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Something about Obeah

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Title:
Something about Obeah
Physical Description:
10 p. ; 25 cm.
Language:
English
Creator:
Thomas, Herbert T.
Publisher:
Herbert T. Thomas
Place of Publication:
Kingston, Jamaica
Publication Date:

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Obeah (Cult)
Cults -- West Indies.
Voodooism -- Exhibitions.
Herbert Theodore Thomas
Spatial Coverage:
Jamaica

Notes

Biographical:
Herbert Theodore Thomas was born 6 June 1856 in Jamaica, and died in 1930. Author of Untrodden Jamaica (1890; http://www.dloc.com/AA00020116/ ) & The story of a West Indian Policeman-47 years in the Jamaica Constabulary (1927; http://www.dloc.com/AA00010421/ ).

Record Information

Source Institution:
Columbia Library
Holding Location:
Columbia Library
Rights Management:
Scanned by Columbia University Libraries. Permission granted to University of Florida to digitize and display this item for research and educational uses. Permission to reuse, publish or reproduce this item for purposes other than what is allowed by fair use or other copyright exemptions must be obtained from the copyright holder.
Resource Identifier:
oclc - 55651268
ldpd - 4979357
System ID:
AA00022366:00001


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SOM THING ABOUT OBEAH,*

'-BY--HERBERT T3 THOMAS,

Inspector Jamaica Gonstabulary.


A CAVE whose mouth is screened by a tangled curtain of cornvolvuli, or a low thatchedl cabin in a shadowy grove of mango, naseberry, starapple and cocoanut; a lean, blear-eyed, rag and skin-clothed figure mumbling strange words in some barbarous African dialect over a 1 ot in the middle of the apartment-cavern or lint-in which an unsavoury decoction seethes ; a yellow boa coiled in a corner, while pendant from the walls, or heaped in confusion about the floor, are alligator sikins, birds' heads and feathers, the feet of fowls, a human bone or two, a grotesque wooden image crowned with plumes, plantain leaves enwrapping powders and potions of fell potency, and all the other paraphanalia of witchcraft. Then a half resolute, half timid raising of the leafy curtain, followed by the entrance of a pretty quadroon girl, a muttered confabulation, the gleam of gold, and its answering flash in the evil eye of the moyal-man, and the departure of his client with a love-philtre or some deadlier compound hidden in the bosom of her dress.
Such is the stereotyped scene with which almost every novel treating of West Indian life has made us familiar, and no doubt the description was true enough to nature ; for it is not so long since the craft of the obeahman was a sufficiently powerful agent for evil in the land to call for its repression by legislative measures. It is my purpose now to record the observations of an experience extending over a good many years of frequent contact, in a professional sense, with obeah and obeahmen, to expose its workings as far as lies in ray power, and to do all I can still further to weaken the influence which this superstition yet wields in this country notwithstanding the opposing forces of religion and education.
All 1{ight reserved.








2 SOMETHING ABOUT OBEAIT.

The origin of the obeah superstition undoubtedly lies in that worship, with a view to conciliation, of the Spirit 0I Evil, which is a common characteristic of the rude religions of most African tribes, particularly of those inhabiting the interior and the West Coast, whence the original slave population of this island was derived. Viev ed by the light cast upon it by recent explorations, the daily life of these seems such a precarious one that 'it ceases to be a matter of wonder that they should regard the Evil as predominating over the Good. Surrounded by gloomy forest and fetid swamp, the, haunt of harmful creatures ; often falling a prey by the score to. small-pox and other loathsome diseases the deadly infection of which they are powerless to avert ; liable to sudden raids at the hands of more powerful neighbours, to see their men and infants butchered and their women and boys car' ried off. by the slave-hunter, it is small wonder that every stranger is regarded as an enemy, and that the struggle for life" is a bitter one _J indeed. Among them the fetishman is a power, real and awful, and as such lie continued to be regarded after their transportation to the' West Indies, wbere, although in contact with civilization, and freed from the constant physical danger that beset their steps in the'r native wilds, their mental and moral condition remained almost precisely the same.
I do not know whether the origin of the word Obeah has been defined by any philological authority ; but if I am not mistaken, I think it has been traced by one of our most profound scholars, the Revd. John Radcliffe, to the same root as the Greek word signifying a serpent." A snake of some sort has always been, and is even now, held to be indispensable to the equipment of a practitioner of any pretensions to distinction, and a stick surrounded by a carved serpent embracing it in its folds is a frequent emblem of the calling.
The obeahman as he formerly existed in Jamaica was a standing menace to the social order of the country and this appears to have been realised by the legislators of the land as far back as the year 1840' when the Law 19 Victoria chap. 30, was passed, which gave to the








