Wed | Feb 24, 2021

Letter of the Day | Obeah is not evil, it is spiritual healing

Published:Friday | November 27, 2020 | 12:06 AM


Over a year ago, the Jamaica Labour Party Government announced it would open discussion to have the 122-year-old Obeah Act repealed. When the announcement was made, many Jamaicans and church groups rallied together to fight the motion. Their main argument was that Obeah is inherently evil. I, on the other hand, commended the Government for bravely opening discussions. It had been decades since the last motion was tabled and this was a step in the right direction. However, nothing has been said since and I hope it is not being pushed to the back burner.

The 1898 Obeah Act makes it illegal to be a person practising Obeah. Practising Obeah is defined as ‘any person who, to effect any fraudulent or unlawful purpose, or for gain, of for the purpose of frightening any person, uses, or pretends to use any occult means, or pretends to possess any supernatural power or knowledge’.

Stop Repressing African Beliefs

For too long our African ancestral practices and beliefs have been repressed by colonialism and its relics. The British criminalised Obeah to protect slavery against an uprising. The current legislation reflects Jamaica’s hostility towards Africa’s cultural traditions. Obeah was first made illegal in 1760 in wake of Chief Tacky’s Rebellion. Leaders sought advice from Obeahmen who gave courage, solidarity and spiritual protection.

How can we say we are becoming ‘black conscious’ when our institutions continue to buy into the concept that anything from Africa is bad? Africans are viewed as ancestral spiritual worshippers, but Europeans ‘Colonise’, ‘Christianise’ and ‘Civilise’.

Obeah is far from the hostile spiritual practices that many Jamaicans fear. Obeah is a system of spiritual healing and justice-making and communicating with our ancestors and spirits. The Obeah Act has nothing to do with witchcraft and plenty to do with colonialism and white supremacy. The Jamaican Constitution guarantees every citizen ‘the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief”. The Obeah Act is a discriminatory colonial anachronism that favours European belief systems above all others.

Other Caribbean countries have taken the initiative. Anguilla decriminalised Obeah in 1989, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and St Lucia followed suit in 1998, 2000 and 2004, respectively. Guyana announced in 2018 that it would remove the law from its books. Jamaica, it is our turn. A nation cannot be free if one segment is oppressed. Parliament should discontinue the discrimination and repeal the Obeah Act.

Repealing the act will not change the everyday lives of Jamaicans because the last time someone was convicted under that law was in the 1970s. However, it will signal that this nation will not support laws that protected slavery.


Final-year student

Bachelor of Arts

Caribbean School of Media

and Communication, UWI