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Chapter IV


Just as in the case of Voodoo there is a fundamental document that has served as a starting point for all writers on the subject, so we have a similar source of information as regards Obeah. This is the Report of the Lords of the Committee of the Council appointed for the consideration of all matters relating to Trade and Foreign Plantation, London, 1789.[1] Part III is entitled:

[1. Note:--As mentioned before, this is a large folio volume of over twelve hundred unnumbered pages. As it is difficult of access, although a copy may be found in the Boston College Library, a somewhat lengthy citation may be permissible. Bryan Edwards says of this Report: "It was transmitted by the Agent of Jamaica to the Lords of the Committee of the Privy Council, and by them subjoined to their report on the slave trade; and, if I mistake not, the public are chiefly indebted for it to the diligent researches, and accurate pen, of Mr. Long."--Bryan Edwards, The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies, London, 1793, Vol. II, p. 88. As Edwards was writing less than four years after the publication of the Report, his statement may be relied upon as accurate. The Long referred to, was Edward Long, the historian, He was the great-grandfather of Sir Esme Howard, recently the British Ambassador to the United States. His own great-grandfather in turn, was at the age of sixteen attached as Lieutenant to the regiment of his kinsman Col. Edward Doyley when he set out on the original Cromwellian Expedition that seized Jamaica in 1655. The Secretary of the Commissioners dying, young Long succeeded him. This started him on a career that found him Speaker of the House of Assembly of Jamaica at the age of thirty-three and Chief justice of Jamaica at thirty-eight. In the family tree with all its ramifications we find the names of nearly all the leading gentry of the island, and if we trace it back far enough it has a common origin with that of General Washington, the American patriot. Even Sir Henry Morgan, the notorious buccaneer, who on three separate occasions acted as Governor of Jamaica, was connected with the Long family by marriage. Edward Long, the historian, was born in England, but went to Jamaica in 1757 at the age of twenty-three. He was a member of the Jamaica Assembly from 1761 to 1768, and its Speaker for a time. Shortly afterwards he returned to England and died there in 1813.--Cfr. Robert Mobray Howard, Records and Letters of the Family of the Longs of Longville, Jamaica, and Hampton Lodge, Surrey, London, 1925, Vol. I, p. 119 ff. Bryan Edwards' supposition that the Report was chiefly the work of Edward Long is strengthened by a letter written by his daughter Jane Catherine Long to her brother Edward Beeston Long, under date of March 6, 1785, where we read in the postscript: "You must not expect to hear from my Father. He is obliged every day either to attend Mr. Pitt or a West India Committee."--l. c., Vol. I, p. 178.]

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Treatment of slaves in the West Indies, and all circumstances relating thereto, digested under certain heads, and begins with a consideration of Jamaica, and as noted, the information is furnished by "Stephen Fuller, Agent for Jamaica, and assisted by Mr. Long and Mr. Chisholm. Questions 22 to 26 are as follows:--

"Whether Negroes called Obeah men, or under any other denomination, practicing Witchcraft, exist in the Island of Jamaica?

"By what arts or by what means, do these Obeah men cause the deaths, or otherwise injure those who are supposed to be influenced thereby; and what are the symptons {sic} and effects that have been observed to be produced in people, who are supposed to be under the influence of their practice?

"Are the instances of death and diseases produced by these arts or means frequent?

"Are these arts or means brought by the Obeah men from Africa, or are they inventions which have been originated in the islands?

"Whether any or what laws exist in the island of Jamaica for the punishment, and what evidence is generally required for their conviction?" The answer to this questionnaire follows.

"The term Obeah, Obiah, or Obia (for it is variously written), we conceive to be the adjective, and the Obe or Obi the noun substantive; and that by the words Obiah-men and women, are meant those who practice Obi. The origin of the term we should consider of no importance in our answer to the questions proposed, if, in search of it, we were not led to disquisitions that are highly gratifying to curiosity. From the learned Mr. Bryant's ' Commentary on the word Oph, we obtain a very probable etymology of the term: 'A serpent, in the Egyptian language, was called Ob or Aub.'--'Obion is still the Egyptian name for a serpent.''--Moses, in the Name of God, forbids the Israelites even to enquire of the daemon Ob, which is translated in our Bible, charmer or wizard, divinator aut sortilegus.'--'The woman at Endor is called

[2. Mythology, Vol. I, p. 48, 475, and 478.]

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Oub or Ob, translated pythonissa, and Oubaios (he cites from Horus Apollo) was the name of the basilisk or royal serpent, emblem of the sun, and an ancient oracular deity of Africa."[3]

"This derivation which applies to one particular sect, the remnant probably of a very celebrated religious order in remote ages, is now become in Jamaica the general term to denote those Africans who in the island practice witchcraft or sorcery, comprehending also the class of what are called Myal men, or those who by means of a narcotic potion made with the juice of a herb (said to be the branched calalue or species of solarium) which occasions a trance or profound sleep of a certain duration, endeavour to convince the deluded spectators of their power to reanimate dead bodies.

"As far as we are able to decide from our own experience and information when we lived in the island, and from concurrent testimony of all the Negroes we have ever conversed with on the subject, the professors of Obi are, and always were, natives of Africa, and none other, and they have brought the science with

[3. Note:--Cfr. also, The Discoverie of Witchcraft: proving that the compacts and contracts of witches with devils and all infernal spirits or familiars are but erroneous novelties and imaginary conceptions. . . . By Reginald Scot Esquire. Whereto is added an. excellent discourse of the nature and substance of devils and spirits, in two books. . . . London, 1665.--p. 71: "Book, VII. Chapter I. Of the Hebrew word Ob, what it signifieth where it is found: Of Pythonisses called Ventriloquae, who they be, and what their practices are; experience and examples thereof shewed. This word Ob. is translated Python, or Pvthonicus spiritus; sometimes, though unproperly, Magus. . . . But Ob signifieth most properly a Bottle. and is used in this place, because the Pythonists spoke hollow. as, in the bottom of their bellies; whereby they are aptly in Latin called Ventriloqui; . . . These are such as take upon them to give oracles, etc."

Reginald Scot's work first appeared in 1584. and provoked a reply from no less a personage than King James I of England, whose treatise Demonologie, in forme of a Dialogue, Divided into three Bookes, Edinburgh, 1587, expressly declared itself "against the damnable opinions of two principally in an age, whereof the one called Scot an Englishman, is not ashamed in public print to deny that there can be such a thing as Witchcraft: and so maintains the old error of the Sadducces, in denying of spirits, etc." Montague Summer, who edited a new edition of Scot in 1930, says in his introduction, p. xxviii: "That Reginald Scot's The Discoverie of Witchcraft is both historically and as a literary curiosity a book of the greatest value and interest, no one, I suppose, would dispute or deny."

While not quoted as such. Scot in all probability was the source from which is the entire theory of the Egyptian Ob being the origin of the term Obeah. However, as shown elsewhere, Hebrewisms of West Africa, p. 13 ff., the word Ob did not originate with the Egyptian but may he traced back to the Canaanites from whom the Egyptians as well as the Hebrews derived it and if there is any value at all in this suggested derivation. it would be at most the indication of an Hebraic influence on the parent stock of the Ashanti from whom, as we shall see shortly, West India Obeah is directly derived.]

