obeah

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English[edit]

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Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

Origin uncertain. Apparently from a Caribbean creole, probably ultimately from a West African language. The OED points to Igbo abià (knowledge, wisdom), obìa (doctor, healer).

Pronunciation[edit]

Noun[edit]

obeah (countable and uncountable, plural obeahs)

  1. A form of folk magic, medicine or witchcraft originating in Africa and practised in parts of the Caribbean.
    • 1997, James D. Rice, Obeah, entry in Junius P. Rodriguez (editor), The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery, page 477,
      Although lacking a self-perpetuating institutional structure, Obeah was a crucial element of Afro-Caribbean religions everywhere from Suriname's Maroon societies (communities of runaway slaves) to the Leeward Islands' slave societies.
    • 2001, Holger Henke, The West Indian Americans, page 89,
      However, quite often it is also applied to protect from obeah spells which the client feels himself or herself to be suffering from. Since obeah can also cast protective spells (e.g., against other obeah spells), it is not entirely correct to dismiss it as an evil practice.
    • 2011, Margarite Fernández Olmos, Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, Creole Religions of the Caribbean, page 155,
      Obeah—a set of hybrid or creolized beliefs dependent on ritual invocation, fetishes, and charms—incorporates two very distinct categories of practice.
  2. A magician or witchdoctor of the magic craft.
    • 1860, R. W. Emerson, The Story of West-Indian Emancipation, Moncure Daniel Conway (editor), The Dial, page 651,
      [] but he went down to death, with dusky dreams of African shadow-catchers and Obeahs hunting him.
    • 1986, Kurt E. Koch, Occult ABC, 2nd Edition, page 299,
      I asked him if he had been charmed as a child by an Obeah. Obeahs are the magicians of the Carribean islands.
  3. A spell performed in the practice of the magic craft; an item associated with such a spell.
    • 1893, Publications of the Folklore Society (Great Britain), page 254,
      Mr. M. J. Walhouse then read a paper on "Some Indian Obeahs", and exhibited some photos of Kurumbars, and a piece of the bone of an elk and an iron cock's spur, with which a man had been murdered, both of which had been regarded as Obeahs.
    • 2009, Lond Schiebinger, Scientific Exchange in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World, Bernard Bailyn, Patricia L Denault (editors), Soundings in Atlantic History, page 320,
      Although Adair suspected that obeahs often employed poisons, he emphasized that the diseases induced by obeahs resulted from “depraved imagination, or a powerful excitement or depression of the mental faculties.”