SOMEJTIIING ABOUT OBEAIL,

human life, either cutting it off by a swift and sudden death, or slowly and gradually, but surely, sapping 'its strength and causing the wretched victim to pine and wither away to his; end. In outlying districts, with imperfect means of communication, indifferent medical aid and defective judicial arrangements, both administrative and executive, perfect impunity for the poisoner was ensured; while even nearer to the Icentres of civilization, with improved facilities in all these respects, the absence of any traces left by the fatal substance caused the same result. Even now, I believe, there are one or two vegetable poisons that defy analysis by the latest and most approved methods known to modern science. It is appalling to think how many a life must have been sacrificed in those old, dark days through jealousy or greed of gain, and how many a murderer must have gone unreached by
-~the avenging arm of the law. Isolated cases still occur-notably one in
St. Ann's some ten or twelve years ago-but the fangs of the obeahman 'have been drawn, thanks to the march of civilization, and our means of protect-ion, which will bear comparison with those of almost any country in the world. The obeabman still exercises an evil influence, though, in a far wider sense than is commonly supposed, an influence that actq strongly counter to those of education and religion. Professional obeahmen may be, roughly speaking, divided into two classes. First, there is the grossly ignorant, depraved, benighted being, generally an African by birth or parentage, who firmly believes in the art which he professes, although he lives within a stone's throw of a church or opposite to a school. le usually has a "' wall-eye" or some other pecaliar facial deformity which is supposed to invest him of necessity with the mystic power, and added to it, not unfrequently, a sore foot" in a highly offensive condition. He is generally miserably poor, at least in Qutward appearance, and his fee small, but he does a good trade. Two prominent types of this- class it has recently been my good 'fortune to introduce to the interior of the St." Catherine's District Prison, and an account of their detection and capture may interest my readers. The first, named Peter MNorrison, was taken flagrante delicto during the sitting of the Circuit Court in Morant Bay. A m'an was being tried for








4 SOMETHING ABOUT OBEAIL.

the eyes of which were bandaged with a piece of black cloth. This was the charmn which was supposed to ensure the acquittal, of the prisoner. It proved sufficient, together with Peter's reputation, in the carrying out of the laws above mentioned to ensure his incarceration for several weeks. Fortunately, also, the prisoner under trial was convicted and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment. Had the result been otherwise Peter's conviction would have availed, nothing ;he would have been regarded as a martyr, and would have returned from
temporary seclusion armed with threefold power.
The other case presented the following circumstances :--A bad
case of cattle- wounding occurred on a property in St. Davids, and two brothers were arrested on suspicion. We came to know that a practitioner of great repute, named Kellerman, had been consulted by the wives of the accused. This Kellerman, a man of over sixty years of age, was in the habit of receiving clients from a distance of forty or fifty miles away. Unfortunately for him his eyesight was very defective, partly by reason of age and partly owing to the "wall-eye" abovementioned. On a certain day two myrmidons of the law, disguised in unpretentious costume, visited IKellerman, representing themselves V as relatives of the accused hailing from Portland. He asked them at
Once whether they had brought the needful; and they, having provided* themselves with the indispensable bottle of rum, replied in the affirmative. A libation was then solemnly poured out and swallowed by the obeahman who, warmed by the generous fluid, entered into conversation, told theAm not to fret about their cousin, and boasted about former suecesses of his-his specialty being "1Court" cases-alluding particularly to the case of a woman charged with attempting to poison, who had been discharged at the preliminary investigation about a year previously, there not being sufficient evidence against her. He then produced a package of coarse powder consisting of the dried and crushed leaves of some herbs, and placing a little of it in the extended palm of one of the men, told him to blow it away. He did so, and then tho.
other went through the same process. After another drink of rum Kellerman enclosed a quantity of the -powder in a piece of paper, andl








SOMETHING ABOUT OBEAH.

intense disgust, they informed him that they were constables, and forth with haled him off to the nearest station, which residence he exchanged a few days later for a lodging at the expense of the country in Spanish Town.
The other class of obeahman is often a man of strikingly good physique, respectable appearance, and always decently dressed. He does more in the duppy catching" line, and does not accept a small fee. (Of the art of "duppy-catching" I shall speak later on.) This species is, generally speaking, of too much intelligence to believe in the efficacy of his charms, his motives for adopting the calling being I
the ease with which it earns for him an ample competence, and the facilities it affords him for gratifying his animal passions, debauchery being the principal feature of his ceremonial, which is always conducted in the presence only of himself and his victim. I have only succeeded in cutting short the career of one gentleman of this class lately, but one or two others shall have due attention shortly.