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them from thence to Jamaica, where it is so universally practiced, that we believe there are few of the larger Estates possessing native Africans, which have not one or more of them. The oldest and most crafty are those who usually attract the greatest devotion and confidence, those whose hoary heads, and something peculiarly harsh and diabolic in their aspect, together with some skill in plants of the medicinal and poisonous species, have qualified them for successful imposition upon the weak and credulous. The Negroes in general, whether Africans or Creoles, revere, consult, and abhor them; to these oracles they resort and with the most implicit faith, upon all occasions, whether for the cure of disorders, the obtaining of revenge for injuries or insults, the conciliating of favour, the discovery and punishment of the thief or the adulterer, and the predicting of future events. The trade which these wretches carry on is extremely lucrative; they manufacture and sell their Obies adapted to different cases and at different prices. A veil of mystery is studiously thrown over their incantations, to which the midnight hours are allotted, and every precaution is taken to conceal them from the knowledge and discovery of the white people. The deluded Negroes, who thoroughly believe in their supernatural power, become the willing accomplices in this concealment, and the stoutest among them tremble at the very sight of the ragged bundle, the bottle or the eggshells, which are stuck to the thatch or hung over the door of the hut, or upon the branch of a plantain tree, to deter marauders. In case of poison, the natural effects of it are by the ignorant Negroes ascribed entirely to the potent workings of Obi. The wiser Negroes hesitate to reveal their suspicions, through a dread of incurring the terrible vengeance which is fulminated by the Obeah men against any who should betray them; it is very difficult therefore for the white proprietor to distinguish the Obia professor from any other Negro upon his plantation; and so infatuated are the blacks in general, that but few instances occur of their having assumed courage enough to impeach these miscreants. With minds so firmly prepossessed, they no sooner find Obi set for them near the door of their house, or in the path which leads to it. than

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they give themselves up for lost. When a negro is robbed of a fowl or a hog, he applies directly to the Obiah-man or woman; it is then made known among his fellow Blacks, that Obi is set for the thief; and as soon as the latter hears the dreadful news, his terrified imagination begins to work, no resource is left but to the superior skill of some more eminent Obiah-man of the neighbourhood, who may counteract the magical operations of the other; but if no one can be found of higher rank and ability, or if after gaining such an ally he should still fancy himself affected, he presently falls into a decline, under the incessant horror of impending calamities. The slightest painful sensation in the head, the bowels, or any other part, any casual loss or hurt, confirms his apprehensions, and he believes himself the devoted victim of an invisible and irresistible agency. Sleep, appetite, and cheerfulness, forsake him, his strength decays, his disturbed imagination is haunted without respite, his features wear the settled gloom of despondency; dirt, or any other unwholesome substance, becomes his only food, he contracts a morbid habit of body, and gradually sinks into the grave. A Negro who is ill, enquires of the Obiah-man the cause of the sickness, whether it will prove mortal or not, and within what time he shall die or recover? The oracle generally ascribes the distemper to the malice of some particular person by name, and advises to set Obi for that person; but if no hopes are given for recovery, immediate despair takes place, which no medicine can remove, and death is the certain consequence. Those anomalous symptoms, which originate from causes deeply rooted in the mind, such as terrors of Obi, or from poisons whose operation is slow and intricate, will baffle the skill of the ablest physician.

"Considering the multitude of occasions which may provoke the Negroes to exercise the powers of Obi against each other, and the astonishing influence of this superstition upon their minds, we cannot but attribute a very considerable portion of the annual mortality among the Negroes of Jamaica to this fascinating mischief.

"The Obi is usually composed of a farrago of materials most of

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which are enumerated in the Jamaica Law (Act 24, Sect. 10, passed 1760), viz. 'Blood, feathers, parrots beaks, dogs teeth, alligators teeth, broken bottles, grave dirt, rum, and eggshells.' . . .

"It may seem extraordinary, that a practice alleged to be so frequent in Jamaica should not have received an earlier check from the Legislature. The truth is that the skill of some Negroes in the art of poisoning has been noticed ever since the colonists became much acquainted with them. Sloane and Barham, who practiced physic in Jamaica in the last century, have mentioned particular instances of it. The secret and insidious manner in which this crime is generally perpetrated, makes the legal proof extremely difficult. Suspicions therefore have been frequent, but detections rare. These murderers have sometimes been brought to justice, but it is reasonable to believe that a far greater number have escaped with impunity. In regard to the other and more common tricks of Obi, such as hanging up feathers, bottles, eggshells, &e. &c. in order to intimidate Negroes of a thievish disposition from plundering huts, hog-styes, or provision grounds, these were laughed at by the white inhabitants as harmless stratagems, contrived by the more sagacious for deterring the more simple and superstitious Blacks, and serving for much the same purpose as the scarecrows which are in general use among our English farmers and gardeners. But in the year 1760, when a very formidable insurrection of the Koromantin or Gold Coast Negroes broke out in the parish of St. Mary, and spread through almost every other district of the Island; an old Koromantin Negro, the chief instigator and oracle of the insurgents in that Parish, who bad administered the fetish or solemn oath to the conspirators, and furnished them with a magical preparation which was to render them invulnerable, was fortunately apprehended, convicted, and hung up with all his feathers and trumperies about him; and this execution struck the insurgents with a general panic, from which they never afterwards recovered. The examinations which were taken at that period first opened the eyes of the public to the very dangerous tendency of the Obiah practices, and gave birth to the law which was then enacted for their suppression and punishment.

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But neither the terror of the Law, the strict investigation which has ever since been made after the professors of Obi, nor the many examples of those who from time to time have been hanged or transported, have hitherto produced the desired effect. We conclude, therefore, that either this sect, like others in the world, has flourished under persecution, or that fresh supplies are annually introduced from the African seminaries. . . .

"We have the following narratives from a planter in Jamaica, a gentleman of the strictest veracity, who is now in London, and ready to attest the truth of them.

"Upon returning to Jamaica in the year 1775, he found a great many of his Negroes had died during his absence; and that of such as remained alive, a least one-half were debilitated, bloated, and in a very deplorable condition. The mortality continued after his arrival, and two or three were frequently buried in one day, others were taken ill, and began to decline under the same symptoms. Every means were tried by medicines, and the most careful nursing, to preserve the lives of the feeblest; but in spite of all his endeavours, the depopulation went on for above a twelvemonth longer, with more or less intermission, and without his being able to ascertain the real cause, though the Obiah practice was strongly suspected, as well by himself as by the doctor and other white persons upon the plantation, as it was known to have been very common in that part of the island. Still he was unable to verify his suspicions, because the patients constantly denied having anything to do with persons of that order, or any knowledge of them. At length a Negress who had been ill for some time, came one day and informed him, that feeling that it was impossible for her to live much longer, she thought herself bound in duty before she died, to impart a very great secret, and acquaint him with the true cause of her disorder, in hopes that the disclosure might prove the means of stopping that mischief which had already swept away such a number of her fellow-slaves. She proceeded to say, that her step-mother (a woman of the Popo[4] country, above

[4. Note:--As this woman came from the Popo country, one would immediately classify her as a Dahoman, but there is every possibility that she may have been {footnote p. 115} an Ashanti or from some other tribe, brought from the interior after capture.

A slave was generally spoken of, not by the name of the tribe from which he had originally come, but from the district of the African coast-line whence he had been shipped.]

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eighty years old, but still hale and active) had put Obi upon her, as she had also done upon those who had lately died, and that the old woman had practiced Obi for as many years past as she could remember.

"The other Negroes of the plantation no sooner heard of this impeachment, than they ran in a body to their master, and confirmed the truth of it, adding that she had carried on this business sit-ice her arrival from Africa and was the terror of the whole neighborhood. Upon this he repaired directly with six white servants to the old woman's house, and forcing open the door, observed the whole inside of the roof (which was of thatch), and every crevice of the walls stuck with the implements of her trade, consisting of rags, feathers, bones of cats, and a thousand other articles. Examining further, a large earthen pot or jar, close covered, was found concealed under her bed.--It contained a prodigious quantity of round balls of earth or clay of various dimensions, large and small, whitened on the outside, and variously compounded, some with hair and rags and feathers of all sorts, and strongly bound with twine; others blended with the upper section of the skulls of cats, or stuck round with cats teeth and claws, or with human or dogs teeth, and some glass beads of different colours; there were also a great many eggshells filled with a viscous or gummy substance, the qualities of which he neglected to examine, and many little bags stuffed with a variety of articles the particulars of which cannot at this distance of time be recollected. The house was instantly pulled down, and with the whole of its contents committed to the flames, amidst the general acclamation of all the other Negroes. In regard to the old woman, he declined bringing her to trial under the Law of the island, which would have punished her with death; but from a principle of humanity, delivered her into the hands of a party of Spaniards, who (as she was thought not incapable of doing some trifling kind of work) were very glad to accept and carry her with them to

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Cuba. From the moment of her departure, his Negroes seemed all to be animated with new spirits, and the malady spread no further among them. The total of his losses in the course of about fifteen years preceding the discovery, and imputable solely to the Obiah practice, he estimates, at the least, at one hundred Negroes. . . .

"The following paper relating to the Obeah man in Jamaica, was delivered by Mr. Rheder.

"Obeah men are the oldest and most artful Negroes; a peculiarity marks them, and every Negro pays the greatest respect to them, they are perfectly well acquainted with medicinal herbs, and know the poisonous ones, which they often use. To prepossess the stranger in favor of their skill, he is told that they can restore the dead to life; for this purpose he is shown a Negro apparently dead, who, by dint of their art, soon recovers; this is produced by administering the narcotic juice of vegetables. On searching one of the Obeah men's houses, was found many bags filled with parts of animals, vegetables, and earth, which the Negroes who attended at the sight of, were struck with terror, and begged that they might be christened, which was done, and the impression was done away. In consequence of the rebellion of the Negroes in the year 1760, a Law was enacted that year to render the practice of Obiah, death.

