DESPITE the fact that obeah is clearly defined as regards its origin in Ashanti witchcraft, and its early development among the Jamaica slaves, in course of time it has become so confused with voodoo and other superstitious practices that now the word is used as a generic term for any kind of West India witchcraft and by extension it embraces even "a fetish or magic object used in witchcraft." (1)
As a consequence, it is difficult for the average reader to clearly differentiate the real from pseudo-obeah unless he keeps in mind the fundamental principles which were established in the preceding chapter, and which may be briefly summarized as follows.
Obeah, as the continuation of Ashanti witchcraft, is professedly a projection of spiritual power with the harm of an individual as an objective. Practically, its end is attained through fear, supplemented if needs be by secret poisoning. The agent is the servant of the Sasabonsam or Devil who is invoked and relied upon to produce the desired effect. Consequently real obeah must be regarded as a form of Devil-worship.
In daily practice, much that is referred to as obeah is in reality only applied magic which may be called pseudo-obeah, and it is with this that we are now to interest ourselves.
During my researches in the British Museum, I came across a pamphlet of thirty pages entitled The Monchy Murder. The Strangling and Mutilation of a Boy for Purposes of Obeah. It is a sordid story. The boy, Rupert Mapp, twelve years of age, had been enticed away from Bridgetown, Barbados, by Monteul Edmond and brought to St. Lucia. The day after their arrival at the town of Monchy, the lad disappeared. A week later his body was dug up but it was found that the two hands, and the heart had been removed. The missing parts had been found in the possession of an accomplice of Edmond who was forthwith arrested and charged with the crime. (2)
The search of the prisoner's person brought to light a notebook in which had been copied in French a number of formulae and instructions connected with magical practices. One of these was entitled La Main de Gloire and it prescribed: "Take the hand of one who has been hanged, or strangled, dry it in the sun in the dog days, (August, September, October) or if the sun should not be hot enough to dry thoroughly and quickly, dry the hand in an oven. When thoroughly dry, sprinkle the hand with salt and a number of other ingredients (which are stated) and wrap it in a piece of coffin-pall. Then make a taper of virgin wax, anoint it with various fantastic oils and fats. Fix the taper between the
fingers of the dried hand. The light of the taper will paralyze completely the faculties both mental and physical of everybody who comes within its influence."
Unquestionably, it was Edmond's purpose to apply this formula in the hopes that he would be able in this way to enter any house that pleased him and to rob it with impunity as the victim would supposedly be rendered utterly incapable either of resisting the intrusion or of remembering later who it was that perpetrated the crime. However, it is a serious mistake to associate such practices with obeah in the true sense of the word.
It was brought out in the course of Edmond's trial at St. Lucia that the formulae which had been found in his possession had been "copied from a work entitled Petit Albert the pretended author of which is claimed to be a monkish occultist of the middle ages." (3) Edmond had spent many years in Haiti where he had formally studied the black art and had gained access to the book from which he had copied his formulae for spells, etc.
The volume ascribed to Petit Albert, written originally in Latin was for a time regarded as a posthumous work of Albertus Magnus either as a whole or in part. (4) However, such a supposition is definitely disproved by a critical edition of the work which appeared in Paris in 1885 under the title Les Secrets Admirables du Grand Albert comprenant son traité des herbes des pierres et de animaux avec son traité des merveilles du monde suivi du Trésor des Merveilleux Secrets du Petit Albert avec Préface et
Annotations par Marius Decrespe. Herein Decrespe explicitly discredits the opinions of those who "attribute this dual work either to Albertus Magnus or to a compiler of about the 15th century who based them on an unedited manuscript of Albert the Great supplemented by the works of more modern authors, such as Paracelsus, Cornelius Agrippa, etc." (5) On the following page, Decrespe insists: "What appears much more probable is that Grand Albert as well as Petit Albert are both the work of several individuals whose discoveries have been joined together regardless of order by some poorly instructed and unscrupulous librarian, who produced these disorderly collections at Lyons, towards the end of the 16th century. Actually, there is a tradition, very useful in practice, that when one gives himself to the study of occultism, just as when one experiments in Chemistry, he should have a Laboratory Record wherein he records all experiments with their results." (6)
This suggestion is supported by the fact that La Main de Gloire does not appear in the edition of Petit Albert which I have before me as I write and which was published at Lyons in 1668. It was evidently added to the collection after that date.
Consequently, such abnormalities as the Monchy Murder should not be attributed to the practice of obeah or any other form of Negro witchcraft. It was nothing but cold-blooded murder, instigated, if you will, by medieval superstitions which had become impinged on Haitian voodoo, but even then it was
not the product of the Negro in any way beyond the fact that he had borrowed it from the white man.
Another common mistake is to classify as obeah the use of protective charms simply because they are the product of the obeah-man when he is actually working in the capacity of myal-man. We have seen in the case of slave rebellions how general was the misapprehension that the instigator was the obeah-man, when as a matter of fact it was the myal-man who stirred up the trouble and administered the terrible oath of secrecy and distributed powders that were supposed to impart invulnerability against the weapons of the white man. So, too, it has become customary to regard as obeah-practice much that is really myalistic in the amulets imparted to individuals to enable them to overreach the law or to defy their enemies by a charmed life.
