The Info List - Obeah

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In the West Indies, Obeah
(sometimes spelled Obi, Obeah, Obeya, or Obia)[1][2] is a system of[3][4][5] sorcery and religious practices developed among enslaved West Africans of Igbo origin.[6][7] Obeah
is similar to other Afro-American religions
Afro-American religions
such as Palo, Haitian Vodou, Santería, and Hoodoo. Obeah
is practiced in the Bahamas
and in the Caribbean
nations of Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Virgin Islands,[8] as well as by the Igbo people
Igbo people
of Nigeria.[9][10][11] Obeah
includes both benign and malignant magic, charms, luck, and mysticism. In some cases, aspects of these folk religions have survived through syncretism with Christian symbolism and practice introduced by European colonials and slave owners.


1 Origins 2 History 3 Obeah
in Trinidad and Tobago 4 Obeah
in literature 5 Obeah
in popular culture 6 See also 7 Notes 8 External links

Origins[edit] In parts of the Caribbean
where Obeah
developed, slaves were taken from a variety of African nations with differing spiritual practices and religions. It is from these arrivals and their spiritualisms that Obeah
originates. The hypothesis of origin that is most accepted and is supported by the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute
W. E. B. Du Bois Institute
database[12] traces Obeah
to the Dibia or Obia (Igbo: doctoring)[13] traditions of the Igbo people.[14][15] Specialists in Obia (also spelled Obea) were known as Ndi Obia (Igbo: Obia people) and practised the same activities as the Obeah
men and women of the Caribbean
like predicting the future and manufacturing charms.[6][16] Among the Igbo there were oracles known as Obiạ which were said to be able to talk.[17] Parts of the Caribbean
where Obeah
was most active imported a large number of its slaves from the Igbo-dominated Bight of Biafra.[12] In another hypothesis, the Efik language is the root of Obeah
where the word obeah comes from the Efik ubio meaning 'a bad omen'.[18] The last hypothesis of the origin of Obeah
lies with the Ashanti who called their priests Obayifoɔ and their practices Ɔbayi (pronounced "oh-beh-ee", the word was an anglicized distortion like many other Akan words, e.g., "bɛsɛ" becoming "bissy", thus the pronunciation of "obeah") (Akan: witchcraft).[19] There is also evidence of Akan names among Obeah
men of the Caribbean
in the 17th and 18th centuries.[12] The Akan origin of Obeah
has been criticised by several writers who hold that an Igbo origin is more likely.[20] However, in colonies where Bight of Biafra slaves were less represented and Akan were plenty ( Suriname
and Guyana), Obeah
is thought to be more of a mixture of Akan and European Christian beliefs.[20] According to Edward Long a slave-master and historian, the Akan culture dominated Jamaica
and even other newly arrived enslaved Africans had to conform to it and that only Akan gods and customs were observed, because Akan people were the majority of the slave population on the island. The first time in Jamaican history the term "obeah" was used was to refer to Nanny of the Maroons an Ashanti-Akan queen as an old 'witch', to slander her because of her defeating the British.[21][22] Obeah
came to mean any physical object, such as a talisman or charm, that was used for evil magical purposes. Referred to as an Obeah-item (for e.g. an 'obeah ring' or an 'obeah-stick', etc. translated as: ring used for witchcraft or stick used for witchcraft respectively)[23] Obeah
incorporated various beliefs from the religions of later migrants to the colonies where it was present. Obeah
also influenced other religions in the Caribbean, e.g. Christianity
which incorporated some Obeah
beliefs.[8] History[edit]

figure confiscated from a black man named Alexander Ellis on his arrest in suspicion of practicing as an 'obeah-man' in Morant Bay, Jamaica
in 1887. Both of which were Akan speakers or "Coromantee".[24]