"The influence of the Professors of that art was such as to induce many to enter into that rebellion on the assurance that they were invulnerable, and to render them so, the Obeah man gave them a powder with which they were to rub themselves.

"On the first engagement with the rebels nine of them were killed, and many prisoners taken; among the prisoners was a very sensible fellow, who offered to discover many important matters, on condition that his life should be spared, which was promised. He then related the part the Obeah man had taken, one of whom was capitally convicted and sentenced to death.

At the place of execution he bid defiance to his executioner, telling him that it was not in the power of white people to kill him; and the Negro spectators were astonished when they saw

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him expire. On the other Obeah men, various experiments were made with electrical machines and magic lanterns, which produced very little effect; except on one who, after receiving many severe shocks, acknowledged his master's Obeah exceeded his own.

"I remember sitting twice on trials of Obeah men, who were convicted of selling their nostrums, which had produced death. To prove the fact, two witnesses are necessary, with corroborating circumstances."

As regards Barbados in this same Report, Mr. Braithwaite, Agent for the Assembly of the Island, stated: "Negroes formerly called Obeah men, but now more commonly called Doctors, do exist in Barbados, but I understand that they are not so many at present as formerly, and that the number has diminished greatly in the course of the last twenty years." The Council of the Island answered the same question: "There is hardly any estate in the island in which there is not some old man or woman who affects to possess some supernatural power. These are called Obeah Negroes, and by the superstitious Negroes much feared." As regards the origin of Obeah, Mr. Braithwaite answered: "Most undoubtedly imported with them from Africa." The Council replied: "It has been so long known here, that the origin is difficult to trace, but the professors are as often natives as Africans."

The investigation concerning Antigua elicited the information that a few Obeah men were still to be found there though in decreasing numbers. Also that "the arts and means they use seem to operate on the mind rather than on the body; for though it has been supposed that they have occasionally been guilty of administering poison, Dr. Adair has never had just ground for believing that any disease could be traced to this cause, though he does not deny the probability of it."

Mr. Spooner, the Agent for the Islands of Grenada and St. Christopher, testified: "Obeah among the Negroes must be considered in the same light as witchcraft, second-sight, and other pretended supernatural gifts and communication among white men, with this difference only, that in proportion as the understanding of the Negroes are less cultivated and informed, and

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consequently weaker than those of white men, the impressions made on their minds by Obeah are much stronger, more lasting, and attended with more extraordinary effects." And further: "Obeah has its origin in Africa, and is practiced entirely by natives from thence: the creole Negroes, seldom, if ever, laying any pretensions to it."

Strange as it may seem, even at the date of this Report, 1789, practically nothing was known of Obeah which had already begun to threaten the white rule in Jamaica. They were satisfied to accept it as the remnant of "a very celebrated religious order in remote ages." It was a reflection of the distant Egyptian Ob of antiquity, etc.

The Council of Barbados alone was awake to the fact that Obeah is itself a vital, living force; that it is self perpetuating. Elsewhere it is taken for granted that Obeah men are to be found solely among "salt-water" Negroes; that with the abolition of the slave trade, Obeah must of necessity die a natural death, as the race of imported Obeah men become extinct.

Even in Jamaica, up to the rebellion of 1760, Obeah occasioned nothing more than scornful mirth at the absurd superstitions of the blacks, and yet for more than a century, a terrible menace had been gathering force and threatening to obliterate the civilization and the morality of the island.

Mary H. Kingsley, in reference to that part of West Africa which had been described by Colonel Ellis, remarks: "From this one district we have two distinct cults of fetish in the West Indies, Voudou and Obeah (Tchanga and Wanga). Voudou itself is divided into two sects, the white and the red--the first a comparatively harmless one, requiring only the sacrifice of, at the most, a white cock or a white goat, whereas the red cult only uses the human sacrifice--the goat, without horns. Obeah on the other hand kills only by poison--does not show the blood at all. And there is another important difference between Voudou and Obeah, and that is that Voudou requires for the celebration of its rites a priestess and a priest. Obeah can be worked by either alone, and is Dot tied to the presence of the snake. Both these cults have sprung

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from slaves imported from Ellis's district, Obeah from slaves bought at Koromantin mainly, and Voudou from those bought at Dahomey. Nevertheless it seems to me these good people have differentiated their religion in the West Indies considerably; for example, in Obeah the spider (anansi) has a position given it equal to that of the snake in Voudou. Now the spider is all very well in West Africa; round him there has grown a series of most amusing stories, always to be told through the nose, and while you crawl about; but to put him on a plane with the snake in Dahomey is absurd, his equivalent there is the turtle, also a focus for many tales, only more improper tales, and not half so amusing."[5]

Here Miss Kingsley is as much in error when she associates Obeah with serpent worship, as she is when she ascribes to the Anansi of Jamaica any rôle at variance with his established place in Ashanti folklore.[6]

W. P. Livingston has well said "Obeahism runs like. a black thread of mischief through the known history of the race. It is the result of two conditions, an ignorant and superstitious receptivity on the one hand, and on the other, sufficient intelligence and cunning to take advantage of this quality. The Obeah Man is any Negro who gauges the situation and makes it his business to work on the fears of his fellows. He claims the possession of occult authority, and professes to have the power of taking or saving life, of causing or curing disease, of bringing ruin or creating prosperity, of discovering evil-doers; or vindicating the innocent. His implements are a few odd scraps, such as cock's

[5. Mary H. Kingsley, West African Studies, London, 1899, p. 139.

6. Note:--Captain Rattray, Ashanti, p. 162, shows that Miss Kingsley was not familiar with the Ashanti language and attributes much to fetishism that has nothing whatever to do with the subject. in one place he naïvely remarks that it is fortunate that she could not understand what seemed to interest her very much. As to the information which she honestly thought that she was picking up from her West Indian informants, it is well to remember that the Jamaican, like our Southern Negroes, or I suppose any other child of Africa, is only too ready to furnish just the information that is most desired, especially if he is being paid for results. As a Resident Magistrate in Jamaica once said: "The real Jamaican in a Court of Law is essentially afraid of the truth, and seems to prefer to lose a case than abide by facts." When it comes to Obeah and the like he is even more reticent and deceptive with the "bockrah Masser"--white Master--and the real child of the "bush" will either assure you: "Me no belieb Obi, Sah!" or else will greet you with the laconic: "Me no no, Sah!"--I don't know.]

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feathers, rags, bones, bits of earth from graves, and so on. The incantations with which he accompanies his operations are merely a mumble of improvised jargon. His real advantage in the days of slavery lay in his knowledge and use of poisonous plants. Poisoning does not now enter his practices to any extent, but the fear he inspires among the ignorant is intense, and the fact that he has turned his attention to particular persons is often sufficient to deprive them of reason. Obeahism is a superstition at once simple, foolish, and terrible, still vigorous, but in former times as powerful an agent as slavery itself in keeping the nature debased."[7]

The Jamaica term Obeah is unquestionably derived from the Ashanti word Obayifo, which according to Captain Rattray signifies "a wizard, or more generally a witch."[8] As noted else where:[9] "An Ashanti legend runs as follows. When Big Massa was busy with the work of creation, it happened that the little monkey Efo was making himself generally useful, and when the task was accomplished, he asked Big Massa that, in return for the help rendered, all creatures should bear his name. To this Big Massa acceded to such an extent that henceforth certain classes of creatures added to their proper names the suffix FO, in acknowledgment of the little monkey's part in the work.[10] Such is the Ashanti fable, and hence we find the suffix FO in the names of

[7. W. P. Livingston, Black Jamaica, London, 1890, p. 19 f. Note:--The power of fear is well illustrated by an example given by Lillian Eichler, The Customs of Mankind, London, 1925, p. 631: "Superstition caused Ferdinand IV to die of fright. The story is that in 1312 Peter and John Carvajal were condemned to death for murder on circumstantial evidence. They were sentenced to be thrown from the summit to jagged rocks below. Ferdinand IV, then King of Spain, resisted obstinately every attempt to induce him to grant a pardon. Standing upon the spot from which they were to be thrown, the two men called upon God to witness their innocence, appealing to His high tribunal to prove it. They summoned the King to appear before this tribunal in thirty days. His Majesty laughed at the summons and gave the sign to proceed with the execution. In a few days the King fell ill. He retired to his country residence, ostensibly to rest, but really to shake off remembrance of the summons which somehow persisted. He could not be diverted. He became more and more ill, and on the thirtieth day he was found dead in bed--a victim to the mysterious dread which had gripped his heart from the moment the summons had been uttered." Some such fear works its effect in Obeah.