The man who is generally acknowledged to be the Pontifex laximus of the craft, the premier practitioner of the island, with a clientele extending into almost every parish, resides, as might be expected, in the metropolis, where, indeed, he is said to occupy a position of some prominence in other respects. But one and all, high and low, are shielded and may practise for years without having to answer to the law, by the extreme difficulty of obtaining the necessary evidence against them. I have seen a strong man turn the colour of ashes, and the cold sweat run down his cheeks, while in the witness-box having the evidence wrested from him piece by piece, and having constantly to be ordered to look at the bench instead of at the obeahman at the bar fixing himn with a stony stare. I remember one case in which a man of respectable position waited outside an obeahman's house at dead of night, while his wife, on whose behalf he had sought the obeahman, was alone with him inside; and it was only when he was taken to the jalousies by the police, who were also watching the house, and shewn by them through a crevice what was taking place within that he consented to give his assistance, to become a party to the prose-... cution of the obeahman, and to reveal certain circumstances which were wanting to complete the chain of evidence in a case of which this was an episode. I know of another case in which the dread of obeah io
power kept closed for three years the mouth of a man who had seen t wo persons carry the corpse of a woman whom they, or one of them, i
had just brutally murdered, along a lonely path, and deposit it at the '








6 SOMETING ABOUT' OBEAII

door of a house in which she had been staying with a relative. This relative and his wife were of course arrested on suspicion, but managed to clear themselves. Three years later remorse--or most pro-V bably the death of the obeahman-unsealed his lips, and his evidence contributed mainly to the conviction and hanging of the murderer. And there h ad been a reward of 10 0 offered all the time !b Tese are a few illustrations, selected, f rom a varied experience, df the baneful influence that this degrading superstition still exercises among the lower. classes. Nor is it confined to the peasantry alone. There have been and there are now, cases of men of good position, men belonging to the "classes," men who have received an English education, who have been brought by their surroundings under its influence so completely as to become mere tools in the hands of designing and unprincipled women.
Amon g the paraphernalia of the craft may be enumerated all kinds of rubbish. Wooden images, doll's heads, bits of looking glass, fowlbones, the skins of snakes and frogs, the comb and beak of a cock, a pack of cards, a razor, tiny carved calabashes, a bit of brimstone enclosed in a small bag, powdered touchwood and numerous other articles of no earthly value in. themselves, but all, supposed to be endowed with magic power, are to be found in the possession of every obeahman when a "haul" is made. I have not come across any snake sticks lately. The last I saw was confiscated from a notorious criminal named Garvey, who has been convicted in nearly every parish in the island of nearly every conceivable offence, obcah included.
Of the ceremonial little is known to me from trustworthy sources. On grand occasions, where the practitioner belongs to the aristocracy of'the craft, the orgies, I have reason to believe, are something entirely beyond description; the instincts of the primitive savage are awakened, and it is easy to imagine that the rites could culminate in the human sacrifice that is said to accompany kindred ceremonies in Hayti. One thingr is quite certain, that any white person, or any person belonging to the upper classes who ventured to intrude there, would do so at the imminent peril of his life. Nudity, whole or par-








SOMETHING ABOUT OBEAIL

long as, they commit no breach of the law, enjoy the privilege that every Englishman does of his house being his castle, and therefore cannot be molested; we must only trust, to education and the influence of civilization, which we hope will now work more actively than ever, as the result of our Exhibition, to render practices of this kind things of the past.
The ordinary procedure is a very simple one, such as I have des-0 cribed in the two cases quoted above. It varies according to, circumstances. The blood of a white cock, particularly if he be of the breed known as "1senseh," is a potent charm, as is also a little dirt from a grave. If a love-philtre is wanted,- a portion of the underclothing of the desired object must be brought, and a little of the hair if possible. To do damag-e to the crop or stock of an enemy a little of the dried excrement of some animal, a couple of rotten eggs and some other filth are buried in his field or in his Yard near the pigsty.
"Puppy catching," a branch of the art above alluded to, finds a great many votaries. A child suffers from epileptic fits, a woman is barren, or a man is troubled with an incurable ulcer. The "duppycatcher" is consulted and they are told that so-and-so has"1 set a duppy" on them, which he, for a consideration, undertakes to catch. A night is; fixed for the operation, rum is provided, perhaps a white cock killed, feasting, drinking and drumming, with occasional intervals of manipulation of the body of the patient, continue all night, and if successful, the duppy is caught, enclosed in a battle, taken away and buried. Very often, however, and particularly if the female patient be young and handsome, the first ceremony proves unsuccessful, and a second, or perhaps a third, h-as to be performed. I have heard quite lately of a girl who was working on a sugar estate, and suff ered from an ulcer onl her leg. She disappeared from the estate for some days, and on her return was asked by the overseer what had become of her. She replied that they had set duppy upon her" and she had been to the duppy-catcher to be relieved of it. This reply was given in perfect good faith and in the most unembarrassed manner. That duppy-catcher's








