPastor77 with a hypnotizing soundtrack. Although MrPastor77 does not support Obeah he does make Biblically sound points. Specifically, that the Bible does tell us Obeah is real. This is one point we can all agree on despite our differences.

Father God, we do know that Obeah is real. That magic is real. That spells are real. As we learn from that Moses, and Pharaoh and his men, were able to turn sticks into snakes. We know that spells and curses are real because Balaam was sent from the Israelites’ enemy to put a curse on them.

Bad Luck and Obeah

A recent article by Chris Burns at the Jamaica Observer, titled with the claim, “No Connection Between Bad Luck and Obeah” asserted the following:

“It is often said that bad luck is worse than obeah, but this is untrue. Obeah and bad luck are unrelated because bad luck cannot produce obeah and obeah cannot make bad luck. In fact, as Murphy’s 56th law asserts, “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong.” This means there is always a possibility of things happening contrary to our expectations, particularly with things over which we have no control.

Therefore, no one should use this aphorism to explain certain outcomes or behaviour, especially when it is crystal clear that neither bad luck nor obeah had anything to do with the negative consequences that emanate from certain deeds. In a sense, application of this adage is a cop-out and a slick way of ducking personal and collective responsibility.”

Mr. Burns made a very good point – far too often people do assert that witchcraft, Obeah, or just bad luck is at fault for what they should take responsibility for. The case of criminal finally caught after a life of crime exclaiming, “Obeah did me in!” falls into this category. It is not the Obeah, but the natural outcome of living that type of lifestyle. As Mr. Burns said, it does not take Obeah or bad fortune to explain why certain results come from certain deeds. However, Mr. Burns sells the truth short when he claims that Obeah and bad luck are not related. The two are inseparably intertwined. And the aphorism that bad luck is worse than Obeah is a piece of African wisdom that has many, many secrets to tell us:

Witchcraft, Vodou, Obeah, or by whatever name you prefer to call it is the ritual part of generating a spiritual force. Bad luck is the actual spiritual force. Bad luck, misfortunes, illness, financial ruin and even death can come to any man at any time. As the Holy Bible tells us, when it rains it does not rain upon one man alone (or only upon the wicked). These spiritual forces exists and they can reach out and touch any person. Obeah can generate or invoke the spiritual forces to bring harm – Obeah can cause bad luck, as the aphorism indicates. However, bad luck can also come without Obeah. This is one meaning of the expression bad luck is worse than Obeah.

Obeah can bring healing, blessings, benefits to the individual and even spiritual salvation. However, bad luck is always bad. Behind this there is always a negative spirit. This is another meaning when we say that bad luck is worse than Obeah.

An Obeah man can place a curse upon you. He can also lift it and restore you. Bad luck that comes by itself, however, is not as easily removed. It can be lifted, but it is not the same as the bad fortune caused by an Obeah man being immediately erased by the same Obi man. And this is yet another meaning of the expression that bad luck is worse than Obeah.

Mr. Burns made the very important point that we alone are responsible for the consequences that come from our own actions. And his point is truly not in contradiction to the one made here, because not all bad luck that befalls a person is the result of their actions. Many innocent people suffer due to evil men, evil spirits and evil forces in the world. This is the most important meaning of bad luck is worse than Obeah. Obeah can be used to fight against random evil forces in the world that harm innocents. Bad Luck refers to those forces that bring nothing but evil upon all of mankind.

We must use Obeah, even if unseemly, to stamp out the truly evil forces that plague us as human beings.

Reggae Artist “Perfect” and the Obeah Prophecy

Reggae Artist "Perfect"An interesting note by world-renowned reggae artist Perfect in an interview with unitedreggae.com on a prophecy he received in his early career from a Jamaican Revivalist, closely related to the spiritual traditions of Obeah:

I knew I was going to travel a lot. Because back in Jamaica you have what they call the Revival Group. It’s a religious group – there’s a Pocomania order, a Revival order, it’s coming from Africa. In Jamaica people see them as also being Obeah, black magic people. So if someone fell sick and said an evil spirit was upon them the Revival Church is one of the first churches they would take those people to try to get them back together. And in that order you have a Mother Woman – like a chief. Now, when I was young, about 15 years old and going to High School, there was a Revival Group that used to come to the square in Browns Town. I was always kind of scared of those people. One Friday afternoon I was coming from school through Browns Town when the chief, the Mother Woman – who was wearing red when the others were in white – she just pointed at me and said “You! Come here!” I was a bit scared but people were like “Oh! The Mother Woman, she called, so go!” She said “Let me see your hand” and said “You’re going to go all around the world. You’re going to fly like a bird. Go fly fly fly!” When I’m on a plane sometimes I flash back to that and she was right!

Many of us who have grown up around Obeah have experienced very much of the same. It is not uncommon to be stopped on the street at least once in your life to have a prophecy blurted out at you that later comes true. The sensation is often eerie to the uninitiated, particularly when one looks back and finds it to be so very true.