8. R. S. Rattray, Ashanti Proverbs, Oxford, 1916, p. 48.

9. Williams, Hebrewisms of West Africa, p. 17 f.

10. Cfr. Rattray, Ashanti Proverbs, p. 54.]

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peoples, nation and occupations. Dropping the suffix, then, from Obayifo, the resulting Obayi, as heard from the lips of the Koromantin slaves (shown to be Ashanti, at least as regards their leading spirits), was variously rendered by the Jamaican whites as obeah, obia, etc. For even now there is no agreement as to the correct spelling of the word. . . . Both with the Ashanti themselves and their descendants in Jamaica the word is commonly shortened into Obi. Thus we find the Obi country referred to in the history of the Ashanti Fetish Priest, Okomfo-Anotchi, that is Anotchi the priest. About the year 1700 after committing a capital offence, as Captain Rattray tells us, he 'fled for his life to the Obi country. Here he had made a study of fetish medicine and became the greatest fetish-man the Ashanti have ever had.' Referring to the Obi country, Rattray notes: 'I have so far been unable to trace this place, but to this day in Ashanti any big fetish priest is called Obi Okomfo, that is, Obi Priest.' So also in Jamaica, in the practice of Obeah, the natives 'make obi' even today."

Captain Rattray, whose scholarly works on the Ashanti really led the way to a complete revolution in the study and evaluation of West Africa customs, fearlessly abandoned the trodden path of narrow prejudice and a priori reasoning of the Spencerian School, and literally reconstructed the entire system of scientific research among the Negro tribes. We cannot do better then, than to study in some detail the Ashanti prototype of the Jamaica Obeah as described by so discriminating a scholar, who knows nothing of the bearings his observations will have on Jamaica witchcraft, but is conscientiously setting down the facts as he sees them in his own chosen field where he is the undisputed master.[11]

[11. Note:--Previously, Ellis, Dennett and Miss Kingsley held complete sway, despite the fact that they were utterly unqualified for the task that they had undertaken. Stephen Septimus Farrow well adjudges their claims to credibility in his thesis for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, in 1924. This Essay drew from Dr. R. R. Marett, Rector of Exeter College, Oxford, the encomium: "Dr. Farrow, I think, has disposed of the all-too-facile explanations of earlier investigators."--Faith, Fancies and Fetish, or Yoruba Paganism, p. vii. Of Col. Ellis, Farrow asserts, p. 5: "It is, unfortunately, not possible to exonerate the gallant colonel from a measure of anti-Christian bias, which at times leads him to jump to conclusions which are scientifically untrue." Concerning Dennett and Miss Kingsley, he writes, p. 5: "Mr. Dennett was intimately known to the writer, whose wife was first cousin {footnote p. 122} to this gentleman. Mr. Dennett never learned to speak the language, but wrote down Yoruba words as given to him by others; but, as he went openly to priests and keepers of shrines and asked direct questions, this thoroughly British and un-African method of inquiry was very likely, indeed certain, at times to lead to imperfect, and, not seldom untrue answers. Mr. Dennett's interpretations, deductions and conclusions are often at fault, owing to his poor acquaintance with the language, and also to the very free play he gave to his imagination. This is very prominent in his pamphlet, My Yoruba Alphabet. . . . It is also to be remembered that Dennett and Miss Kingsley alike borrow from Ellis and are influenced to some extent by his ideas."

Despite the fact that Ellis published grammars of more than one West African language, he was forced to do his work through an interpreter as he never acquired a conversational knowledge of any one of the languages about which he wrote.]

{p. 122}

Captain Rattray is unequivocally of the opinion that the Ashanti worship a Supreme Being, Onyame.[12] Furthermore he states: "I am convinced that the conception in the Ashanti mind, of a Supreme Being, has nothing whatever to do with missionary influence, nor is it to be ascribed to contact with Christians or even, I believe, with Mohammedans."[13]

Bosman had noticed at the beginning of the eighteenth century as regards certain West African tribes: "By reason God is invisible, they say it would be absurd to make any corporeal representation of him . . . wherefore they have such multitudes of images of their idol gods, which they take to be subordinate deities

[12. Rattray, Ashanti Proverbs, p. 18. Also, R. S. Rattray, Ashanti, Oxford, 1923, p. 139.

13. Rattray, Ashanti, p. 140. Note:--Rattray had previously written, Ashanti Proverbs, p. 19 f.: "In Ashanti, in remote bush villages, buried away in impenetrable forest, and as yet even untouched by European and missionary influence, it would seem incredible that the Christian idea of a one and Supreme Being should, if a foreign element of only some two or three hundred years' growth, have taken such deep root as to effect their folklore, traditions, customs, and the very sayings and proverbs with which their language abounds. These proverbs and traditions, moreover, which speak of and contain references to a Supreme Being, are far more commonly known among the greybeards, elders, and the fetish priestly class themselves than among the rising younger generation, grown up among the new influences and often trained in the very precincts of a mission. Fetishism and monotheism would at first sight appear the very antithesis of each other, but a careful investigation of facts will show that here in Ashanti it is not so."

Of the Ashanti Proverbs given by Rattray we need quote only the following: Proverbs #1, 10, 15: p. 17 ff.: "Of all the wide earth, Onyame is the elder." "The words that Onyame had beforehand ordained, a human being does not alter." "All men are the children of Onyame, no one is a child of earth."

Rattray further shows that this Supreme Being has a temple and a regular priesthood, Ashanti, p. 144, for which a three years novitiate is required, Religion and Art in Ashanti, Oxford, 1927, p. 45, and the prayer of consecration uttered by the priest begins with the words, l. c., p. 45: "Supreme Being, Who alone is great, it is you who begat me, etc."]

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to the Supreme God. . . . and only believe these are mediators betwixt God and men, which they take to be their idols."[14]

This condition is verified by Rattray in regard to the Ashanti. He tells us: "In a sense, therefore, it is true that this great Supreme Being, the conception of whom has been innate in the minds of the Ashanti, is the Jehovah of the Israelites. As will be seen presently, every Ashanti temple is a pantheon in which repose the shrines of the gods, but the power or spirit, that on occasions enters into these shrines, is directly or indirectly derived from the one God of the Sky, whose intermediaries they are. Hence we have in Ashanti exactly that 'mixed religion' which we find among the Israelites of old. They worshipped Jehovah, but they worshipped other Gods as well."[15]

These intermediary deities engross the chief attention of the Ashanti and their religious system consists principally in their service and veneration. One by one they come into fashion and then pass out of vogue, only perhaps to bob up again if the right individual is found to espouse their cause. Listen to Captain Rattray's description of the origin of one such spiritual entity: "The word shrine is used in this particular context, to designate the potential abode of a superhuman spirit. It consists (generally) of a brass pan or bowl, which contains various ingredients. This pan upon certain definite occasions, becomes the temporary dwelling, or resting-place of a non-human spirit or spirits. . . .

"The following is an account, from a reliable source, checked and rechecked from many independent witnesses, of the making and consecration of a shrine for one of the Tano gods. . . .

"A spirit may take possession of a man and he may appear to have gone mad, and this state may last sometimes even for a year. Then the priest or some powerful god may be consulted and he may discover, through his god, that it is some spirit which has come upon the man (or woman). The one upon whom the spirit has come is now bidden to prepare a brass pan, and collect water, leaves, and 'medicine' of specific kinds. The possessed one will

[14. Bosnian, New and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea, p. 179 f.