Thus we have the example of the notorious outlaw known as Three-fingered Jack from the fact that early in his career he had lost two fingers in an encounter with a Maroon. His depredations, after the scattering of the little group of runaway slaves who gathered around him at the beginning of his career, were actually accomplished single-handed. Moreover, his operations covered so wide an area that it left the impression that he was leading a numerous and well-organized band of desperadoes, and his name became synonymous with terror throughout the country districts, especially as it was generally accepted that his reliance was the machinations of a particularly powerful obeah-man from whom he had
received a gruesome amulet which will be described later. As this incident is absolutely unique in the history of Jamaica, we may be pardoned going into some details.
Under date of August 5, 1780, we find the following Newspaper item: "A gang of run-away Negroes of above forty men and about eighteen women, have formed a settlement in the recesses of Four Mile Wood in St. David's; are become very formidable to that neighbourhood, and have rendered travelling, especially to Mulattoes and Negroes, very dangerous; one of the former they have lately killed, belonging to Mr. Duncan Munro of Montrose, and taken a large quantity of linen of his from his slaves on the road: they also have robbed many other persons' servants, and stolen some cattle, and great numbers of sheep, goats, hogs, poultry, etc., particularly a large herd of hogs from Mr. Rial of Tamarind Tree Penn. They are chiefly Congos, and declare they will kill every Mulatto and Creole Negro they can catch. Bristol, alias Three-fingered Jack, is their Captain, and Caesar, who belongs to Rozel estate, is their next officer. This banditti may soon become dangerous to the Public, if a party agreeable to the 40th and 66th Acts in Volume I of the Laws of the Island, or the Maroons, are not sent out against them; which should be applied for, and no doubt it would be ordered." (7)
December 2, 1780, it is announced: "Three-fingered Jack continues his depredations in St. David's; last week he intercepted three Negroes coming to town with loads, and carried them off. A
Mulatto of Dr. Allen's with a party, went in pursuit of him and recovered the Negroes, who gave him information where Three-fingered Jack was, and he laid a plan for securing him, but Jack being on his guard, shot the Mulatto through the head and made his escape." (8)
Three weeks later, there is the further item: "We are informed that the wife of Three-fingered Jack has been lately removed from St. David's, to the jail in this town; and that directions have been given some time since, to deliver her and the other Negroes, taken by the Maroons, to be dealt with as the law directs." (9)
Another fortnight, and we find a formal Proclamation that continues through several issues of the Royal Gazette. (10)
By the King.
Whereas we have been informed by our House of Assembly of this our Island of Jamaica, that a very desperate gang of Negro Slaves, headed by a Negro Man Slave called and known by the name of
Three-fingered J A C K
hath for many months past committed many Robberies and carried off many Negro and other Slaves on the Windward roads into the woods, and hath also committed several Murders; and that repeated parties have been fitted out and sent against the said Three-fingered Jack, and his gang, who have returned without being able to apprehend the said Negro, or to prevent his making head again: And
whereas our House of Assembly hath requested us to give directions for issuing a Proclamation, offering a reward for apprehending the said Negro called Three-fingered jack, and also a further reward for apprehending each and every Negro Man Slave belonging to the said gang, and delivering him or them to any of the gaolers of this island; We have taken the same into our consideration, have thought fit to issue this our Royal Proclamation; hereby strictly charging and commanding, and we do hereby strictly charge and command all and every our loving subjects within our said island, to pursue and apprehend, or cause to be pursued and apprehended the body of the said Negro man named, Three-fingered Jack, and also of each and every Negro Man Slave belonging to the said gang, and deliver him or them to any Gaolers of this Island. And we do, at the instance of our said House of Assembly offer a reward of one hundred pounds, to be paid to the person or persons who shall so apprehend and take the body of the said Negro called Three-fingered Jack: And we do, at the instance of our said House of Assembly, offer a further reward of five pounds over and above what is allowed by law, for apprehending each and every Negro Man Slave belonging to the said gang, and delivering him or them to any of the gaolers of this island, to be dealt with according to law." Then follow the usual signatures and attestations.
An additional offer of reward on the part of the Assembly immediately follows:
HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
DECEMBER 29, 1780
Resolved: That over and above the reward of One Hundred pounds offered by his Majesty's Proclamation for the taking or killing the rebellious Negro called Three-fingered Jack, the further reward of Freedom shall be given to any slave that shall take or kill the said Three-fingered Jack; and that the House will make good the value of such slave to the proprietor thereof. And if any one of his accomplices will kill the said Three-fingered Jack, and bring in his head, and hand wanting the fingers, such accomplice shall be entitled to a Free Pardon, and his Freedom as above, upon due proof being made of their being the head and hand of the said Three-fingered Jack." This is signed in the name of the House by Samuel Howell, Clerk of Assembly.
Within a month, under date of February 3, 1781, the announcement is made: "We have the pleasure to inform the public, of the death of that daring freebooter Three-fingered Jack.--He was surprised on Saturday last, by a Maroon Negro named John Reeder, and six others, near the summit of Mount Libanus, being alone and armed with two muskets and a cutlass.--The party came upon him so suddenly, that he had only time to seize the cutlass, with which he desperately defended himself, refusing all submission, till having received three bullets in his body and covered with wounds, he threw himself about forty feet down a precipice, and was followed by Reeder, who soon overpowered him, and
severed his head and arm from the body which were brought to this town on Thursday last. Reeder and another Maroon were wounded in the conflict.--The intrepidity of Reeder in particular, and the behaviour of his associates in general justly entitle them to the reward offered by the public. (11)
As an aftermath of this whole incident, we find in the Postscript to the Royal Gazette of June 9, 1792, the information that a runaway Negro named Dagger, a former comrade of the notorious Three-fingered Jack, and now on trial for his many crimes "has so much confidence in a supernatural agency that he not only defies every effort of justice to bring him to punishment but even threatens the severest revenge in retaliation." And again in the Postscript to the Royal Gazette Of July 7, 1792, we read: "After the trial of Dagger was closed two other Negroes that have been for a considerable time in the practice of obeah and who, from the evidence given, appeared to be thorough adepts . . . were found guilty and also sentenced to be transported."