SOMETHING ABOUT OBEAI.
has on the minds of the lower orders can scarcely be realised except by those who have made the subject a study, as I have. In certain districts of the island, if fifty per cent. of the adult members of any given church were called upon at some crucial moment, privately and individually, to choose between the minister and the obeahman, I would offer long odds on the latter were I a sporting man. A Wesleyan minister with whom I was very well acquainted, a man of high intelligence and a restless energy, the value of which has since been recognised by his Church, and one who had devoted a good deal of attention to this same subject, told me that he once witnessed the following occurrence at night in a Kingston street. He saw a leading member of one of the churches in conversation with a man who was a reputed obeahman, and was deriding his profession of religion. He laughed to scorn the parson and the influences of religion, and wound up by throwing on the ground his snake stick. There now," he said, I dare you to take up that stick off the ground."
The stick was left lying.
Of the minor details appertaining to obeah practice it is in the very nature of things almost impossible to obtain precise information; and were such information obtained most of it would be unfit for publication. Some of the evidence that I have heard dragged out in court is not fit for any place outside the walls of a court house.
I think that in helping to expose this degrading superstition as far as possibly I can I am doing a certain amount of service to my country, and that is my object in writing this article, as I have already stated. In order further to effect this I have now on exhibition a collection of obeah charms, implements, and materials, a complete catalogue of which is given below. These have all been collected from recently convicted obeahmen, so:ne of whom are mentioned& above. I have also procured through the kindness of Inspector Alexander fetish charms brought f rom the region which is the home of the obeah superstition. The superior quality of these, and the contrast between them and the useless rubbish and filth used by the obeahmen of Jamaica serve to illustrate how the cult of obeah Worship has deteriorated on the soil of Jamaica. Let us hope that th day is not far distant when it will die out altogether. And I have great hopes that the mere i
fact of this exhibit, labelled with the names of the men from whom the various articles were taken will deal such a blow to obeah as shall be worthy of the Awakening of Jam~ica," the dawn of which is heralded by this our Exhibition.








SOMETHING ABOUT OBEAH.

CATALOGUE.
A.
African fetish charms, used by the Mendi tribe on the West Coast,
and obtained after the bombardment of iRobarri by an expedition in which the 1st Bat. West India Regt. took part in 1887.
1. Horn of young Fretambo (species of antelope) filled with snake
and alligator fat and a jegga, or small shell, with a three penny
piece on top.
2. Switch made of leaves of the koos-koos grass stitched into a
piece of African country cloth and ornamented with jeggas.
3. A charm to be worn round the neck or any other part of the
body, ingredients unknown.
4. A piece of white calico in which the above articles are kept
wrapped up when not in use.

B.
A book of certificates kept by a Bush-doctor, or Duppy-catcher in
the parish of Clarendon, attesting his wonderful cures of madness, child-birth," and other extraordinary complaints. These
appear all to have been written by himself.
C.
Original of an agreement made between one Fleming and an
obeahman named Fraser in the parish of St. Thomas.

D.
Charms and implements seized in possession of various obeahmen:

Charles Lawrence, Westmoreland.
1. A number of blood-stained pieces of calabash strung together,
forming what is known as a jeggeh."
2. Tin containing some unknown substance, possibly excrement of
some animal.

Georqe Eason, Westmoreland.
1. Piece of gum from some tree.
2. Bottle containing liquid composition.
3. Bag with a few grains of rice.
1 4. Tin containing bits of horseshoe nails and caraway seeds.
5. Tin containing myrrh.
6. Do. do. sulphur.
!7. Do. do. myrrh and frankincense.
f 8. Do. do. resin.
191 Do. do. camphor.
10. Do. do, caraway seed.








10 SOMETHING ABOUT OBEAH.

11. Powder made from dried herbs, unknown.
12. Small pocket mirror.
13. Pack of cards.
14. Bag centaining pieces horse-shoe nails and broken bottle.
15. Phial with peppermint.
16 Glass marble.
17. Phial containing quicksilver, the cork stuck with pins.

Emanuel Freeman, St. Thomas.
1. Small mirror.
2. Cards.
3. Calabash cup.
4. Razor.
5. Parse containing pieces broken bottle.
Charles Fraser, St. Thomas.
1. Chips wood and old rags.
2. Garlic and rags.
3. Calabash cup.
4. Alum.
5. Pieces of chalk.
6. Bottle of medicine prescribed and compounded for his victim.
7. Bag containing brimstone, to be worn as a guard
Peter Morrison, St. Thomas.
Doll's Bead, bandaged with black cloth.

James Richards, St. Thomas. Parcel containing myrrh, grey human hair, bladder, asafetida and
herb roots.

William Brown, St. Thomas.
1. Part of a cow's horn.
2. Cards.
3. Chalk stones.
4. Quassia bean.
5. Magnet, 6. Charm.
7. Sulphur.
3. Pieces of Charcoal.
9. Portion qf female undercl~thing.
10. Human hair.
11. Herbs, unknown.
12. Dried herbs and charcoal powdered and mixed.
13. Ashes.
.Alfred Minot, St. Thomas.
1. Cards.
2. Iron hinge staples.
NOTE-Since the above was in print an image has been added to the collection, which was
seized in St. Thomas some years ago and sent to England as a curiosity.



































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Full Text

PAGE 1

.. John F. Goucher (In spec tor Jamaica Constabulary.) MOR'l'IMER 0. DESOUZA, PRINTER, 7, OnullCH KrNGS'l'ON. 1891.