15. Rattray, Ashanti, p. 141.]

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dance, for sometimes two days, with short intervals for rest, to the accompaniment of drums and singing. Quite suddenly he will leap into the air and catch something in both his hands (or he may plunge into the river and emerge holding something he has brought up). He will in either case hold this thing to his breast, and water will be at once sprinkled upon it to cool it, when it will be thrust into the brass pan and quickly covered tip. The following ingredients are now prepared: clay from one of the more sacred rivers, like the Tano, and the following medicinal plants and other objects; afema (Justicia flavia), Damabo (Abras precatorius), the bark of the odum, a creeper called hamakyerehene, any root that crosses a path, a projecting stump from under water, the leaves of a tree called aya--these are chosen which are seen to be quivering on the tree even though no wind is shaking them--the leaves, bark and roots of a tree called Bonsam dua (lit. the wizard's tree), a nugget of virgin gold (a gold that has been in use or circulation must not be used), a bodom (so-called aggrey bead), and a long white bead called gyanie. The whole of these are pounded and placed in the pan, along with the original object already inside, while the following incantation or prayer is repeated: 'Supreme Being, upon whom men lean and do not fall, (whose day of observance is a Saturday), Earth Goddess (whose day of worship is Thursday), Leopard, and all beasts and plants of the forest, today is a sacred Friday; and you, Ta Kwesi (the particular god for whom in this case the shrine was being prepared), we are installing you, we are setting you (here), that we may have long life; do not let us get "Death"; do not let us become impotent; life to the head of the village; life to the young men of this village; life to those who bear children, and life to the children of this village. O tree, we call Odum Abena (to whom belongs the silk-cotton tree), we are calling upon you that you may come, one and all, just now, that we may place in this shrine the thoughts that are in our heads. When we call upon you in the darkness, when we call upon you in sunlight, and say, "Do such a thing for us" you will do so. And the laws that we are decreeing for you, this god of ours, are these--if in our time, or in our children's

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and our grandchildren's time a king should arise from somewhere, and come to us, and say he is going to war, when he tells you, and you well know that should he go to fight he will not gain the victory, you must tell us so; and should you know that he will go and conquer, then also state that truth. And yet again, if a man be ill in the night, or in the daytime, and we raise you aloft and place you upon the head, and we inquire of you saying, "Is So-and-so about to die?" let the cause of the misfortune which you tell him has come upon him be the real cause of the evil and not lies. Today, we all in this town, all our elders, and all our children, have consulted together and agreed without dissent among us, we have all united and with one accord decided to establish your shrine, you, Ta Kwesi, upon this a sacred Friday. We have taken a sheep, and a fowl, we have taken wine, we are about to give them to you that you may reside in this town and preserve its life. From this clay, and so on to any future day, you must not fly and leave us. From this day, to any future day, you, O Tano's fire, in anything that you tell us, do not let it be a lie. Do not put water in your mouth and speak to us. Today you become a god for the chief, today you have become a god for our spirit ancestors. Perhaps upon some tomorrow the Ashanti King may conic and say, "My child So-and-so (or it may be an elder) is sick," and ask you to go with him, or maybe he will send a messenger here for you; in such a case you may go and we will not think that you are fleeing from us. And these words are a voice from the mouth of us all.[3]

"The various sacrifices are then made, and in each case the blood is allowed to fall upon the contents in the brass pan.

"I have had many similar accounts of the consecration of a new shrine as the temporary home of a new manifestation of a spirit universal and always present, but not subject to control.

"It will be noted that other minor spirits or powers of nature are not wholly ignored or neglected, and that all are considered as able in some manner to help the greater spirit that is called upon to guide and assist mankind.

"The priests tell me that at times, when the greater emanation of God is not present, that the spirits of some of the lesser ones

{p. 126}

will flash forth for a moment and disclose their presence. For example, a priest will suddenly burst forth, singing, odomae, die odo me omera ('I am the odoma tree, let him who loves me come hither'). It seems that the priest and priestess, when in the ecstatic condition, are subject to many spirit influences. I have heard a priestess begin to talk in a different dialect from her own. This did not at all surprise the onlookers, who merely said, 'Oh that is the spirit of So-and-so'--a dead priestess of the same god, who had come from another district, and had used that dialect. . . .

"Once the ingredients described have been put into the shrine, that is apparently an end of them. They are not directly mentioned, and it is only when the spirit of one of the ingredients the shrine takes charge, as it were, for a moment, that they even considered,"[16]

In connection with the Ashanti religious practices there is a strong veneration for ancestors as shown especially in the functions connected with the stools which are supposed to be closely associated with the vital spirit of these forebears.

So also we encounter animism in its broadest sense. This is well illustrated in the use of the protective charm or suman which really forms an integral part of the Ashanti religious practice. In describing some "proverb" weights, Rattray calls attention to the fact that they really represent a medicine man sacrificing a fowl to one of the best known charms in Ashanti, the "nkabere charm" and adds, "I once witnessed the making of one of these charms, and the following short account may be of interest. That this

[16. Rattray, Ashanti, p. 145 ff. Note:--Cfr. also Rattray, l. c., p. 182: "Grouped round the walls of the temple and raised a little from the floor upon their stools were several shrines-all but two of these, I was informed, were now mere empty receptacles. The priests who had formerly tended them when they were active shrines had died, and since then the spirit that had formerly manifested itself within them had ceased to do so. 'Some day this spirit might descend upon someone who would then become their priest.'

"Several priests and priestesses I had spoken to told me that this was how they had first become priests. They had been seized with a spirit and had either lost all consciousness or seemingly had become mad. A god would be consulted, and he might say it was an effect of an outpouring of such and such a spirit. in which case, if there were a shrine already, such as had been described, its cult would be once again revived. If no shrine existed, then a new abode would be prepared."]

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charm should have been represented shows how generally the rite is seen.

"The object upon the ground, over which the offering is being held . . . is known throughout the Ashanti as a charm (suman) called nkabere, and the ceremony the medicine man is here seen performing is the sacrifice of a fowl preparatory to or after the ceremony known as Kyekyere nkabere, lit. to tie or bind the nkabere. The nkabere consists of three sticks: (a) A stick from the tree called bonsam dua, lit. the wizard's tree. (b) A piece of the root of a tree called akwamea, taken where it crosses a path. (c) A stick from the tree called adwin.

These three sticks are placed upon the ground, or sometimes upon an inverted pot, along with some pieces out of a sweeping broom. A piece of string is placed on top of all.

"The medicine man or priest now retires a few paces and then advances towards the charm with his hands behind his back, crossing one leg over the other as he walks. When he reaches the charm he stands with legs crossed, with his hands still behind his back, and stooping down sprays pepper and guinea grain--which he has in his mouth--over the charm, saying: 'My entwining charm Nkadomako (Note: "A title of Tano. The priest whom I saw performing this rite informed me that he gave his suman all these high-sounding titles to please and flatter it, as if it were really a god."), who seizes strong men, mosquito that trips up (Note: "The word used literally signifies to trip in wrestling.") the great silk-cotton tree, shooting stars that live with the Supreme Being, I have to tell you that So-and-so are coming here about some matter.' Here he takes his hands from behind his back and, stooping down, picks up the sticks and twine. Making a little bundle of the sticks, saying as he does so: 'I bind up their mouths. I bind up their souls, and their gods. I begin with Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.' As he repeats each day he gives a twist of the string round the sticks till he has bound them all together, when he knots the string to keep it from unravelling, ending by saying: 'Whoever comes may

{p. 128}

this be a match for them.' From time to time a fowl will be offered to this suman. The medicine man or priest will advance upon it with crossed legs and hands held behind the back and perhaps with a whistle in his mouth, to call up the spirits, and will stand over the charm with legs crossed. He then holds the fowl by the neck and blows the whistle. This is what is shown in the weight." [17]

Thus far we have briefly outlined what might be called the religious atmosphere of the Ashanti. Concomitant with this and essentially antagonistic to it, we have another condition of affairs which may be summed up as witchcraft. Of this phase of life, Rattray says: "Witchcraft was essentially the employment of antisocial magic. The belief in its general prevalence was largely due to the fact that certain forms of illness resulting in death could not otherwise be accounted for. There appears to be considerable logic in regarding killing by witchcraft as akin to murder, even if its classification as such by the Ashanti was not directly due to an acknowledgment of a fact which was in many cases true, i. e. that poison in some form or other was often an important stock-in-trade of the professed witch."[18]

As already stated, the Ashanti word for witch was Obayifo, and they have the proverb, "Obayifo oreko e! obayifo oreko e! na wonye obayifo a, wuntwa wo ani.--A witch is passing! a witch is passing! (someone cries), but if you are not a witch you do not turn your eyes to look."[19] This mysterious being is thus described by Rattray: "Obayifo, Deriv. bayi, sorcery (synonymous term ayen), a wizard, or more generally witch. A kind of human vampire,

[17. Rattray, Ashanti, p. 310.