The term 'obeah' is first found in documents from the early 18th century, as in its connection to Nanny of the Maroons, but discussion of it becomes more frequent when it was made illegal in Jamaica
after Tacky's War, in which an obeahman provided advice to the rebels.[25] In 1787 a letter to an English newspaper referred to "Obiu-women" interpreting the wishes of the dead at the funeral of a murdered slave in Jamaica: a footnote explained the term as meaning "Wise-women".[26] A continuing source of white anxiety related to Obeah
was the belief that practitioners were skilled in using poisons, as mentioned in Matthew Lewis's Journal of a West India Proprietor. An anti- Obeah
law passed in Barbados
in 1818 specifically forbade the possession of "any poison, or any noxious or destructive substance".[27] A doctor who examined the medicine chest of an Obeah
man arrested in Jamaica
in 1866 identified white arsenic as one of the powders in it, but could not identify the others. The unnamed correspondent reporting this affirmed "The Jamaica
herbal is an extensive one, and comprises some highly poisonous juices, of which the Obeah
men have a perfect knowledge."[28] During the mid 19th century the appearance of a comet in the sky became the focal point of an outbreak of religious fanatical millennialism among the Myal men of Jamaica. Spiritualism was at that time sweeping the English-speaking nations as well, and it readily appealed to those in the Afro- Caribbean
diaspora, as spirit contact, especially with the dead, is an essential part of many African religions. During the conflict between Myal and Obeah, the Myal men positioned themselves as the "good" opponents to "evil" Obeah.[29] They claimed that Obeah
men stole people's shadows, and they set themselves up as the helpers of those who wished to have their shadows restored. Myal men contacted spirits in order to expose the evil works they ascribed to the Obeah
men, and led public parades which resulted in crowd-hysteria that engendered violent antagonism against Obeah
men. The public "discovery"[according to whom?] of buried Obeah
charms, presumed to be of evil intent, led on more than one occasion to violence against the rival Obeah
men. Laws were passed that limited both Obeah
and Myal traditions.[30] Obeah
in Trinidad and Tobago[edit] Trinidad and Tobago, Obeah
includes the unique practice of the Moko-Jumbie, or stilt dancer. Moko was a common word for Ibibio slaves[citation needed]. In the Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago
tradition. A Douen is a child who has died before being baptized, and is said to be forced to forever walk the earth at night in English-speaking regions of the Caribbean. Jewelry is made from deadly toxic red and black seeds called jumbies, jumbie eyes or jumbie beads (seeds of Abrus precatorius containing the AB toxin
AB toxin
abrin) in the Caribbean
and South America. By contrast, the moko-jumbie of Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago
is brightly colored, dances in the daylight, and is very much alive. The moko-jumbie also represents the flip side of spiritual darkness, as stilt-dancing is most popular around holy days and Carnival. Obeah
in literature[edit] Although 18th-century literature mentions Obeah
often, one of the earliest references to Obeah
in fiction can be found in 1800, in William Earle's novel Obi; or, The History of Three-Finger'd Jack, a narrative inspired by true events that was also reinterpreted in several dramatic versions on the London stage in 1800 and following.[31] One of the next major books about Obeah
was Hamel, the Obeah
Man (1827). Several early plantation novels also include Obeah plots. In Marryat's novel Poor Jack
Poor Jack
(1840) a rich young plantation-owner[32] ridicules superstitions held by English sailors but himself believes in Obeah. The 20th century saw less actual Obeah
in open practice, yet it still appears quite often in fiction and drama. The following is only a partial list:

Aleister Crowley, a controversial English mystic declared The Book of the Law was dictated to him in 1904 by a non-physical being. Ch 1 verse 37 reads: "Also the mantras and spells; the obeah and the wanga; the work of the wand and the work of the sword; these shall he learn and teach" Henry S. Whitehead, who lived for some time on St Croix
St Croix
in the Caribbean, published his supernatural tale "The Jumbee" in Weird Tales (1926). The story lent its title to his collection Jumbee and Other Uncanny Tales (1944). Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston
researched and wrote widely on the subject, including essays, drama, and the novel Jonah's Gourd Vine. The former slave, Christophine, in Jean Rhys's novel Wide Sargasso Sea is a practitioner of Obeah. Solitaire, the female lead in the James Bond
James Bond
novel Live and Let Die, is said to have "the power of the Obeah." An Obeah
woman is a sort of matchmaker in Earl Lovelace's novel Salt. Ma Kilman in Derek Walcott's epic poem "Omeros" is a healer who uses Obeah. In the novels and memoirs of Jamaica
Kincaid there are several passages that mention Obeah. There are frequent references to Obeah
in The Suffrage of Elvira written by V S Naipaul A central character in Unburnable is reputed to be an Obeah
woman. The protagonist of the novel Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson is an Obeah-woman in training, learning from her grandmother. She uses her abilities to defeat an evil Obeah-man and his duppy. Obeah
is heavily referenced in Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's novel Cemetery Dance. A main character in the 2009 YA novel Three Witches by Paula Jolin (Roaring Brook/MacMillan)is a native of Trinidad and attempts to use Obeah
to raise a dead classmate. Several characters in the book "The Book of Night Women" by Marlon James are said to practice Obeah, and it is a focal point at a number of points in the novel. Shadowcatcher, the antagonist in the Nicholas Da Silva graphic novel series Dread & Alive (novel), is an Obeah-man who uses Obeah
to regain the prized amulet taken away from him by his brother, Cudjoe, the Myalman of the Jamaican Maroons." Robert Louis Stevenson Jamieson and his brother Arthur Conan Doyle Jamieson are both practicing Obeah
in the Necroscope: the lost Years Novel from Brian Lumley. Obeah
figures in prominently in The Lazarus Curse (Dr. Thomas Silkstone #4) by Tessa Harris. The story centers around Jamaican slaves in 18th century England and the Obeah-men and their spells/talismans. Marie-Magdeleine Carbet, Martinique's most prolific woman writer, wrote a short story, "Obeah," now republished in English translation (along with the original French) by Michigan State UP as "Obeah" and Other Martinican Stories.