Concerning Three-fingered Jack himself, the most authentic account which has come down to us is furnished by Doctor Benjamin Moseley who was a resident of Jamaica at the time of his exploits. Fixing the date of the death of Three-fingered Jack as January 27, 1781, Doctor Moseley tells us: "I saw the obi of the famous Negro robber, Three-fingered Jack, the terror of Jamaica in 1780. The Maroons who slew him brought it to me. His obi consisted of the end of a goat's horn, filled with a
compound of grave dirt, ashes, the blood of a black cat, and human fat; all mixed into a kind of paste. A cat's foot, a dried toad, a pig's tail, a flip of virginal parchment of kid's skin, with characters marked in blood on it, were also in his obian bag.
"These with a keen sabre, and two guns, like Robinson Crusoe, were all his obi; with which, and his courage in descending into the plains and plundering to supply his wants, and his skill in retreating into difficult fastnesses, among the mountains, commanding the only access to them, where none dared to follow him, he terrified the inhabitants, and set the civil power, and the neighbouring militia of the island at defiance for nearly two years.
"He had neither accomplice, nor associate. There were a few runaway Negroes in the woods near Mount Libanus, the place of his retreat; but he had crossed their foreheads with some of the magic of his horn, and they could not betray him. But he trusted no one. He scorned assistance. He ascended above Spartacus. He robbed alone; fought all his battles alone; and always killed his pursuers.
"By his magic, he was not only the dread of the Negroes, but there were many white people, who believed he was possessed of some supernatural power.
. . . . . .
"But even Jack himself was born to die. Allured by the rewards offered by Governor Dalling, in proclamations, dated December 12, 1780 and January 13, 1781; and, by a resolution of the House of Assembly, which followed the first proclamation;
two Negroes, named Quashee and Sam (Sam was Captain Davy's son, he who shot a Mr. Thompson, the master of a London ship, at Old Harbour), both of Scot's Hall Maroon Town, with a party of their townsmen, went in search of him. Quashee, before he set out on the expedition, got himself christianed, and changed his name to James Reeder.
"The expedition commenced; and the whole party had been creeping about in the woods, for three weeks, and blockading, as it were, the deepest recesses of the most inaccessible part of the island, where Jack, far remote from all human society, resided,--but in vain.
"Reeder and Sam, tired with this mode of war, resolved on proceeding in search of his retreat; and taking him by storming it, or perishing in the attempt. They took with them a little boy, a proper spirit, and a good shot, and left the rest of the party.
"These three, whom I well knew, had not been long separated from their companions, before their cunning eyes discovered, by impressions among the weeds and bushes, that some person must have lately been that way. They softly followed these impressions, making not the least noise. Presently they discovered smoke. They prepared for war. They came upon Jack before he perceived them. He was roasting plantains, by a little fire on the ground, at the mouth of a cave.
"This was a scene:--not where ordinary actors had a common part to play. Jack's looks were fierce and terrible. He told them he would kill them.
Reeder, instead of shooting Jack, replied that his obi had no power to hurt him; for he was christianed; and that his name was no longer Quashee. Jack knew Reeder; and, as if paralysed, he let his two guns remain on the ground, and took up only his cutlass.
"These two, had a severe engagement several years before, in the woods; in which conflict Jack lost the two fingers, which was the origin of his present name; but Jack then beat Reeder, and almost killed him, with several others who assisted him, and they fled from Jack.
"To do Three-fingered Jack justice, he would now have killed both Reeder and Sam; for, at first, they were frightened at the sight of him, and the dreadful tone of his voice; and well they might: they had besides no retreat, and were to grapple with the bravest, and strongest man in the world. But Jack was cowed; for, he had prophesied, that white obi would get the better of him; and, from experience, he knew the charm would lose none of its strength in the hands of Reeder.
"Without further parley, Jack, with his cutlass in his hand, threw himself down a precipice at the back of the cave. Reeder's gun missed fire. Sam shot him in the shoulder. Reeder, like an English bull-dog, never looked, but, with his cutlass in his hand, plunged headlong down after Jack. The descent was about thirty yards, and almost perpendicular. Both of them had preserved their cutlasses in the fall.
"Here was the stage,--on which two of the stoutest hearts, that were ever hooped with ribs, began
their bloody struggle. The little boy, who was ordered to keep back, out of harm's way, now reached the top of the precipice, and during the fight, shot Jack in the belly. Sam was crafty, and coolly took a round-about way to get to the field of action. When he arrived at the foot where it began, Jack and Reeder had closed, and tumbled together down another precipice, on the side of the mountain, in which fall they both lost their weapons. Sam descended after them, though without weapons, they were not idle; and, luckily for Reeder, Jack's wounds were deep and desperate, and he was in great agony. Sam came up just time enough to save Reeder; for, Jack had caught him by the throat, with his giant's grasp. Reeder then was with his right hand almost cut off, and Jack streaming with blood from his shoulder and his belly; both covered with gore and gashes. In this state Sam was umpire; and decided the fate of the battle. He knocked Jack down with a piece of a rock.
