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#BTColumn – Shaping of Caribbean societies (Part 2)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the creator(s) don’t represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.

by Wayne Campbell

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is sort of a tree without roots.” – Marcus Garvey,

Racist History of Obeah Laws

The adage belief kills or belief cures is a timely reminder of the persuasion those that are involved in necromancy have over the society.

The strangulation hold on our culture just isn’t unique to Jamaica; additionally it is quite pervasive across the Caribbean,
all of which were once a part of the plantocracy of European colonisation.

Most of the laws that made obeah illegal during slavery were a part of ‘slave codes’ and expired when slavery was abolished. Nonetheless, most Caribbean islands replaced them with other laws criminalising obeah as they became independent.

Trinidad’s Summary Conviction Ordinance of 1868 made obeah punishable with whipping and imprisonment for men and whipping only for girls.  Interestingly, the anti-obeah clauses were faraway from the law in 2000.   

In Guyana, an ‘Ordinance to repress the commission of Obeah practices’ was passed in 1855, and obeah was incorporated into laws against vagrancy from 1893.

In Barbados, there isn’t any current legal prohibition on the practice of obeah; the 1840 Vagrancy Act that had made it much like an offence of vagrancy was repealed in 1842.   

In Jamaica, The Obeah Act of 1898 makes it illegal to be a ‘person practising Obeah’, which it defines as: ‘any one that, to effect any fraudulent or illegal purpose, or for gain, or for the aim of frightening any person, uses, or pretends to make use of any occult means, or pretends to own any supernatural power or knowledge.’ Many of the Obeah Laws authorised flogging for men as a punishment.

Obeah was initially criminalised to guard slavery against uprisings; the present law was made to symbolise Jamaica’s hostility to its African connections and to suppress poor people’s religion.

Obeah was first made illegal in 1760, as a part of a sweepingly repressive act passed within the aftermath of Tacky’s Revolt, the most important rebellion of enslaved people within the 18th-century British-colonised Caribbean.

Tacky’s Revolt or Revolt (1760-1761) is considered probably the most significant British Caribbean slave insurrection within the eighteenth century, and second only to the Haitian Revolution in comparative resistance. It began in Jamaica’s north-central parish of St. Mary.

The law was a direct response to the undeniable fact that the insurrection’s leaders were advised by obeah men who attempted to offer them courage, solidarity, and spiritual protection.

The decision for the Obeah Act to be repelled is usually done so given the racist origin of the law. In practice, the law was used almost exclusively against poor Jamaicans, mostly black but in addition sometimes Indian.

The spiritual guarding of 1’s self just isn’t confined to so call guard rings; rosaries are also utilized in the guarding against evil spirits mainly by those within the upper echelons of society.

This practice stems from the period of enslavement throughout the Caribbean during which Roman Catholicism was the dominant religion of Europe.

Within the event that your recollection of history may be a bit unclear; between 1838 and 1917, European governments allowed their planters within the Caribbean to import an estimated 500,000 Indian indentured servants from India to work on their sugar plantations.

The arrival of those indentured labourers was in direct response to a so-called labour shortage emanating from the abolition of slavery within the British West Indies which occurred in 1838.

Popular Culture

Popular culture might be understood as a set of cultural products, practices, beliefs, and objects dominating society.

Popular culture has the power to influence those individuals it comes across with, and incorporates, various elements of a culture from music to bounce, movies, literature, fashion.

It encompasses every part that’s believed and consumed by the vast majority of people in any society.

Popular culture cuts across socio-economic and political lines. Oftentimes we view popular culture negatively nonetheless; this just isn’t all the time the situation.  Socialisation begins with the family.

Nonetheless, most families are dysfunctional and this adds to the issues the broader society face given the high homicide rates and uncouth behaviour amongst our people.

The varsity is predicted to proceed the means of socialisation; nonetheless, the present education system just isn’t impacting a big number of scholars, especially our boys.

Contrastingly, it seems that popular culture is impacting our students more so than the education system. Given the inequalities of the education system which have been exacerbated with the COVID-19 pandemic this just isn’t surprising.

Policy-makers should consider that schools operate on a gendered regime and as such the expectations are different for the sexes.

Understandably, that is problematic for policy- makers as efforts are being made to shut the educational gap in addition to learning poverty of the present education system.

While it’s worrying the society shouldn’t be surprised that our students are ‘guarding up’ as they pursue their educational interests. Our students are acting out what they see adults around them do.

The practice of obeah has been glorified in popular culture. Amongst the favored dancehall songs which address the problem is ‘Guard Up’ by Insideeus and Intence by Yahoo Boyz.

As we have a good time Emancipation Day it’s imperative that we’re aware of our history as we plan ahead for the longer term. We must not ever forget the history of our indigenous peoples who were obliterated as a result of genocide carried out by Europeans.

As a region we must lend our collective voices for reparations and hold accountable those European powers who carried out crimes against humanity within the Anglophone Caribbean.

Unquestionably, the duty for the present generation is to be sure that economic independence is realiased. Emancipation Day must be one in every of reflection.

A Luta Continua.

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. [email protected] @ WayneCamo © #EmancipationDay #Jamaica60 #CARICOM #AnglophoneCaribbean

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