18. Rattray, Ashanti Law and Constitution, Oxford, 1929, p. 313. Note:--The association of poison with witchcraft is not peculiar to the Ashanti. It is recurrent throughout the history of magic. Thus Theocritus, writing in the third century B. C., describes a scene at Cos where a fire spell is laid against a neglectful lover by a maid whose affections have been spurned. Before a statue of Hecate, barley-meal, bay-leaves, a waxen puppet, and some bran are successively burned with appropriate incantations. Then follows a libation and the burning of herbs and a piece of the fringe of her lover's cloak. The ashes are to be rubbed by an attendant on the lintel of the lover. The maid's soliloquy shows that should her incantations fail to win back the faithless one, she has poisons in reserve to prevent his affections being bestowed elsewhere.--Cfr. J. M. Edmonds, The Greek Bucolic Poets, London, 1916, p. 24 ff.; Theocritus, The Spell.

19. Rattray, Ashanti Proverbs, p. 53.]

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whose chief delight is to suck the blood of children whereby the latter pine and die.

"Men and women possessed of this black magic are credited with volitant powers, being able to quit their bodies and travel great distances in the night. Besides sucking the blood of victims, they are supposed to be able to extract the sap and juices of crops. (Cases of coco blight are ascribed to the work of the obayifo.) These witches are supposed to be very common and a man never knows but that his friend or even his wife may be one. When prowling at night they are supposed to emit a phosphorescent light from the armpits and anus. An obayifo in everyday life is supposed to be known by having sharp shifty eyes, that are never at rest, also by showing an undue interest in food, and always talking about it, especially meat, and hanging about when cooking is going on, all of which habits are therefore purposely avoided. A man will seldom deny another, even a stranger, a morsel of what he may be eating, or a hunter a little bit of raw meat to anyone asking it, hoping thereby to avoid the displeasure of anyone who, for all he can tell, is a witch or wizard.

"The obayifo can also enter animals, etc., e. g. buffalo, elephant, snakes, and cause them to kill people. The obayifo is discovered by a process analogous to the 'smelling out' of witches among the Zulu, i. e. the 'carrying of the corpse'. Witches and wizards are guarded against by a suman, and a little raw meat or other food is frequently placed at the entrance to a village for them to partake of. This offering also frequently takes the form of a bunch of palm nuts pinned down to the ground with a stick."[20]

Hence the proverb: "Obayifo kum wadi-wamma-me, na onkum wama me-na-esua.--The sorcerer kills (by magic) the one who eats and gives him nothing, but he does not kill him who eats and gives him (even) a little piece."[21]

Another Ashanti proverb runs: "Sasabonsam ko ayi a, osoe obayifo fi.--When a sasabonsam (devil) goes to attend a funeral, he lodges at a witch's house. 1~ 2 "This Sasabonsam will be met with

[20. Rattray, Ashanti Proverbs, p. 47.

21. Ditto, p. 53.

22 Ditto, p. 47.]

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again in Jamaica. Rattray here remarks well to our purpose: "Sasabonsam, Deriv. bonsam, a devil, or evil spirit (not the disembodied soul of any particular person, just as the fetish is not a human spirit). Its power is purely for evil and witchcraft. The obayifo is perhaps its servant as the terms are sometimes synonymous. Sasa or sesa is the word used for a person being possessed of a spirit or devil (oye no sesa)." 23 And again: "The Sasabonsam of the Gold Coast and Ashanti is a monster which is said to inhabit parts of the dense virgin forests. It is covered with long hair, has large blood-shot eyes, long legs, and feet pointing both ways. It sits on high branches of an odum or onyina tree and dangles its legs, with which at times it hooks up the unwary hunter. It is hostile to man, and is supposed to be essentially at enmity with the real priestly class. Hunters who go to the forest and are never heard of again--as sometimes happens--are supposed to have been caught by Sasabonsam. All of them are in league with abayifo (witches), and with the mmotia, in other words, with the workers in black magic. As we have seen, however, and will see again farther on, their power is sometimes solicited to add power to the suman (fetish), not necessarily with a view to employing that power for purposes of witchcraft, but rather the reverse. I cannot help thinking that the original Sasabonsam may possibly have been a gorilla. Under the heading of Witchcraft we shall see how the Sasabonsam's aid is solicited to defeat and to detect the very evil with which he is thought to be associated indirectly."[24]

That the Ashanti clearly distinguished between religious practices and witchcraft is evidenced by the following observation of Rattray: "From the information at our disposal, we now know that the Ashanti makes a distinction between the following: the okomfo (priest) the sumankwafo or dunseni (the medicine man); and the Bonsam komfo (witch doctor). The word okomfo, without any further qualification, refers to a priest of one of the orthodox abosom (gods). We see, however, that a witch doctor

[23. Ditto, p. 47.

24. Rattray, Religion and Art in Ashanti, p. 28.]

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is allowed the same name as a kind of honorary title or degree, being known as a Bayi komfo (a priest of witchcraft). Again, the ordinary medical practitioners are never termed okomfo, they are sumankwafo, dealers in suman; or dunsefo, workers in roots; or odu'yefo, workers in medicine."[25]

Clearly defined Ashanti witchcraft, then, as a practice of black

[25. Rattray, Religion and Art in Ashanti, p. 39. Note:--Despite the fact, then, that in theory witchcraft is antagonistic to their religion, the Ashanti, as is so common elsewhere, in practical life blend the two without qualm or scruple. A further instance of this is found in the case of the talking drums. The first time a drummer uses them oil a particular day, he begins by pouring a few drops of wine on the edges as he invokes the various parts of the drums and invites them to drink and concludes: Rattray, Ashanti, p. 264 f.: "Obayifo, gye nsa nom (Witch accept wine and drink). Asase, gye nsa nom (Earth deity accept wine and drink). Onyankopon Tweaduampon Bonyame, gye nsa nom (Supreme Being Nyankopon, Tweaduampon Creator, accept wine and drink)." Then in connection with the drum history of the Mampon division of Ashanti, Rattray tells us, l. c.: "Before the serious business of drumming the name of the chiefs begins, the spirits of the various materials, which have gone towards the making of the composite drum, are each propitiated in turn, and these spirits are summoned to enter for a while that material which was once a portion of their habitation. The drums thus, for a time, become the abode of the spirits of forest trees and of the 'mighty elephant.' The deities of Earth and Sky are called upon in like manner. Even the hated and dreaded witches (abayifo), who prey upon the human body and gnaw the vitals and hearts of men (just as humans partake of meat and other food), are not forgotten, lest in anger they might seize upon the drummer's wrists and cause him to make mistakes. A drummer who falters and 'speaks' a wrong word is liable to a fine of a sheep, and if persistently at fault he might, in the past, have had an ear cut off."

The prelude referred to above precedes every drum "piece," and closes with the invocation of the witches which is thus translated by Rattray, Ashanti, p. 280: "Oh Witch, do not slay me, Adwo,*

Spare me, Adwo,
The divine drummer declares that,
When he rises from the dawn,
He will sound (his drums) for you in the morning,
Very early, Very early, Very early, Verly {sic} early,

Oh Witch that slays the children of men before they are fully matured,
Oh Witch that slays the children of men before they are fully matured,

The divine drummer declares that,
When he rises with the dawn,
He will sound his drums for you in the morning,
Very early, Very early, Very early, Verly {sic} early,
We are addressing you,
And you will understand."

* Note:--"A title of respect given to chiefs, by women to their husbands, and children to their elders."

This same introduction of an evil influence into a good or "lucky" charm is indicated in the following news item taken from the PHILADELPHIA EVENING TELEGRAM for August 7, 1884: "The left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit, which has a potent influence among the Southern Negroes has been presented to Governor Cleveland as a talisman in the campaign. The rabbit from which the foot was taken was shot on the grave of Jesse James."]

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magic, is in theory at least essentially antagonistic to religion in any form, and as clearly dissociated from the making of a suman, which may be regarded as white magic, as its practitioner, the Obayifo, is distinguished from the medicine man Sumankwafo. Nevertheless, the title Bayi komfo, a priest of witchcraft, would indicate that even in Ashanti, there has developed a phase of what might be called devil-worship in as much as the Sasabonsam, or devil, is so closely associated with witches.[26]

In all this, however, we do not find any real evidence of Ophiolatry, either as regards the religion or the witchcraft of the Ashanti.[27]

No doubt the Obayifo affected at times the rôle of medicine man. He might remain respectable before the community at large as a Sumankwafo, while in secret he plied his trade as a wizard. So, too, he must naturally have borrowed occasionally from the suman-maker's technique to effectually disguise his own incantations. If in the making of a suman the real Sumankwafo actually invaded his realm by soliciting the aid of Sasabonsam, why should he not return the compliment in kind?