"When the lion fell, the two tigers got upon him, and beat his brains out with stones. The little boy soon found his way to them. He had a cutlass, with which they cut off Jack's head, and three-fingered hand, and took them in triumph to Morant Bay. There they put their trophies into a pail of rum; and followed by a vast concourse of Negroes, now no longer afraid of Jack's obi, blowing their shells and horns, and firing guns in their rude method, they carried them to Kingston, and Spanish Town; and claimed the rewards offered by the King's Proclamation, and the House of Assembly." (12)
William Burdett, also a contemporary in Jamaica, thus described the obeah-man who bestowed the gruesome amulet on Three-fingered Jack, whom he calls Manson in his narrative: "Amalkir, the obeah-practitioner, dwelt in a loathsome cave, far removed from the inquiring eye of the suspicious whites, in the Blue Mountains; he was old and shrivelled; a disorder had contracted all his nerves, and he could hardly crawl. His cave was the dwelling-place, or refuge of robbers; he encouraged them in their depredations; and gave them obi, that they might fearlessly rush where danger stood. This obi was supposed to make them invulnerable to the attacks of the white man, and they placed implicit belief in its virtue." (13) As might be expected, he thus played the part of myalist as well as that of obeah-man.
A far less reliable narrative is entitled: The Wonderful Life and Adventures of Three-Fingered Jack, the Terror of Jamaica! "Giving an Account of his persevering Courage and gallant Heroism, in revenging the Cause of his Injured Parents; with an account of His desperate Conflict with Quashee! Who, after many attempts, at last overcomes him and takes his Head and Hand to Jamaica, (sic) and receives a large Reward for destroying him." This little book, published in London in 1829, is a melodramatic piece of fiction of no historical value whatever. Its mission is to stir up a morbid sentimentality for the slave. In some respects it is a forerunner of Uncle Tom's Cabin but devoid of the latter's literary merit. It is crude withal, and evidently the work of one who knows little or nothing
about Jamaica. On page 7, Jack is made the offspring of Makro and Amri, "a beautiful slave, the property of Mr. Moreton, of Maroons Town." Actually Maroon Town was reserved for the Maroons and there could have been no white man established there on a plantation with slaves. Then, too, there are no Savannahs around Maroon Town as described on page 17. Again page 18 places the plantation near enough to Mount Libanus for a night journey there to the cave of Bashra, the obi-woman, who is represented as slinging the obi-horn around Jack's neck as she starts him on his way of revenge. On page 25, "Quashee, a brave black of Scot's Hall, Maroon Town, on the promise of that liberty which was so dear to him, resolved to try the effect of an expedition." But, being a Maroon, he was already free. Finally on page 26, when Amri is to be burned at the stake, "a priest, in Christian mercy, implored rest for her soul," despite the fact that at the date of the supposed incident there were no priests in Jamaica, unless the Anglican Rectors are meant and they were never referred to under this title. And yet caricatures of this sort find their way at times into presumably historical descriptions of obeah in Jamaica.
There is preserved in the Jamaica Institute of Kingston a Scrap Book that contains many interesting items, usually, however, without disclosing the source of the clippings. Thus we find on page 10, a couple of tracts that were used as evidence by the Hon. D. G. Gideon in the Legislative Council when discussing the Obeah Bill, on March 17, 1898. We
have here the confession of an obeah-man named Daniel Hart, a native of Long District, Portland, who is dying to all appearances under the curse of another obeah-man of stronger power than his own. He acknowledges that in his own practice of obeah his fees varied from a few shillings up to six pounds for a single "job." His efforts had been directed to all sorts of ends--mainly to kill people, to drive them mad, to exact revenge for jilted lovers, to make goods sell better in the market, etc.
He frequently uses in his confession the terms: "I play hell"; "I play fire"; "Like rolling calf"; as regards different people. He declares that he often sent john-crows, i.e. buzzards, as ministers of his evil power, but that the main instruments were obeah-pots and vials which he planted at the places where his influence was to work. He sent other men who killed for him. He put duppies on people and they went mad. He openly confesses to the gross immorality of his personal actions.
One passage of this confession runs as follows: "On Monday evening this wicked obeah-man cry out: I am going to die and cannot wait until the 10th of this month for I am only skin and bones. I wanted Portland people to come and see how flies eat my skin. To-day is my ripping day. I will call names, and who want mad, can mad. Me da Bungo man and make it plain ABC, that you can know friend from enemy. I play hell with people, but the devil is riding me down to hell." It might be remarked that "Bungo" is probably a corruption of the Ashanti bunkam, to be supereminent.
On page 55 of the Jamaica Institute Scrap Book, are three printed tracts. The first of these describes the death and confession of a notorious obeah-woman who had been known as "Old Mother Austin." She died on June 25, 1892, after having lived and practised her art at Llandewey in St. David's. She called herself "Fire Rush" and makes the terrible avowal that she has killed twenty-five babies, seven women and thirteen men in the district. She claims to have employed two "Old Higes" and "when dey gash der fire in dem eyes, it shine as lightning." "Any way I send, death must come," is her boast. By means of a "peace-cup and spoon" she says that she dropped off all the fingers and toes of a woman who had stolen from her, possibly she had communicated leprosy to her victim by mixing the saliva of a leper in what she calls the "Peace-cup." On her death bed she cried out: "Fire, O! Fire, O!, Fire."
The second tract consists of the disclosures contained in the obeah-book of a dead obeah-man named John Nugent who had hidden the book in a cave-hole. He professes to have killed a man for cutting a bunch of plantain off his father's plantation; to have killed another man for a fee of twenty-five pounds; to have put a frog in a woman's womb and made her carry it for two years; to have received eighteen pounds and ten shillings for cutting the nose and teeth of a woman; to have killed her husband for another woman who gave him her body in payment; to have charged fifteen pounds for killing another man, but as three pounds were not paid
he let the man off, "but the ghost still blow on him and he don't get over as yet."