in popular culture[edit]

In the films Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, and its sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the character of Tia Dalma is called an " Obeah
woman" and has (among other skills) the power to restore life. In the action thriller Marked for Death, obeah plays a major role in the plot. The 1953 film City Beneath the Sea, taking place in Jamaica, includes Obeah
rituals and references to Obeah
people. Captain Beefheart
Captain Beefheart
composed and recorded a song called " Obeah
Man" in 1966, but it went unreleased until included in the 1999 box set "Grow Fins: Rarities 1965–1982". He also used the phrase "obi-man" in the song "Golden Birdies" on his album Clear Spot. The famous Grenadian-Trinidadian calypsonian The Mighty Sparrow sings a song entitled " Obeah
Wedding". Bahamian singer Exuma recorded the song " Obeah
Man", which was included on his eponymous debut album in 1970. African American singer, pianist and civil rights activist Nina Simone took on the role of " Obeah
Woman" in the song of the same name which she performed live on It Is Finished (1974). She used this image of a powerful African witch, who "could hug the sun, kiss the moon and eat thunder" to manifest her rage concerning the situation of African-Americans at the time. The film Meet Joe Black
Meet Joe Black
features a Jamaican woman who calls the title character an "obeah man" (translated as "evil spirit") until she has learned that he is in fact a personification of Death. A chutney music duo Babla & Kanchan sang a song entitled "Obeah". Obeah
is a Salubri clan discipline in White Wolf Publishing's Role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade. Obeah
is the religion listed on a computer screen of a 13-year-old girl, Alisa Beldon, identified as a latent telepath in the Babylon 5 episode "Legacies" (Season 1, Episode 17). In the television series version of Da Kink in My Hair hairstylist Starr chants to give herself strength which suspiciously sound like spells to some of the Caribbean
clients of the West Indian hair salon. When styling church-going Sister Corrine the woman exclaims "Don't bother bring dat obia business to me...get this vodou witchcraft woman 'way from me head!" illustrating the contrasts between acceptance and disdain for obeah in the Caribbean. In episode 2 of the 1974–1975 television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, entitled "Zombie", a grandmother, identified as "Mamalois" (the feminine version of "papaloi", an Obeah
priest[33]), seeks revenge for her grandson's death by turning him into a zombie to do her bidding. Obeah
plays a major role in the 2001 horror movie Ritual. In Live and Let Die, James Bond's love interest, Solitaire, played by Jane Seymour, is said to have the power of the Obeah. A subplot in a Barney Miller
Barney Miller
episode entitled "Computer Crime" (season 5, episode 22) features an Obeah
woman (played by Mabel King).

See also[edit]

West African Vodun
West African Vodun
- West African religion, an antecedent of Haitian Vodou Eddie Nawgu - A Nigerian
sorcerer from the Igbo tribe Pericoma Okoye - A Nigerian
musician and Obeah
practitioner from the Igbo tribe


