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"This bad business": Obeah, violence, and power in a nineteenth-century British Caribbean slave community

Collection:
Black Caribbean Literature (BCL)
Contributor:
Browne,Randy M. (Author)
Format:
Dissertation/Thesis
Publication Date:
2009
URL:
http://search.proquest.com/docview/304961431/fulltextPDF/113E3394093442E7PQ/1?accountid=14553
Published:
Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina
Location:
African American Research Center, Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject Term:
Caribbean area, History, Blacks, Slavery, Religion, South America, Minje Mama, Obeah, Berbice (Guyana)
Notes:
85 p., This thesis examines the practice of Obeah--an Afro-Caribbean system of healing, harming, and divination through the use of spiritual powers--within two slave communities in Berbice and Demerara (British Guiana). This study is based primarily on legal documents--including testimony from more than a dozen slaves--generated during the criminal trials of two men accused of practicing Obeah in 1819 and 1821-22. In contrast to most previous studies of Obeah, which have been based largely on descriptions provided by British observers, this project takes advantage of this complex, overlapping body of evidence to explore the social dynamics of Obeah as experienced by enslaved men and women themselves, including Obeah practitioners, their clients, and other witnesses. This study reveals that Obeah rituals could be extremely violent, that Obeah practitioners were feared as well as respected among their contemporaries, that the authority of Obeah practitioners was based on demonstrable success, and that slave communities in general were complex social worlds characterized by conflict and division as well as by support and unity--conclusions that combine to produce a fresh, humane vision of Afro-diasporan culture and community under slavery.