The third tract purports to be the confession of "Old George Elleth," a native of Hampton Road in Porus. His father and his grandfather had been famous obeah-men before him. It is his claim to have killed 241 persons and to have "put 655 persons to suffer." According to his testimony, "Suck River is a little Hell below"; "Kendall, that dreadful place, the people run to me day and night, I was working for that place twenty years; in that district I play hell"; "Watson Gate at the cross road of evil deeds, the people around are like bitter weeds, there are nine obeah-men in that place, no young man can make a rise there." He asserts that people went to church and "call God's name in vain" and then on the way back call to him for obeah.
Another tract on page 56 of the Scrap Book declares how Richard Daly consults about killing an old man for his money. The obeah-man sends him to fill a bottle from an old stagnant pool. The old man dies. Daly further confesses before his death to several other murders, and to a friend who comes to offer prayers at his death-bed, he says: "Go to hell," and drives him out. He declares that he sees a gulf and asks for his mule to ride across.
Page 57 of this same Scrap Book contains still another tract which tells how Peter was a vicious obeah-man with a very loose and obscene tongue. He is said to have killed many people and to have been killed himself by the overflow from a cup of poison which he had been preparing for another.
These cases from the Scrap Book are for the most part workings of real obeah, in marked contrast with the examples of recent occurrences to be mentioned shortly. Daniel Hart, in striving "to make goods sell better in the market," does display a myalistic tendency, but even he is habitually true to form in his obeah-practice. The objective is almost invariably harmful or vindictive.
As a general rule such cases as are brought to trial under the Obeah Law, which does not distinguish between obeah and myalism, are usually instances of applied magic, and that too of the "white" variety.
It would be a difficult matter to prosecute for real obeah. Even a clear case with serious consequences would have to rely almost entirely on circumstantial evidence. No one would dare take the witness-stand against an obeah-man charged with grave misconduct. Sooner or later he would have to pay the penalty for incurring the enmity of the servant of the Devil.
In his real professional practice, the obeah-man to-day is as secretive as ever. He has a wholesome respect for British Colonial administration of the law. He will take his chances removing duppies, helping in market or Court and even further the interests of lovers--all of which is merely applied magic.--It is simply a gamble with him. If caught, he pays the price, and returns to his trade and adds a little to his next fees to recoup his losses or as a balm for his injured feelings. But when it comes to real obeah, he will take good care to assure himself
of inviolable secrecy as he will never risk having a capital offence proved against him. Hence it is that most of the cases that are aired in Court must be regarded only as applied magic, and usually of a most amateurish type, as a means of livelihood, and characterized in great part by imposition and pretence.
One has only to pick up a newspaper file in Jamaica of any period at all, to realize the enduring prevalence of such practices. Thus on the occasion of my last visit to Jamaica in the Summer of 1931, I noted down the following cases as reported in The Daily Gleaner of Kingston, and I do not imagine that I was so observant that none escaped my notice.
June 10, 1931:--"Obeahman Given 3 Months Hard Labour in Whithorn R. M. Court". Charles Slater pleaded guilty "to a charge of practising obeah in the St. Leonard's District of Westmoreland on Wednesday the 20th May, 1931."
June 23, 1931:--"Ganja and Obeah Case at Spanish-Town To-day." George Sykes of Bog Walk is charged with having ganja in his possession and also with having implements for practising obeah.
July 8, 1931:--"Three Men Sentenced to 3 Months Each for Practising Obeah." Case at Chapelton, July 2nd.
July 11, 1931:--"Obeahman Sentenced to Prison for 6 Months." In the Kingston R. M. Court (on July 9th) James Thomas.
August 4,1931--"Worked Black Art: 70-yr. Old
Man Fined £15. Joseph Reid Found Guilty of Charge in Whithorn R. M. Court."
August 8, 1931:--"Charged at Richmond for Practising Obeah." Thomas Steward accused of working Obeah at "Big Gut" on Monday, 27th July.
August 28, 1931:--"Obeahman Fined £25 in Linstead Court." Robert Watson of Bog Walk.
August 31, 1931:--"Jamaican Obeahman in British Honduras to Be Deported Home. Alexander Brown Practised Deception on Countrymen And Sent to Serve Sentence. 7 Yrs. Hard Labour. Case Heard by Acting Chief justice and Jamaican jury in Colony." Sentenced in Belize to seven years' imprisonment in British Honduras, at the expiration of which he was to be deported to Jamaica.
Since then I have watched the papers from Jamaica that have reached me from time to time, and the regular recurrence of similar items are to be noticed. Thus The Daily Gleaner for January 11, 1933 gives considerable display to one such case: "Claims to Be Spiritualist, Fined £10 on Obeah Charge. Mrs. Beatrice Hanson Brought Before R. M. For Kingston Yesterday. The Defence Set Up. Magistrate's Decision. Defendant Is Given Time to Pay The Fine." The defence was made by Mrs. Hanson that she was a certified Spiritualist. "She was a clairvoyant medium, which meant one could hear something without seeing the object before him or her. It meant also auto-suggestion. She was taught by a pupil of Sir Conan Doyle. She acted on the principle of 'mind over matter.'" His Honour
Mr. Bertram B. Burrowes, the presiding Magistrate, in giving the decision in the case, replied "that whatever obeah was originally, what he knew was that it was well defined in the Jamaica Laws. In that case, the particular section which struck him was that which was defined as follows: 'Any person who pretends to use occult powers or means to gain.'" He claimed that since "she said she used clairvoyancy, which meant to see clearly, her ability to see certain things, admitted the offence. He had found that what she did came within the meaning of the Law, and he found her guilty of the offence."