^ Williams, Joseph John S.J.. Voodoos and Obeahs: Phases of West Indian Witchcraft (1932). Publisher: Lincoln MacVeagh, Dial Press, Inc., New York. Chapter "Origin of Obeah." ^ Deane, John Bathurst, The Worship of the Serpent (1883), p.163. ^ Heffernan, Andrew. "Obeah, Christianity, and Jamaica".  ^ "obeah (religious cult) - Memidex dictionary/thesaurus". www.memidex.com. Retrieved 2017-02-25.  ^ "The Igbo People - Origins & History". www.faculty.ucr.edu. Retrieved 2017-06-21.  ^ a b Eltis, David; Richardson, David (1997). Routes to slavery: direction, ethnicity, and mortality in the transatlantic slave trade. Routledge. p. 88. ISBN 0-7146-4820-5.  ^ Payne-Jackson, Arvilla (2004). Jamaican Folk Medicine: A Source of Healing. University of the West Indies
West Indies
Press. ISBN 9766401233.  ^ a b Incayawar, Mario; Wintrob, Ronald; Bouchard, Lise; Bartocci, Goffredo (2009). Psychiatrists and Traditional Healers: Unwitting Partners in Global Mental Health. John Wiley and Sons. p. 222. ISBN 0-470-51683-6.  ^ Ph.D, Patrick Iroegbu. "Igbo Medicine and Culture: The Concept of Dibia and Dibia Representations in Igbo Society of Nigeria - ChatAfrik". Retrieved 2017-10-04.  ^ "Dibia Odinani: The Sacred Arts & Sciences of the Igbo People". igbocybershrine.com. Retrieved 2017-10-04.  ^ System, Independent Computer. "Igbo medicine". umunumo.com. Retrieved 2017-10-04.  ^ a b c Rucker, Walter C. (2006). The river flows on: Black resistance, culture, and identity formation in early America. LSU Press. p. 40. ISBN 0-8071-3109-1.  ^ Eltis, David; Richardson, David (1997). Routes to slavery: direction, ethnicity, and mortality in the transatlantic slave trade. Routledge. p. 74. ISBN 0-7146-4820-5.  ^ Obeah. Merriam Webster. Retrieved 2010-06-03.  ^ Chambers, Douglas B. (2009). Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia. Univ. Press of Mississippi. pp. 14, 36. ISBN 1-60473-246-6.  ^ Thomas, M.; Desch-Obi, J. (2008). Fighting for honor: the history of African martial art traditions in the Atlantic world. Univ of South Carolina Press. p. 58. ISBN 1-57003-718-3.  ^ McCall, John Christensen (2000). Dancing histories: heuristic ethnography with the Ohafia Igbo. University of Michigan Press. p. 148. ISBN 0-472-11070-5.  ^ Metcalf, Allan A. (1999). The world in so many words: a country-by-country tour of words that have shaped our language. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 78. ISBN 0-395-95920-9.  ^ Chambers, Douglas B. (2009). Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 263. ISBN 1-60473-246-6.  ^ a b Konadu, Kwasi (2010). The Akan Diaspora in the Americas. Oxford University Press US. p. 140. ISBN 0-19-539064-4.  ^ Long, Edward (1774). "The History of Jamaica
Or, A General Survey of the Antient and Modern State of that Island: With Reflexions on Its Situation, Settlements, Inhabitants, Climate, Products, Commerce, Laws, and Government" (google). 2 (3/4): 445–475.  ^ Mendez, Serafin; Cueto, Gail; Deynes, Neysa Rodríguez (2003). Notable Caribbeans and Caribbean
Americans: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0313314438.  ^ Delbourgo, James. "Gardens of life and death". British Society for the History of Science: 3. Retrieved 2010-07-06.  ^ Folklore. IV. Folklore Society of Great Britain. 1893. pp. 211–212.  ^ Jones, James Athearn (1831), Haverill, or memoirs of an officer in the army of Wolfe (J.J & Harper), p. 199. ISBN 978-1-1595-9493-0 ^ BECARA, i. e. White Man. "To the Editor of the Universal Register." Times [London, England] 23 Nov. 1787: 1. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 7 June 2012. ^ "Colonial Intelligence." Times [London, England]. 5 Dec. 1818: 2. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 7 June 2012. ^ OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT. "The Outbreak In Jamaica." Times [London, England] 2 Apr. 1866: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 June 2012 ^ "The Obeah
men are hired to revenge some man's wrong, while Myal men profess to undo the work of Obeah
men and to cure those subject to Obeah
alarms." OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT. "The Outbreak In Jamaica." Times [London, England] 2 Apr. 1866: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 7 June 2012. ^ In 1818 The Times reported the passing of an act by the House of Assembly in Barbados
against the practice of Obeah, which carried the penalty of death or transportation for those convicted. "Colonial Intelligence." Times [London, England] 5 Dec. 1818: 2. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 7 June 2012. ^ Obi ^ Described as a 'curly-headed Creole', possibly intended to be mixed-race. F. Marryat, Poor Jack, Chapter XLI. ^ Lewis Spence, An Encyclopaedia of Occultism, Kosimo 2006/University Books 1920, p. 315

External links[edit]

Look up obeah in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

History of antagonism between Myalism and Obeah
in Jamaica Obeah
Afro- Caribbean
Shamanism The Caribbean
Black Magic Obeah: Interview with White Magician

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