Practically, in a general way, the differentiation was in the specific object of the rite which determined whether the magic was to be regarded as white or black.[28] But over and above all this,

[26. Note:--This would explain the statement of J. Leighton Wilson who when writing of the district of West Africa, between Cape Verde and the Cameroons, says: "Fetishism and demonology are undoubtedly the leading and prominent forms of religion among the pagan tribes of Africa. They are entirely distinct from each other, but they run together at so many points, and have been so much mixed up by those who have attempted to write on the subject, that it is no easy matter to keep them separated."--Cfr. Wilson, Western Africa, Its History, Condition and Prospects, p. 211.

27. Note:--Among the Ashanti, it is true, the python is a totem of the Bosommuru, the most important of all the ntoro exogamous divisions on a patrilineal basis.--Cfr. Rattray, Ashanti, p. 47. In this connection Hambly remarks: "Rattray's description of reverence for the python in Ashanti includes statements which might reasonably be regarded as evidence of a decadent python cult. But the information is more correctly classified under totemism."--Hambly, Serpent Worship in Africa, p. 13. Furthermore, a complete absence of serpent cult seems to be implied by the Ashanti Proverb: "Wonho owe, to a, wommo no aba.--Unless you see a snake's head, you do not strike at it."--Rattray, Ashanti Proverbs, p. 72.

28. Note:--W. G. Browne, Travels in Africa, Egypt and Syria, from the Year 1792 to 1798, London, 1806, p. go, notices at Kahira a similar distinction in connection with Egyptian magic which is divided into "halal, lawful, and haram, unlawful." This division of Magic into White and Black, as determined by its lawfulness or unlawfulness has since come to be generally recognized.]

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there was also a wide divergence in the ingredients employed, just as the knowledge of vegetable qualities, good and evil, was used for curative or destructive purposes, according to the profession of the herbalist.

In fact, it would be natural to suspect that the really skilful Obayifo would play the double rôle from motives of self-protection if not from any mercenary reasons.[29]

D. Amaury Talbot, wife of the District Commissioner of the Nigerian Political Service, in her book, Woman's Mysteries of a Primitive People, devotes a chapter to "Love Philtres and Magic" wherein she tells us: "The principal ingredients in these philtres are the hearts of chickens pounded up to a smooth paste, together with leaves thought to contain magical qualities. It is not without significance, that among the Ibibios, save when administered in 'medicine,' intended to weaken the will and destroy the courage of the recipient, the hearts and livers of chickens are carefully avoided as food, since it is thought that those who partake will become 'chicken-hearted' in consequence. In order to render the charm efficacious it is necessary to draw forth the soul of some person and imprison it amid fresh-plucked herbs in an earthen pot never before used. The vessel is then hung above a slow fire, and, as the leaves dry up, the body of the man or woman chosen for the purpose is said to wither away."[30] Of course a little poison judiciously administered will supplement the efficacy of this sympathetic magic.

Père Baudin, in turn, speaking of fetish beliefs in general,

[29. Note:--Anyone who has lived for some time in Jamaica has come in contact with really marvellous "Bush remedies." For example, a throbbing headache is quickly relieved by the application of a particular cactus which is split and bound on the forehead; and a severe fever is broken effectively by a "bush tea" made from certain leaves and twigs known only to the old woman who gathers them, and whose only explanation is "Jes seben bush, Sah, me pick dem one one." Too frequently, the Obeah man makes use of this knowledge of herbals in connection With his art. In a particular case of Obeah poisoning that came under my personal notice, just as the victim was on the point of losing consciousness, the very individual who was for good reasons suspected of being the cause of the trouble, suddenly entered the sick room unannounced and administered the antidote. A change of heart or more probably fear of the consequences, had probably saved the life.

30. D. Amaury Talbot, Woman's Mysteries of a Primitive People, London, 1915, p. 138.]

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tells us: "The great or chief fetish priests have a secret doctrine, which differs greatly from the popular doctrine. In this secret doctrine they gradually initiate the priests of the lower ranks." Among these secrets he includes: "the medicinal receipts, especially those for poisons," and immediately adds: "I do not believe that there exists in the world more skilful poisoners. They preserve these receipts with great care."[31]

Moreau de Saint-Méry assures us: "It is unfortunately too certain that some of the old Africans profess at San Domingo the odious art of poisoning. I say profess, for there are those who have a school where hate and vengeance has sent more than one disciple."[32]

Louis p. Bowler, who urges as his credentials for presenting his little volume: "Eight years' experience in the jungle of the Gold Coast Colony,"[33] recounts a number of cases of poisoning which came under his personal observation. From his narrative we may quote the following instances:

"Another case was brought to my notice where a European unwisely parted with money to a chief for consideration on a concession. After obtaining the chief's promise to accompany him to the coast town to sign the usual declarations before a District Commissioner, it appeared that he had previously sold the same concession and obtained money thereon. The European dies mysteriously the night before his projected departure. He was fond of pineapples, and the chief sent him a couple as a present, which he unfortunately partook of. It seems that the chief, or his medicine man, had inserted a deadly poison into the pineapple with a piece of thin wire."[34]

It may be objected that this is not Obeah, but cold-blooded murder. Yes, and the same may be said of Obeah wherever the end is produced in this way. No doubt the natives ascribed the untimely

[31. Baudin, Fétichisme et Féticheurs, p. 86.

32. Moreau de Saint-Méry, Description de la Partie Française de Saint Dominigue, Vol. I, p. 36.

33. Louis p. Bowler, Gold Coast Palava: Life on the Gold Coast, London, 1911, p. 17.

34. Ditto, p. 136 f.]

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death to the workings of Obeah, and it is equally probable that the agent employed was himself an Obeah man.

The second instance which we are about to relate is, in a way, even more characteristic. Bowler writes: "I remember an instance of very fine powdered glass being placed in some soup on the table of a European, which fortunately was discovered in time. Powdered glass is a favourite Fantee[35] means of injuring or killing those they have a grudge against. It is broken up fairly fine, put into kankee or fufu (native food), and when swallowed lacerates the bowels, setting up internal hemorrhage. Another of their methods is to rub the sticky latex of the rubber vine on the latch of the doors, rails of beds, on the loin cloths, or anything their victim is likely to touch. They then shake the poisoned broken glass on the sticky rubber, and any person taking hold of these things and receiving a prick in the hands is inoculated with the poison. There are many deaths of Europeans in West Africa that are put down to fever, black-water, typhoid, and stomach complaints, that if their true cause were investigated, would be found to arise from irritants and other poisons that the natives are adepts at using."[36]

It is with good reason, then, that Norman Eustace Cameron, Principal of the Guianese Academy, insists: "I believe that African medicines should be taken more seriously, even though we in British Guiana and the West Indies are accustomed to think of African medicine in terms of Obeah practice. It is true that the native doctors (called medicine men or witch doctors by those who will not regard them with dignity) were acquainted with many deadly poisons; as, for instance, those which were used for poisoning their arrows in war; and it is also true that the Kings of Benin and Zimbabwe took precautions against death by poisoning. But we ought to bear in mind that poisoning any member of an

[35. Note:--It is equally common in Ashanti, and is also found in Jamaica today. I never met with any case where it was administered to human beings, but I have known live stock to be destroyed in this way. I lost a horse myself on one occasion through this very means. The technical term is "obi-water" and it produces dysentery and a slow-wasting death.

36. Bowler, l. c., p. 137 f.]

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African community was and is considered by the community as murder, and if a person was suspected of having been killed by poison, elaborate inquiries were made to detect the murderer who would be tried and executed, sometimes cruelly, if found guilty."[37]

This is in keeping with the practice of the Jamaica Myalist to "dig up Obeah." And as we shall see in the next chapter, it was precisely with the suppression of the Myal dance in Jamaica that Obeah began to gain an ascendancy and develop into a quasi-religion with hatred of the white man and the ultimate overthrow of the white masters as an object.