The following further examples are all taken from The Daily Gleaner.
September 1, 1933:--Costs Woman £26 17/ to Take 'Ghosts' Off Man. Spirit of 'Coolie' Variety, 'Was Keeping Back A Husband From Doing Business.'" In the Kingston Police Court, Ambrosene Allen was convicted of imposing on Ada Bogle. "The process of ghost-ridding included drinking some rum neat, giving an alleged and invisible ghost some to drink, anointing the face with oils, sundry blowing of powders, lighting of candles, etc."
November 10, 1933:--"Held on Charge of Practising Obeah." Clifford Johnson is arraigned before the Kingston R. M. Court, accused of having "told a woman that another member of the gentler sex had set a 'ghost' on her to take away her lover who would soon transfer his affections, Johnson, it is further alleged, told the woman that he could help her to stave off the 'evil spirit' which was going to torture her and would eventually cause her death."
November 24, 1933:--Here appears the same heading "Held on Charge of Practising Obeah." But this time it is Vitelleus Brown who is before the Resident Magistrate of Kingston. He has attributed a swollen knee to obeah by saying that some one "had set hand" on the victim whom he offers to cure for the sum of three pounds.
November 25, 1933:--"Man Charged with Practising Obeah." Alexander Brown had been approached by a man and woman who claimed to be sick. After examining them, he "informed the woman that a ghost was on her and that it was a policeman who had put the evil spirit on her. He demanded, it is further stated, a fee of three pounds to 'take off the duppy.'"
December 4, 1933:--"Arrested on Charge of Practising Obeah: Alleged Consultant." At Bog Walk it is alleged that Henry Francis "was caught red handed to-day practising obeah."
December 6, 1933:--"Mysterious Slips of Paper Found on Men Held by Police. 'I Breathe Upon Thee The Drops Of Blood I Took From Thy Soul' Etc. They Say." These mysterious slips of paper it is recorded have been "found by the police in the pockets of at least three men arrested in recent times. It is evident that some Charmer is at work distributing these bits of manuscript to afford protection to his clients." Now James Adolphus Turner is caught as a thief and on his person is found a slip bearing this inscription: "I, James Adolphus Turner breathe upon thee the drops of blood I took from thy Soul; the first out of thine heart; the
second out of thy liver; and the third out of thy vital powers. And with this I deprive thee of the strength of thy manliness. Amen."
December 9, 1933:--"No Deception Practised by Faith Healer." Florence Sur, a faith healer, was arraigned for practising medicine, and acquitted by the Resident Magistrate who implies in his decision that she might be successfully prosecuted under the Obeah Law.
December 14, 1933:--Here we find three distinct cases of obeah in different parts of the island. "2 Held on Charge of Practising Obeah" introduces a case at Llandewey against Timothy Jackson, alias Stanley Reynolds, who has proposed to a woman that "he would so 'fix' her, that she would not fall out with her employer." "Held on Charge Under Obeah Law" regards Henrietta Wiles of Kingston where she offers to restore to a client a lost-job. But the principal case of the day bears the headlines: "Six Months for Obeahman: Case Tried at Spanish Tn. Man Who Pretended To Be Able To Keep Away Ghosts From A Woman." David Simon of Thompson Pen district is convicted of contracting to remove the duppies who are supposed to be annoying Ada Bogle, her "house was being stoned, the windows scratched, and the doors pushed by ghosts." It was to be his task to "drive away the ghosts."
December 15, 1933:--"To Serve 6 Months for Practising Obeah." This is the trial of Timothy Jackson, at Llandewey, referred to yesterday.
December 17, 1933:--Two separate cases.
"Arrested on Charge of Practising Obeah" refers to Sophie Wallace who has offered to remove a ghost from Maud Wilson, which it is asserted has been put on her by the wife of the "friend" who accompanies her. "Woman Given Six Months for Working Obeah" relates how Viola Phillips for a consideration undertook to give help in a Court case.
December 2 1, 1933:--"12 Months Hard and 12 Lashes with 'Cat' for Obeah Worker." Michael Ferguson, in the Half-Way Tree Court House is convicted of another "Get-Back-job" imposture with the usual implications of the removal of ghosts or duppies which have been "set."
January 5, 1934:--"Faces Court on Obeah Charge." Ivan O. Baker of Berryvale district, is before the R. M. Court at May Pen on a charge of practising obeah.
January 9, 1934:--"Mechanic Fined £12 10/ on Charge of Practising Obeah. 'Used His Brains To Exploit On Ignorant People.'" George Washington Pitt who was convicted of practising obeah had boasted: "He could cure, he could kill, and he could give jobs."
January 12, 1934:--"Obeah Charge Fails." Henrietta Wiles who was referred to on December 14th when brought to trial was acquitted.
January 13, 1934:--"Held on Charge of Practising Obeah." Oscar McFarlane is always having trouble with his motor car and professes to believe that "someone had done something to 'keep him down.'" And accordingly Agatha Connell, the defendant, "told McFarlane that she would be able to
'fix him up.'" Her attempt to do so leads to her arrest.
