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!

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