obeah

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English[edit]

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A “particularly powerful and evil” obeah charm confiscated by the police from one Alexander Ellis, an “Obeah-man”, in Morant Bay, Jamaica, in May 1887. Under Jamaican law, it was a crime to be “by habit or repute an Obeah- or Myal-man”, and Ellis was sentenced to 15 days’ imprisonment.[1]

Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

Origin uncertain; apparently from a Caribbean creole, probably ultimately from a West African language. The Oxford English Dictionary 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”, in Junius P. Rodriguez, editor, The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery, volume II (L–Z), Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, ISBN 978-0-87436-885-7, 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 (The New Americans), Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, ISBN 978-0-313-31009-6, 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, “Obeah, Myal, and Quimbois”, in Creole Religions of the Caribbean: An Introduction from Vodou and Santería to Obeah and Espiritismo, 2nd edition, New York, N.Y.; London: New York University Press, ISBN 978-0-8147-6227-1, page 155:
      Obeah—a set of hybrid or creolized beliefs dependent on ritual invocation, fetishes, and charms—incorporates two very distinct categories of practice. The first involves "the casting of spells for various purposes, both good and evil: protecting oneself, property, family, or loved ones; harming real or perceived enemies; and bringing fortune in love, employment, personal or business pursuits" []. The second incorporates traditional African-derived healing practices based on the application of considerable knowledge of herbal and animal medicinal properties.
  2. A magician or witch doctor of the magic craft.
  3. A spell performed in the practice of the magic craft; an item associated with such a spell.
    • 1893 June, “Folk-Lore Society. Proceedings at Evening Meetings.”, in Folk-Lore: A Quarterly Review of Myth, Tradition, Institution, & Custom, volume IV, number II, London: David Nutt, 270, Strand, OCLC 7644078, 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.

Verb[edit]

obeah (third-person singular simple present obeahs, present participle obeahing, simple past and past participle obeahed)

  1. (transitive) To bewitch using this kind of folk magic.
    • 1829 October 31, “S.” [pseudonym], “Obeah”, in The New Scots Magazine, volume II, number XII, Edinburgh: Published by R. Buchanan, No. 26, George Street [...], published 1830, OCLC 39944641, page 248:
      Sometimes an egg is boiled hard, and laid in the middle of the road, surrounded by a circle of plantane bark; at others, pieces of hair, cats' teeth, cocks' feathers, and bits of glass, broken amber, and snakes' skins, are placed at the person's door; but oftener buried so as to be concealed from sight. Whoever touches an obeah of this kind, is certain to bring all the mischief intended for the obeahed person, upon his own head; and the consequence is, very few Negroes, if any, venture to remove the charm, or even to come near it. A lock of the obeahed person's hair is almost indispensably necessary, []
    • 1834, Mattew Gregory Lewis, Journal of a West India Proprietor, Kept during a Residence in the Island of Jamaica, London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, OCLC 822613847, pages 146–147:
      [I]f any negro from that time forward should be proved to have accused another of Obeahing him or of telling another that he had been Obeahed, he should forfeit his share of the next present of salt-fish, which I meant soon to distribute among the slaves, and should never receive any favour from me in future; []
    • 1903, Charles Augustus Stoddard, quoting Henry Hesketh Bell, Cruising Among the Caribbees: Summer Days in Winter Months, rev. and enl. edition, New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner's Sons, OCLC 5986784, page 88:
      A negro takes a dislike to a negro or negroes, either upon the same estate with himself or upon another; he goes to the Obeah woman and tells her that he will give money or something else as payment if she will Obeah such and such persons. The Obeah woman then goes to those people, and tells them she has Obeahed them. Slow poison is at times secretly administered, but in by far the greater number of cases the mind only is affected; the imagination becomes more and more alarmed, the spirits sink, lassitude and loss of appetite ensue, and death ends the drama.
    • 1906 December – 1907 May, Isabella S. Abel, “The Obeah-man”, in The Windsor Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly for Men and Women, volume XXV, London: Ward, Lock & Co., Limited Warwick House, Salisbury Square, E.C., published 1907, OCLC 224679211, page 392:
      A poor old woman who thinks she has been Obeahed lies ill in an isolated hut on the short cut to New Castle. I discovered her while out shooting, and promised to send her medical aid. Her case is pressing.

References[edit]

  1. ^ May Robinson; M. J. Walhouse (June 1893), “Obeah Worship in East and West Indies”, in Folk-Lore: A Quarterly Review of Myth, Tradition, Institution, & Custom, volume IV, issue II, London: David Nutt, 270, Strand, OCLC 7644078, pages 211–213.

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