In view of all this, it is hard to understand how Sir Harry Johnston could have written: "Obia (misspelt Obeah) seems to be a variant or a corruption of an Efik or Ibo word from the northeast or east of the Niger delta, which simply means 'Doctor.' . . . Obia is like Hudu or Vudu a part of the fetishistic belief which prevails over nearly all Africa, much of Asia, and a good deal of America. . . . In its 'well-meaning' forms, it is medical treatment by drugs or suggestion combined with a worship of the powers of Nature and a propitiation of evil spirits; in its bad types it is an attempt to frighten, obsess, and hypnotize, and failing the production of results by this hocus-pocus, by poison."[38]

Far more accurate is the definition of The Encyclopedic Dictionary:[39] "Obi (Obeah), A system of sorcery prevalent, though not to so great an extent as formerly among the Negro population of the West Indian Colonies. It appears to have been brought from Africa by Negroes who bad been enslaved, and to these obeah-men (or women) the blacks used to resort for the cure of disorders, obtaining revenge, conciliating favour, the discovery of a thief or an adulterer, and the prediction of future events. The practice of Obi had become general towards the close of the last century, both in the West Indies and the United States, and there

[37. Eustace Cameron, The Evolution of the Negro, Georgetown, Demerara, 1929, Vol. I. p. 179.

38. Johnston, The Negro in the New World, p. 253, Note 1.

39. Philadelphia, 1894.]

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is little doubt that the Obeah man exercised vast influence, and that they carried on a system of secret slow poisonings, the effects of which were attributed by their more ignorant fellows to Obi. The system resembles other superstitions of savage peoples. It may have originated in ancient religious practices, in which sorcery bore a large part."

Hesketh J. Bell who spent many years in the British Colonial Service in the West Indies and was subsequently Governor of the Island Mauritius, has written at length on the subject of Obeah and incidentally contributed valuable data gathered either from personal observation or through reliable eye-witnesses.

Writing of Granada, an English island in the Windward Group, Bell says: "Before the emancipation, the practice of Obeah was as

rampant in all the West Indian colonies, and laws and ordinances had to be framed to put it down, and combat its baneful influences. There were few of the large estates having African slaves, which had not one or more Obeah men in the number. They were usually the oldest and most crafty of the blacks, those whose hoary heads and somewhat harsh and forbidding aspect, together with some skill in plants of the medicinal and poisonous species, qualified them for successful imposition on the weak and credulous. In these days, an Obeah man would be hard to distinguish from other blacks, and might only be known by wearing his hair long, or some other peculiarity, or else by possessing a good substantial house, built out of the money obtained from his credulous countrymen, in exchange for rubbishing simples or worthless love-spells. The trade which these impostors carry on is extremely lucrative. A Negro would not hesitate to give an Obeah man four or five dollars for a love-spell, when he would grudge three shillings for a bottle of medicine, to relieve some painful sickness. A veil of mystery is cast over their incantations which generally take place at the midnight hour, and every precaution is taken to conceal these ceremonies from the knowledge of the whites. The deluded Negroes who thoroughly believe in the supernatural power of these sorcerers, screen them as much as possible and the

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bravest among them tremble at the very sight of the ragged bundle, the eggshells or Obeah bottle stuck in the thatch of a hut, or in the branches of a plantain tree to deter thieves.

"The darker and more dangerous side of Obeah is that portion under cover of which poison is used to a fearful extent,, and the dangerous and often fatal effects of many a magic draught are simply set down, by the superstitious black, to the workings of the spells of Obeah, and never to the more simple effects of the scores of poisonous herbs growing in every pasture, and which may have formed the ingredients of the Obeah mixture. Owing to the defective state of the laws relating to declaration of deaths and inquests, it is to be feared that very many deaths occur from poisoning, which are set down to a cold or other simple malady."[40]

Bell recounts the following narrative as he received it from the lips of a French priest in Granada: "I was riding to see a sick person living on the other side of the parish, when I happened to pass a small wooden house, before which a number of people were congregated, all talking together and evidently much exercised in their minds about something inexplicable. On asking what was the matter, I was told that the owner of the house was lying dead, and that he was an Obeah man who had lived quite alone in the place for many years, and that there was consequently no one willing to undertake the job of looking after the corpse and burying it. In fact no one would go inside the hut at all, as it was affirmed that his Satanic Majesty was there in person looking after the body of the Obeah man, which now undoubtedly belonged to him. To allay their alarms, I got off my horse, and with the assistance of a couple of men broke open the door and entered the hut. Lying on a wooden stretcher was the body of the unfortunate individual, whose death must have occurred a good many hours before, and the body was in urgent need of burial, so after scolding the people for their cowardice I prevailed on them to see about a coffin and other details as quickly as possible, It was, however, only in evident fear and trembling that any of them would enter the room, and the slightest noise would make

[40. Hesketh J. Bell, Obeah; Witchcraft in the West Indies, London, 1889, p. 9 f.]

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them start and look towards the door, in the expectation of seeing le diable en personne coming to claim his property.

"The dirty little room was littered with the Obeah man's stock-in-trade." Then after the catalogue of gruesome finds, he continues: "In a little tin canister I found the most valuable of the sorcerer's stock, namely, seven bones belonging to a rattlesnake's tail--these I have known sell for five dollars each, so highly valued are they as amulets or charms--in the same box was about a yard of rope, no doubt intended to be sold for hangman's cord, which is highly prized by the Negroes, the owner of a piece being supposed to be able to defy bad luck.

"Rummaging further, I pulled out from under the thatch of the roof an old preserved-salmon tin, the contents of which showed how profitable was the trade of Obeah. It was stuffed full of five-dollar bank-notes, besides a number of handsome twenty-dollar gold pieces, the whole amounting to a considerable sum, which I confess I felt very reluctant to seal up and hand over to the Government, the Obeah man not being known to have heirs. I then ordered the people to gather up all the rubbish, which was soon kindled and blazing away merrily in front of the hut, to the evident satisfaction of the bystanders, who could hardly be persuaded to handle the mysterious tools of Obeah. The man, I heard, had a great reputation for sorcery, and I was assured that even persons who would never be suspected of encouraging witchcraft had been known to consult him or purchase some love-spell."[41]

Another incident related by the same French priest in Granada to Mr. Bell, must close this chapter. The incident runs as follows: I will give you an instance which happened to me, and which I have never been able to explain satisfactorily.

"Some years ago I was in Trinidad and had been sent by the Archbishop to take charge of a parish far in the interior of the island, and at that time but very little known and developed. There being no presbytery, I had to make shift, until I could build one, with part of a small wooden house, of which one room was occupied by an old coloured woman, who lived there with a little girl. This

[41. Ditto, p. 14 f.]

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woman was looked on with a good deal of dread by the people, being supposed to possess a knowledge of a good many unholy tricks, and it was confidently hoped that my near neighbourhood would do her good, and at all events induce her to be seen now and then at church, which is here a great sign of respectability. When taking possession of my part of the house, I was shown her room, and noticed particularly that it contained some really handsome pieces of the massive furniture so much esteemed by Creoles. A tremendous family four-poster, with heavy, handsomely turned pillars, stood in one corner near a ponderous mahogany wardrobe, and various other bits of furniture pretty well filled the little room. The door of her apartment opened on to my room, which she had to pass through every time she went out of the house. This was an unpleasant arrangement, but was shortly to be remedied by having another door made in her room leading outside. However, the night after my taking possession, I heard a monotonous sound through the partition, as if someone crooning a sing-song chant. This continued for over an hour, and more than once I felt inclined to rap at the partition and beg the old dame to shut up her incantations, but it finally acted as a lullaby and I soon dropped asleep. The next morning having got up and dressed, I noticed that all was perfectly silent next door, and on listening attentively failed to hear a sound. I feared something had gone wrong, but noticed that the door leading outside had not been opened, as a chair I had placed against it was in precisely the same position as I had left it. I then knocked at her door several times, but obtained no answer; fearing an accident had happened, I opened the door, and as it swung back on its hinges I was astonished to see the room perfectly empty and evidently swept clean. On examining the room carefully I found it only had two small windows besides the door leading into my room. From that day to this neither I nor anyone living in that district have ever seen or heard anything of that woman or of her little girl. How she moved all her heavy furniture out of that little room, has ever remained an inexplicable mystery. I would have defied any man to move the wardrobe alone, and even if the old woman had

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had strength enough to carry the furniture away, she never could have dragged it through my room without disturbing me. However, these are the facts of the case, and I have never been able to explain them."[42]

[42. Ditto, p. 17.]

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Next: Chapter V: Development of Obeah in Jamaica