PAGE 3

OBEAH; -BY-HERBERT T. THOMAS, Inspector Jamaica Constabulary. A CAVE whose mouth is screened by a tangled curtain of convolvuli, or a low thatched cabin in a shadowy grove of mango, naseberry, star apple ar .. d cocoanut; a lean, blear-eyed, rag and skin-clothed figure mumbling strange words in some barbarous African dialect over a pot in the middle of the apartment-cayern or hut-in which an unsavoury decoction seethes ; a yellow boa coiled in a corner, while pendant from the walls, or heaped in confusion about the floor, are alligator stins, birds' heads and feathers, the feet of fowls, a human bone or two, a grotesque wooden image crowned with plumes, plantain leaves enwrapping powders and potions of fell potency, and all the other parapha nalia of witchcraft. Then a half resolute, half timid raising of the leafy curtain, followed by the entrance of a pretty quadroon girl, a muttered confabulation, the gleam of gold, and its answering flash in the evil eye of tho myal-man, and the departure of his client with a love-philtre or some deadlier compound hidden in the bosom of her dress. Such is the stereotyped scene with which almost eyery noYel treating of West Indian life has made us familiar, and no doubt the description was true enough to nature ; for it is not so long since the craft of the obeahman was a sufficiently powerful agent for evil in the land to call for its repression by legislative measures. It is my purpose now to record the observations of an experience extending over a good many years of frequent contact, in a professional sense, with obeah and obeahmen, to expose its workings as far as lies in my power, and to do all I can still further to weaken the influence which this superstition yet wields in this country notwithstanding the opposing forces of religion and education. All Rights reserved

PAGE 4

2 SOJJIETIIING ABOUT OBEAII. The origm 0 the obeah superstition undoubtedly lies in that worship, with a view to conciliation, 0 the Spirit 0 Evil, which is a common characteristic 0 tho rude religions 0 most African tribes, particularly 0 those inhabiting the interior and the West Coast, whence the original slave population 0 this island was derived. Viel\ ed by the light cast upon it by recent explorations, the daily life oi these seems such a precar10us one that it to be a matter of wonder that they should regard the Evil as predominating over the Good. Surrounded by gloomy forest and fetid swamp, the haunt of harmful creatures ; often falling a prey by the score to small-pox and other loathsome diseases the deadly infection of which they are powerless to avert ; liable to sudden raids at the hands of more powerful neighbours, to see their men and infants butchered and their women and boys carried off by the slave-hunter, it is small wonder that every stranger is regarded as an enemy, and that the struggle for life" is a bitter one indeed. Among thorn the etishman is a power, real and awful, and as such he continued to be rogarclecl after their transportation to the \Yest Indies, where, although in contact with civilizntion, and freed from the constant physical clanger that beset their stops in the-:r nati rn wilds, their mental and moral condition remained almost precisely the same. I do not know whether the origin of tho word Obeah has been de fined by any philological authority ; but i I am not mistaken, I think it has been traced by one of our most profound scholars, the Revd. J o_hn Radcliffe, to the same root as the Greek word signifying a ser pent." A snake of some sort has al 1,ays been, and is eyon now, hold to be indispensable to tho equipment of a practitioner of any pretensions to distinction, and a stick surrounded by a caned serpent embracing it in its folds i-s a frequent emblem of the calling. The obeahman as he formerly existed in Jamaica was a standing menace to the social order of the country, and this appears to ha yo been realised by the legislators of the bnd as far back as the year 18, when the Law 19 Victoria chap. 30, was passed, which gave to the executive authorities very comprehensive po1rnrs to deal, not only with the obeahmen themselYes, but also with those who sought their services. This act was further amondE:d, and the powers conferred by it increased, by the enactment, 21 Victoria chap. 24. Under these two acts prosecutions are brought up to the present day. In those days the obeahman possessed an extensive knmdedge of the properties 0 certain herbs, principally of as 1Yero fatal to f ; f J ., ( { ..

PAGE 5

i , SOIIIETHING ABOUT OBEAII. 3 human life, either cutting it off by a swift and sudden death, or slowly and gradually, but surely, sapping its strength and causing the wretched victim to pine and wither away to his end. In outlying districts, with imperfect means of communication, indifferent medical aid and defective judicial arrangements, both administrative and executive, perfect impunity for the poisoner was ensured; while even nearer to the centres of civilization, with improved facilities in all these respects, the absence of any traces left by the fatal substance caused the same result. Even now, I believe, there are one or two vegetable poisons that defy analysis by the latest and most approved methods known to modern science. It is appalling to think how many a life must hayc been sacrificed in those old, dark days through jealousy or greed of gain, and how many a murderer must have gone unreached by the ayenging arm of the law. Isolated cases still occur-notably one in St. Ann',; some ten or twelve years ago-but the fangs of the obeahman have been drawn, thanks to the march of ciYilization, and our means of protection, which will bear comparison with those of almost any country in the world. The obeahman still exercises an evil influence, though, in a far wider sense than is commonly supposed, an influence that act>' strongly counter to those of education and religion. Professional obeahmen may be, roughly speaking, diYided into two classes. First, there is the grossly ignorant, depraved, benighted being, generally an African by birth or parentage, who firmly believes in the art which he professes, although he lives within a stone's throw of a church or op posite to a school. IIe usually has a '"wall-eye" or some other peculiar facial deformity which is supposed to invest him of necessity with t.he mystic power, and added to it, not unfrcquently, a "sore foot" in a highly offensiYe condition. He is generally miserably poor, at least in outward appearance, and his foe small, but he does a good trade. Two prominent types of this class it has recently been my good fortune to introduce to the interior of the St. Catherine's District Prison, and an account of their detection and capture may interest my readers. The first, named Peter l\l orrison, was taken ffo!Jrante delicto during the sitting of the Circuit Court in Morant Bay. A man was being tried for maiming a steer, the crime having been committed eighteen months previomdy. During the trial Peter, on whom a watch had been set for certain reasons, was ohscned to be walking up and down at the back of tho court, gesticulating with his hands in the direction of the judge and jury and muttering indistinctly. This was allowed to go on for some time, then Peter was remoyod to the station and searched. The only article found in his possession was the head of a small china doll,

