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Obeah: Healing and Protection in West Indian Slave Life

Black Caribbean Literature (BCL)
Bilby,Kenneth M. (Author), Handler,Jerome S. (Author)
Journal Article
Publication Date:
Barbados: University of the West Indies, Department of History
African American Research Center, Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject Term:
Caribbean area, History, Slavery, Religion, Traditional medicine
Obeah encompasses a wide variety of beliefs and practices involving the control or channelling of supernatural/spiritual forces, usually for socially beneficial ends such as treating illness, bringing good fortune, protecting against harm, and avenging wrongs. Although obeah was sometimes used to harm others, Europeans during the slave period distorted its positive role in the lives of many enslaved persons. In post-emancipation times, colonial officials, local white elites and their ideological allies exaggerated the antisocial dimensions of obeah, minimizing or ignoring its positive functions. This negative interpretation became so deeply ingrained that many West Indians accept it to varying degrees today, although the positive attributes of obeah are still acknowledged in most parts of the anglophone Caribbean. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT];