Devon Dick | Do not tax obeah
According to The Star of March 14, it is proposed that those who practise obeah should be fined $1 million, instead of the existing $100, or a maximum of 12 months’ imprisonment. What is criminalised is the practice of obeah, the consultation with practitioners of obeah, and the publication and distribution of any material calculated to promote the superstition of obeah.
Obeah is a means to rationalise misfortune. It is a way of life and belief system for some persons, just as how some believe in horoscopes, palm readers and fortune tellers. Some people consult the obeah man for protection from evil; doing business; getting a visa; and for success in examinations.
This $1-million tax is a retrograde step. What should be happening is the decriminalisation of obeah. About four years ago, there was a rare bipartisan resolution between Senator Lambert Brown, of the then government, and Senator Tom Tavares-Finson, of the then Opposition, calling for the decriminalisation of obeah. Both men are still in the Upper House, with noted attorney Tavares-Finson now the president of the Senate. This is the direction Jamaica needs to embrace.
Ganja has been decriminalised for recreational purposes in small amounts and also for religious purposes. Why obeah cannot be decriminalised for those for whom it is a religious belief, or those who engage in it for recreational purposes?
The alleged harm that obeah can do is exaggerated. Acclaimed sociologist Orlando Patterson, in his book Sociology of Slavery, dismisses a case where people blame obeah for the cause of the death of 100 Africans, which he concluded was really due to an epidemic.
After the million-dollar fine, what next? A return to a barbaric age, when, in 1858, a man was hanged for practising obeah?
Footballers have superstitions. In Jamaica, every year hundreds of prophecies are made by so-called prophets. How many obeah men have molested young girls and young boys compared to the Christian clergy, but Jamaica does not outlaw the Christian faith because of bad practice or false doctrine.
If an obeah man physically harms someone, then take the matter to court and get justice; but there is no reason to criminalise a belief system or a practice that is not harming anyone. In the Western Star of March 19, Oswald Davis of Falmouth claims that it was obeah powder that caused the amputation of both his legs. He should be encouraged to take the matter to court and get redress from those workers of iniquity. However, a fine of $1 million will not bring back his legs.
Simon “ used sorcery and bewitched the people of Samaria” (Acts 8: 9), and a girl in Philippi was “ possessed with a spirit of divination” (Acts 16: 16-18) and subsequently, “ brought her masters much gain by soothsaying”. How was it dealt with? Was it made illegal? Was there a huge fine? The demonic powers were driven out of her in Jesus’ name by Paul and Silas. That is the way forward. Christian have nothing to fear, because greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world. And Christians know that no weapon formed against you shall prosper.
The government does not really believe that the practice of obeah can lead to destruction and harm. If the government believed it had real power to harm, then government members would not propose such a hefty, unreasonable fine, because they would fear that the obeah man or woman would harm them. So, imposing such a fine is really to increase revenue. It is shameful.
I was born in St Thomas and mi never see obeah kill a man yet.
Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of ‘The Cross and the Machete’ and ‘Rebellion to Riot’. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.