PAGE 6

4. SOME'l.'HING ABOUT OBEAH. the eyes of which '>ere bandage d with a piece of black cloth. This was tho cha r m which was supposed to ensure the acquittal of the pris oner. It proved sufficient, together with Peter's reputation, in the carrying out of the laws above mentioned to ensure his incarceration for several WC'eks. Fortunately, also, the prisoner under trial was con victed and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment. Had the result been otherwi s e Peter's conviction would have availed nothing ; he would have been regarded as a martyr, and would have returned from temp orary SC'clusion armed with threefold power. The other case presented the following circumstances :--A bad case of cattle-wounding occurred on a property in St. Davids, and two brothers were arrested on suspicion. \Ve came to know that a practitioner of g reat repute, named Kellerman, had been consulted by the 'vives of the accused. This Kellerman, a man of over sixty years of age, was in the habit of receiving clients from a distance of forty or fifty miles away. Unfortunately for him his eyesight was very defective, partly by reason of age and partly owing to the wall-eye" above mentionecl. On a certain clay two myrmidons of the law, disguised in unpretentious costume, vis i ted Kellerman, representing themselves as relative s of the accused hailing from Portland. Ho asked them at once whether they had brought the needful; and they, having provided thems elves with the indispen s able bottle of rum, replied in the affirma tive. A libation was then solemnly poured out and swallowed by tho obeahman who, warmed hy the generous fluid, entered into conver s atiun, told them not to fret abou t their cousin, and boa sted about former suc cesses of his-his specialty being "Court" cases-alluding particularly to the case of a woman charged with attempting to poison, who had b e en di scharge d at the preliminary investigation about a year previ ousl y there not b eing sufficient evidence against her. He then pro duced a package of coarse powder consisting of the dried and crushed le :wes of some herbs, and placing a little of it in the extended palm of one of the men, told him to blow it a\vay. He did so, and then th::i other wont through the same process. After another drink of rum Kellerman enclosed a quantity of the powder in a piece of paper, and told the men to give it to the wife of one of the accused and to shew her what to do with it; that as she blew away the powder, so the case against her husband would be blown away. Ho finally said that the men shouldn't only have chopped the cow, but should have killed it and brought home the moat for them all to ent. These two bold, bad policemen then enquired of Mr. Kellerman if that was all; and he re plied that there was nothing left but the payment; whereupon, to his ,_

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G-c,be..,. j\". SOMETHING ABOUT OBEAH. ..... intense disgust, they informed him that they were constables, and forth with haled him off to the nearest station, which residence be exchanged a few days later for a lodging at the expense of the country in Spanish Town. The other class 0 obeahman is often a man of strikingly good physique, respectable appearance, and always dECently dressed. He does more in the ".duppy catching" line, and does not accept a small fee. (Of the art of duppy-catching" I shall speak later on.) 'This species is, generally speaking, of too much intelligence to believe in the efficacy of his charms, his motives for adopting the calling being the ease with which it earns for him an ample competence, and the fa cilities it affords him for gratifying his animal passions, debauchery being the principal feature of his ceremonial, which is always conducted in the presence only of himself and his victim. I have only suc ceeded in cutting short the career of one gentleman of this class lately, but one or two others shall have due attention shortly. The man who is generally acknowledged to be the Pontifex Maximus of the craft, the premier practitioner of the island, with a clientele extending into almost every parish, resides, as might be expected, in the metropolis, where, indeed, he is said to occupy a position of some prominence in other respects. But one and all, high and low, are shielded and may practise for years without having to answer to the law, by the extreme difficulty of obtaining the necessary evidence against them. I haYe seen a strong man turn the colour of ashes, and the cold sweat run down his cheeks, while in the witness-box having the evidence wrested from him piece by piece, and having constantly to be ordered to look at the bench instead of at the obeahman at the bar fixing him with a stony stare. I remember one case in which a man of respectable waited outside an obeahman's house at dead of night, while his wife, on whose behalf he had sought the obeahman, was alone with him inside; and it was only when he was taken to the julousies by the police, who were also watching the house, and shewn by them through a crevice what W'.1S taking place that he consented to give his as8istance, to become a party to the prose cution of tho obeahman, and to reveal certain circumstances which were wanting to complete the chain of in a case of which this was an episnde. I know 0 another case in which the dread of obeah power kept closed for three years the mouth of a man who had seen t1Vo persons carry the corpse of a woman whom they, or one of them, had just brutally murdered, along a lonely path, and deposit it at the