 

Obeah, Jamaican Maroons and Tourism

The Maroons, escaped slaves in the West Indies, were feared by colonists and slave owners for their fearsome fighting ability and magical arts. Those magical arts were, of course, Obeah. Today, Maroon communities live and thrive in Jamaica. However, with the financial crisis impacting the world they too struggle to thrive economically. Tourism – and to a degree Obeah – play a part in this as well. CBS News reports on Charles Town, Jamaica, a community of Maroons who have held onto traditional African rituals, practices and Obeah:

CHARLES TOWN, Jamaica — In a backwoods town along a river cutting between green mountains, quick-footed men and women spin and stomp to the beat of drums. One dancer waving a knife is wrapped head-to-foot in leafy branches, his flashing eyes barely visible through the camouflage.

This traditional dance re-enacts the Jamaican Maroons’ specialty: the ambush. It was once a secret ritual of the fierce bands of escaped slaves who won freedom by launching raids on planters’ estates and repelling invasions of their forest havens with a mastery of guerrilla warfare.

Tourism plays a part in the economic livelihood of the Maroons of Charles Town, but the traditional practices of Maroon spirituality – specifically Obeah – also draw in visitors. These practices attract people not just from the inner-city of Jamaica, but from all around the world. It is also worth noting that this is one example of Obeah breaking the stereotype of being a destructive magic. Here Obeah is demonstrated as a balanced, positive healing force as it accurately should be:

“If a person is mad or if they are sick, we can make a healing dance. Our Obeah is a good Obeah,” Prehay said, referring to an Afro-Caribbean religion that involves channeling spiritual forces and is feared by some in Jamaica’s countryside, where superstitions about shamanism and the occult run deep.

But visitors are very rare in his poor town along a dusty, rutted road about a 45-minute drive from Jamaica’s capital, Kingston. Unlike the other three Maroon communities in Jamaica, Scott’s Hall has no museum, dancing grounds or other attractions aimed at tourists.

May our blessings and prayers go out to the Maroons of Charles Town. Let their Obeah, traditions and culture elevate them to new heights!

A Guyanese Student’s Experience of Obeah

Obeah, although most frequently associated with Triniad or Jamaica, is found throughout the Caribbean. In Guyana Obeah is also called Obeah and practiced widely. A Guyanese student at the City College of New York wrote about his experience of Obeah in Guyana:

There are many names for this type of religion in Brazil they call it Umbanda, Condomble de Congo or Angola. In Caribbean countries such as Guyana where I am from they call it Obeah and in Jamaica they call it Kumina.

In Guyana you will find Muslims, Hindus, and Christians who use Obeah and their religious books such as the Quran to perform powerful magic with the help of Jinn’s and Angels. Those who practice Obeah help people with problems concerning their work, romance, domestic life, and health, but they can also do harm to those who they want revenge on or is jealous of. In other words they are good and bad Obeah man. Some people are given charms to protect them from evil or harm.’

Guyana has unique religious demographics with sizable portions of Hindus, Christians and Muslims. Obeah is practiced across religious lines:

In order to make my research effective I interviewed six Guyanese people, in which three were women and three were men. All of which are either Hindu, Muslim, or Christian. I had two Muslims, two Christian, and two Hindu’s. The age’s ranged from 22-56. Four of the interviewees had college degrees, and the other two had high school diplomas. Two of the interviewees were born in America, but is highly influenced by the Guyanese culture. The other four were born in Guyana.

All of the interviewees agreed that they knew someone that has practiced Obeah and tried to harm someone.  All of my interviewees didn’t practice any type of Obeah.   One of my interviewee’s was actually affected by Obeah, she said that one of her family members was jealous of her so they put a spell on her.  She said that weird things were happening to her and she was feeling sick.  She went to doctors and they couldn’t find out what was wrong with her, so she saw an obeah man who gave her a charm to protect her from the evil that had been done to her.

Voodoos and Obeahs – Phases of West Indies Witchcraft

Voodoos and Obeahs – Phases of West Indies Witchcraft, an ethnography concerning Voodoo and Obeah released in 1932. Origins on Obeah begin on Chapter 4 and the Development of Obeah begins in Chapter 5, with discussion intermittent in both the preceding and concluding chapters. An important text in understanding the perceived history of Obeah in Jamaica and the West Indies similar to the Malleus Maleficarum’s depictions of witchery in the 15th century.You will not learn Obeah from this book but you will learn what was believed about Obeah by some.

Obeah Involved in Story of Extradited Drug Lord Dudus Coke

Excerpt from the Jamaica Gleaner:

Dudus Coke ObeahThe caller said that the belief in Tivoli was that Mr and Mrs Johnson had worked obeah on Jah T and caused his death. This was said to Jim Brown, who was in General Penitentiary awaiting extradition to the US. Jim Brown confirmed the request for action to be taken against Mr and Mrs Johnson.One morning, gunmen entered their house and shot Mr Johnson at the door. They went upstairs and shot Mrs Johnson to death.