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Obeah and Myal



Obeah is perhaps the oldest of all Afro-Creole religions in the Caribbean. Its name is derived from the Ashanti words Obay-ifo or Obeye, meaning wizard or witch. The Ashantis or Koromantyn Africans were from the gold coast, and because they were generally thought to be disposed to rebellion and witchcraft, the Spanish and French avoided importing them as slaves. Thus, the practice of Obeah is confined to the British West Indies, with variations in Guadeloupe and Martinique. According to Margarite Fernandez-Omos and Lizbeth Paravisini-Gerbert, Obeah “is not a religion so much as a system of beliefs rooted in Creole notions of spirituality, which acknowledges the existence and power of the supernatural world” (131). Furthermore, Obeah incorporates two basic categories of practice: spells, both good and evil, and healing practices based on the use of elements in the natural world. Obeah often provided a comfort to displaced Africans in that they could rely on one of their own for healing and protection. However, British accounts of Obeah during the colonial period figure it as menacing to white plantation owners, and its practice was outlawed in many of the British colonies. Obeah, then, is mainly a client-practitioner relationship, with the afflicted subject seeking out the aid of the Obeah man or woman on an individual basis.

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