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Orville Taylor | Obeah; it’s not rocket ‘sciance’

Published:Sunday | June 16, 2019 | 12:00 AM

If ignorance was a natural resource, then Jamaica’s economic future would have a strong guarantee of prosperity.

How can one possibly be charged for an act that the accuser or State does not even know what it is? If the law is an ass, then those who passed it are whole asses.

Again, everyone, including some pastors who barely know the Bible, and have only one hand on the hard facts, are jerking their knees off because Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has made a logical move.

The 1898 Obeah Act came under scrutiny in 1975 for a fleeting moment. Untouched for decades, it is once again being brought on the agenda. Wishing to repeal it and introduce more sensible legislation to deal with fraud and scamming, Chuck is now under fire, with even his colleague Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte expressing great discomfort because it runs counter to her Christian beliefs.

Truth is, I would have preferred her not to have commented because her remit as the chief legal adviser is to give counsel on the legal constraints and ramifications of the impending action of the Government. Her personal beliefs are only relevant insofar as they fall within the ambit of the Charter of Rights. Second, as a person of what I suspect to be of both African and East Indian descent, it would seem a trifle odd that the slew of East Indian psychics, mystics and palm readers have been advertising their wares without any major commentary from our learned counsel. Other holier-than-thou campaigners have also been silent about them.

Now, there are multiple references in the Bible about witchcraft, conjurers and following familiar spirits. Therefore, saying that indulging in the occult or consorting with demons is sinful and against the teachings of the Lord is obviously true.

However, who said that obeah is the same as witchcraft? Indeed, the statute dumbly defines obeah to include myal, which is a positive spiritual movement, historically used to counter witchcraft.

Yet, we better be careful that prosecutors do not start enforcing the decadent act, because many more persons will be caught in the web than we think. This includes many who believe that they are doing God’s work.

A few months ago, a man claimed that he got special messages from the Holy Spirit, which led him to warn the unsaved that they were in deep peril. He shouted in a threatening tone as most pastors do, and indeed some of the men who heard were very fearful. As such, some went and got baptised in his church and others only visited. Yet others stayed out.

Then he started to preach about his gift offering. Some testified about his abilities. Indeed, there were some on whom he placed his hand and they fell. Some claimed healing.

Others had deep faith but were unmoved. Some were slain in the spirit and yet the ailment remained. In the majority of cases where there was healing, there was little corroboration by independent medical evidence. Was it the placebo effect? Was it a clever fraud? The jury is out.


Other pastors preach non-biblical messages, such as prosperity doctrines, and suck their congregants dry in order to pay their exorbitant mortgages or finance their high-end cars.

Not to speak of the viral videos of pastors who make their sheep perform all manner of disgusting and sinful acts. Imagine a multimillionaire pastor conning his lambs to the slaughter into buying him a new jet.

However, the hard and irrefutable fact is that even where the minister has no obvious intention to ginnal the gullible, and where there is healing, most persons who go for healing do not get healed. Only in the Bible do we see such high percentages of healing.

So then, do we accuse the healers of fraud? And what of those who give you prayer cloths or vials of holy water? What are these men and women?

Vex if you wish, but the definition of obeah says “a person practising obeah means any person who, to effect any fraudulent or unlawful purpose, or for gain, or for the purpose of frightening any person, uses, or pretends to use any occult means, or pretends to possess any supernatural power or knowledge”.

Now tell me, given the fact that the majority of Christian healings do not result in a cure, doesn’t this imply fraud? What difference is there in our pastor claiming to have the link to Jesus, or some priests praying through deceased saints?

We must not jump to criminalise all types of activities simply because they are sinful. In Jamaica, myriad patterns of our behaviour are sinful. These include bearing false witness, fornication, corruption in government and, of course, homicide.

It might also be interesting to know that Voodoo is institutionalised in Haiti, but compared to Jamaica, with one of the densest collection of churches in the world, we are the murder capital.

Remember, there is still a difference between Caesar and God.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to and