January 30, 1934:--This time three cases are reported. "Four Months Term for Hanover Obeahman." At Lucea, Ebernezer Clarke is convicted of imposing on Newton Brown, a shoemaker at Mount Pleasant, who reports having been informed by Clarke that "Duppy is on me and on my shop." He is to receive a "dealing stick" that is to be kept in his shop "to keep away the duppy." "Six Months for Man Who Practised the Black Art." In the Sandy Bay R. M. Court, Leonard Weakley, of Cold Spring is convicted. What is of particular interest here is that the following books were found in his house: "The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses; The Albertus Magnus or the White and Black Arts for Men and Beasts; The Great Book of Black Magic; The Book of Magical Art Hindoo Magic and Indian Occultism"; a fact that would indicate that we are not here dealing with obeah in any sense of the word but a practice of magic similar to that found in St. Lucia in the case of the Monchy Murder.
Meanwhile "One Conviction in Obeah Case Is Quashed" regards the appeal from the conviction of Viola Phillips which was recorded under date of December 17, 1933. The Appeal prevailed on the ground that the evidence on which the conviction had been secured was insufficient. In connexion with this case it would be well to notice an argument advanced by Mr. N. W. Manley, K.C., in behalf of the appellant, to the effect "that it was necessary,
in order to constitute obeah, not merely that a person should do something utterly foolish and futile on a pretence that it would accomplish something, but that they should definitely use occult means or pretend to supernatural powers. The use of the word 'pretend' was, he supposed, that the framers of the statute did not believe that there was any such thing. Obeah was connected with a pretence to invoke occult or supernatural powers. It bore, he supposed, some resemblance to what used to be considered witchcraft or necromancy. Necromancy was a branch of occult power, but in his submission many cases that might be considered a mere obtaining of money by false pretences were being treated as obeah. If the powers one professed were considered to arise from oneself and not from any supernatural thing one was not practising obeah. There was no representation that the process was supernatural."
Mr. Manley would have been interested in the discussion on witchcraft which took place at the recent Congrès International des Sciences Anthropologiques et Ethnologiques in London. Frank Hulme Melland, speaking from an experience of more than a quarter of a century in Northern Rhodesia where he had held many positions as Native Commissioner and Magistrate, called attention to the fact that the law relating to witchcraft in British African colonies and dependencies started with the fundamental idea that witchcraft being an "impossibility" was non-existent, and despite this basic assumption, enactment after enactment was promulgated against "what does not
exist" to the endless confusion of the native mind. It was Mr. Melland's contention regarding witchcraft in general: "It is necessary to study this subject from the point of view of those who live in fear of witchcraft, because only in this way can we hope effectively to eradicate the belief and the fear which it engenders. Even if witchcraft be nonexistent the belief in it is real. Moreover, while African primitive religions are local, centred in the home-district, witchcraft, in native eyes, is universal, and its terrors follow the native when away from his home, deprived of such help as he feels his ancestral spirits might afford him, which affords exceptional opportunities for the 'quack' witchdoctor. Our present official attitude and our law seem to the African unjustified and unjust, incomprehensible and unreasonable. This must necessarily detrimentally affect relations between governors and governed and, apart from the legal aspect, it is not in accordance with the equitable idea that laws should be in the interests and by the consent of the governed. Africans feel that they must have some protection against this power of evil. We do not provide it, and we therefore drive them to have recourse to the men whom we prescribe as criminals: the witchdoctors." By witchdoctor here is meant not the sorcerer but his official antagonist, what we technically understand to be the myal-man as distinct from the obeah-man.
According to Mr. Melland: "Penal legislation in witchcraft matters is ethically unsound and politically has proved demonstrably harmful. In effect
we have said to the African: 'You are a foolish people, and we know better.' It is rather smug, and has proved singularly ineffective. Practically the whole population believes that every one can be, and at any moment may be, bewitched." After citing a typical case, he added: "Many who used to believe that this sort of thing was dying out now admit they were wrong."
Professor L. S. B. Leakey of Cambridge University who represented Kenya in the discussion was equally outspoken, and outlined his observations in the Official Program as follows: "Wherever the white man goes in Africa he finds himself sooner or later up against some aspect of witchcraft, and whether he is missionary or Government official or trader he cannot avoid giving expression to his views on the subject. The reactions of the African native to the various European attitudes to witchcraft are full of interest, and can teach us a lot, and the best way to find out what the African thinks about the white man's attitude is to listen to conversations between Africans upon the subject. This I have often had opportunity to do. What has always struck me most is that the African considers us to be the most illogical people living, and I must say he is not unreasonable in thinking so, for when the statements and actions of white men concerning witchcraft are looked at from the black man's point of view, nothing could be more absurd and illogical. To the African the European (a) on the one hand himself practises witchcraft in many forms; (b) attacks witchcraft where he finds it
being practised by black men; (c) says it is wrong for Africans to punish members of their community whom they find practising black magic; (d) refuses to punish people who are accused of having killed people by witchcraft, on the ground that this is not possible and therefore cannot have been done; (e) denies the existence or possibility of doing things by means of witchcraft, and yet does them himself; (f) not only attacks black man's witchcraft, but also tries to prevent Africans from using white man's witchcraft. In short, to the African the attitude of white men to witchcraft is incomprehensible, illogical and selfish, besides being unutterably foolish."
According to Doctor Leakey, the native's statement of mind is summed up in the statement: "They tell us that there is no need to be frightened and yet they use their own magic all the time." The clinical thermometer, the taking of blood tests and fingerprints, gramophones, wireless and the camera are all regarded by the native as white man's magic, and it is the general conclusion of the Africans that the whites are seeking a monopoly of magic for themselves.