PAGE 8

G S021'1ETIILYG ABOUT OBEAH. door of a house in which she had been staying with a relative. This relative and his wife were of course arrested on suspicion, but man aged to clear themselves. Three years later remorse--or most pro bably the death of the obeahman-unsealed his lips, and his evidence contributed mainly to the conviction and hanging of the murderer. And there had been a reward of offered all the time 'rhese are a few illustrations, selected from a yaried experience, o-f the baneful in fl ueuce that this degrading superstition still exercises among the lower classes. Nor is it confined to the peasantry alone. There have been and there are now, cases of men of good position, men belonging to the "classes," men who have received an English education, who have been brought by their surroundings under its influence so completely as to become mere tools in the hands of de.oigning and unprincipled women. Among the paraphernalia of the cruft may be enumerated all kinds of rubbish. ""Wooden doll's heads, bits of looking glass, fowl bones, the skins of snakes and frogs, the comb and beak of a cock, a pack of curds, a razor, tiny carved calabashes, a bit of brimstone en closed in a small bag, powdered touchwood and numerons other articles of no earthly value in themselves, but all supposed to be endowed with magic power, are to be found in the of every obeahman when a haul" is made. I have not come across any snake sticks lately. The last I saw was confiscated from a notorious criminal named Gar vey, who has been convicted in nf'arly every parish in the island of nearly eyery conceivable offence, obtah included. 0 the ceremonial little is known to me from trustworthy sources. On grand occasions, where the practitioner to the aristocracy of the craft, the orgies, I have reason to believe, are sumething entirely beyond description; the instincts of the primitive savage are awakened, and it is easy to imagine that the rites could culminate in the human sacrifice that is said to accom1J::iny kindred ceremonies in Hayti. One thing i;; quite certain, that any white person, or any per son belonging to the upper classes who ventured to int.rude there, would do su at the imminent peril of life. Nudity, whole or partiul, is an indispensable C0!1dition, of the females especially, and the whole scene is one of savage and drunken debauchery. I know that many who read this will say that I am exaggerating and that such things are impossible. I can assure them, however, that I do not speak without sufficient warrant ; and I would ask them whether they have any idea of what take3 place at those "revival" meetings that are held almost nightly in Kingston. These people, as

PAGE 9

----SOMETHING ABOUT OBEAH. 1 long as they commit no breach 0 the law, enjoy the privilege that every Englishman does 0 his house being his castle, and therefore cannot be molested; we must only trust to education and the influ ence of civilization, which we hope will now work more actively than ever, as the result of our Exhibition, to render practices 0 this kind things of the past. The ordinary procedure is a very simple one, such as I have des cribed in the two cases quoted above. It varies according to circum stances. The blood of a white cock, particularly if he be of the breed known as senseh," is a potent charm, as is also a little dirt from a grave. If a love-philtre is wanted, a portion of the underclothing of the desired object must be brought, and a little of the hair if possible. 'l'o do damage to the crop or stock of an enemy a little of the dried excrement of some animal, a couple 0 rotten eggs and some other filth are buried in his field or in his yard near the pigsty. Duppy catching," a branch of the art above alluded to, finds a great many votaries. A child suffers from epileptic fits, a woman is barren, or a man is troubled with an incurable ulcer. The "duppycatcber" is consulted and they are told that so-and-so has" set a duppy" on them, which he, or a consideration, undertakes to catch. A night fixed for the operation, rum is provided, perhaps a white cock killed, feasting, drinking and drumming, with occasional intervals 0 manipulation 0 the body of the patient, continue all night, and if successful, 1he duppy is caught, enclosed in a b:ittle, taken away and buried. Very often, however, and particularly if the female patient be young and h:rndsonw, the first c eremony proves unsuccessful, and a second, or perhaps a third, has to be performed. I have heard quite lately of a girl who was working on a sugar estate, and suffered from an ulcer on her leg. She di;mppoarnd from the estate for some days, and on her return was asked by the overseer what had become of her. She re plied t.hat they had set duppy upon her" and she had been to the
PAGE 10

8 SOMETHING ABOUT OBEAH. has on the minds of the lower orders can scarcely be realised except by those who have made the subject a study, as I have. In certain districts of the islund, if fifty per cent. of the adult members of any given church were called upon at some crucial moment, privately and individually, to choose between the minister and the obeahman, I would offer long odds on the latter were I a sporting man. AW esleyan minister with whom I was very well acquainted, a man of high intelligence and a restless energy, the value of which has since been recognised by his Church, and one who had devoted a good deal of attention to this same subject, told me that he once witnessed the following occur rence at night in a Kingston street. He saw a leading member of one of the churches in conversation with a man who was a reputed obeah mau, and was deriding his of religion. He laughed to scorn the parson and the influences of religion, and wound up by throwing on the ground his snake stick. There now," he said, I dare you to take up that stick off the ground." The stick was left lying. Of the minor details appertainiug to obeah practice it is in the very nature of things almost impossible to obtain precise inf0rmation ; and were such information obtained most of it would be unfit fur publication. Some of the evidence that I have heard dragged out in court is not fit for any place out;;ide the walls of a court house. I think that in helping to ex:pose this degrading superstition as far as possibly I can I am doing a certain amount of service to my country, and that is my object in writing this article, as I have al ready stated. In order further to effect this I have now on exhibition a collection of obeah charms, implements, and materials, a complete catalogue of which is given below. These have all been collected from recently convicted obeahmen, so: ne of whom are mentioned above. I have abo procured through the kindness of Inspector Alexander fetish charms brought from the region which is the home of the obeab superstition. The ;;uperior quality of these, and the contrn:>t between them and the useless rubbish and filth used by the obeahmen of Jamaica serve to illustrate how the cult of obeah wor.:ihip has deteriorated on the soil of Jamaica. Let us hope that the dtiy is not far when it will die out altogether. And I have great hopes that the were fact of this exhibit, labelled with the nameil of the men from whom the various articles were taken will deal such a blow to obeah as shall be worthy of the "Awakening of Jam'lica," the dawa of which is heralded by this our Exhibition. i i l

PAGE 11

L SOMETHING .ABOUT OBEAH. CATALOGUE. A. African fetish charms, used by the l\fendi tribe on the West Coast, and obtained after the bombardment of Robarri by an expedition in which the 1st Bat. West India Regt. took part in 1887. 1. Horn of young Fretambo (species of antelope) filled with snake and alligator fat and a jegga, or small shell, with a three penny piece on top. 2. Switch mnde of leaves of the koos-koos grass stitched into a piece of African country cloth and ornamented with jeggas. 3. A charm to be worn round the neck or any other part of the body, ingredients unknown. 4. A piece of white calico in which the above articles are kept wrapped up when not in use. B. A book of certificates kept by a Bush-doctor, or Duppy-catcher in the parish of Clarendon, attesting bis wonderful cures of" mad ness, child-birth,'' and other extraordinary complaints. These appear all to have been written by himself. c. Original of an agreement made between one Fleming and an obeahman named Fraser in the parish of St. Thomas. D. Charms and implements seized 111 possess10n of various obeahmen :Charles Law'l'ence, West11101'eland. 1. A number of blood-stained pieces of calabash strung together, forming what is known as a jeggeh." 2. Tin containing some unknown substance, possibly excrement of some animal. Georqe Eason, Westmoi'eland. 1. Piece of gum from some tree. 2. Bottle containing liquid composition. 3. Bag with a few grains of rice. 4. Tin containing bits of horseshoe nails and caraway seeds. 5. Tin containing myrrh. 6. Do. do. sulphur. 7. Do. do. myrrh and frankincense. 8. Do. do. resin. 91 Do. do. camphor. 10. Do. do. caraway seed.

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10 SOMETHING ABOUT OBEAH. 11. Powder made from dried herbs, unknown. 12. Small pocket mirror. 13. Pack of cards. 14. Bag centaining pieces horse-shoe nails and broken bottle. 15. Phial with peppermint. 16 Glass marble. 17. Phial containing quicksilver, the cork stuck with pins. Emanuel Freeman, St. Thomas. 1. Small mirror. 2. Cards. 3. Calabash cup. 4. Razor. 5. Purse containing pieces broken bottle. Charles Fraser, St. Tlwmas. 1. Chips wood and old rags. 2. Garlic and rags. 3. Calabash cup. 4. Alum. 5. Pieces of chalk. 6. Bottle of medicine proscribed and compounded fol' his victim. 7. Bag containing brimstone, to be worn as a guard Peter M01Tison, St. Thomas. Doll's Bead, bandaged with black cloth. James Richards, St. Thomas. Parcel containing myrrh, grey human hair, bladder, asacetida and herb roots. TVilliam Brown, St. Thomas. 1. Part of a cow's horn. 2. 3. Chalk stones. 4. Quassia bean. 5. :Magnet, 6. Charm. 7. Sulphur. 3. Pieces of Charcoal. 9. Portion o.f'female underr:lot!dng. 10. rluman hair. 11. Herbs, unknown. 12. Dried herbs and charcoal powdered and mixed. 13. Ashes. Alf1ed }lfinot, St. Tlwmas. 1. Cards. 2. Iron hinge staples. NOTE-Since the above was in print an image has been added to the collection, which was seized in St. Thomas some years ago and sent to England as a curiosity. I

PAGE 13

, I ----

PAGE 14

r-....... t, The Case of ExhilJits having been removed from the Exhibitio:Q. Build .. fo_ r ten I-' '1'


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