Among educated Jamaicans, I fear, there is also just a little lack of appreciation regarding the real attitude of the "bush" towards witchcraft. The law may assume the impossibility of the fact and stress the pretense at supernatural power, as constituting the offence, as Mr. Manley states. But it is the conviction of the practitioners of obeah that the obeah-man can and does control a super-human influence
that may destroy life itself without any physical contacts, and further that this projection of power does not arise, as Mr. Manley suggests, from the obeah-man himself. For the obeah-man is merely an agent of the Evil One who really produces the effect desired in virtue of the incantation of the devotee and the acceptance of the client, both of whom are placing themselves in communication with him with full reliance on his co-operation. The obeah. man only directs the necessary power or force which ultimately comes from the Author of Evil.
After this lengthy digression, let us return to the files of The Daily Gleaner.
February 1, 1934:--"Held on Charge of Practising Medicine as Well as Obeah." This regards Robert Giscombe in Kingston.
February 5, 1934:--"Convicted in May Pen Court on Charge of Practising Obeah." Ivanhoe Baker had sold a ring to Ada Bogle to keep a ghost off her. More will be said shortly about this type of ring, but it should be remarked that in this case again we find mention of a book entitled, 6th. and 7th. Books of Moses with other works on Astrology and Personal Magnetism.
February 6, 1934:--"Held on Obeah Charge, Annotto Bay." Alexander Decton is accused of offering for seven pounds, two shillings, to remove an obnoxious party. He "would either kill or run him away from the property." This savours of real obeah.
February 15, 1934:--"Held by Police on Obeah
Charge." Peter Robinson is accused of offering to protect a woman from her enemies.
March 2, 1934:--"Alleged Revivalist and Healer Before Court on 2 Charges. Annie Harvey And Her Husband Charged With Practising Obeah And Medicine For Gain." In this case the Island Chemist is called in to give evidence regarding the forty articles exhibited.
March 16, 1934:--"Alexander Brown to Serve 12 Months for Practising Obeah. Acting R. M. for City Says He Proposes to Deal Severely with Those Found Guilty."--"Alexander Brown entered a plea of guilty to an information charging him with practising obeah." In passing sentence, His Honour said: "Brown your solicitor has made a very eloquent plea for you, but I cannot lose sight of the fact that there is far too much belief in obeah in this country, and this has been the cause of its insistent practise by you and others like you. So far as I am concerned, I intend to treat anyone found guilty by me with the utmost severity. In spite of all that has been urged on your behalf by Mr. Wynter I cannot be lenient with you, and so you will have to go and serve a term of twelve months with hard labour and you will also receive twelve lashes of the cat-o-nine."
March 31, 1934:--"Man and Wife Are Convicted on Charge of Working Obeah." This is the sequel of the case of Annie Harvey and her husband mentioned on March 2, 1934.
April 6, 1934:--"Obeah Case Dismissed by Kingston R. M. Accomplice Testifies How Peter
Robinson Said He Could Assist Her. 'Ghost Set on Her' Position Of Bed Changed To Confuse Spirit: Cuttings of Nails, Hair And Garments." The account states: "The ground for Robinson's dismissal, before the prosecution closed, was no doubt that the person chiefly concerned in the matter, a woman named Operline Dwyer, was admittedly an accomplice whose testimony was. not corroborated, but in vital issues, contradicted by a man, Phillibert Dunkley, who set up the police to lay a trap for Robinson." In the course of the examination His Honour asked a witness: "Then you believe in obeah?" which immediately caused laughter only to draw from His Honour the remark: "And so do 70 or 80 per cent of those laughing at the back of the Court." Which goes to confirm the wide-spread belief in the superstition.
April 9, 1934:--"Father and Daughter Held as Obeah Workers in the Metropolis." James Lee and his daughter Olive are accused of having told a client "that another woman had taken away her 'gentleman' and was trying to injure her. The woman said that she would like to get back the 'gentleman' and to prevent the other woman from injuring her. The defendants agreed to do the 'job' and it is alleged bargained with her."
One of the features in many of these cases is that the practitioner of obeah is reported as "speaking in an unknown tongue," which is supposedly a regular characteristic of the practice. It should further be remarked how the great majority of the citations refer to legal proceedings in Kingston or the principal
towns of the island. There are comparatively few trials for what is going on in the "bush."
One of the latest institutions of applied magic is known as the obi-ring, to which reference was made in the case of Ivanhoe Baker as cited in The Daily Gleaner of February 5, 1934. I can find no mention of it in any book to which I have had access which leads me to the conclusion that it is of comparatively recent origin. During my own stay on Jamaica I was never able to trace the ring itself, but since my return a captured obi-ring was sent to me. In appearance it is an ordinary signet ring made of brass, or at best cheaply plated, such as usually sells for a few shillings. On the inside a hole has been drilled and this serves as a receptacle for a little charm that looks like the head of a very tiny rivet, in which the "medicine" is contained.
In the particular case connected with the ring sent to me, a woman had been ailing for some time when she was approached by an obeah-man who offered to cure her by means of this ring which was to cost one pound. The terms were accepted and the patient rapidly recovered her health. However, circumstances in the case lead me to believe that the same obeah-man had already administered poison with the connivance of the woman's cook and the receptacle in the ring contained the antidote which was absorbed through the skin and counteracted against the poison. In this supposition the ring should be called not an obi-ring but a myal-ring. But as has been said so often, the two functions are now included in the practice of the obeah-man.