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Term of the Week: Obeah

Author: Tafari, Tuesday, May 29th, 2007 at 6:43 AM Mindspill After a long as weekend of vending Quench Essentials at the Detroit Black Expo I decided to wind down today while seeing a movie. Of course I went to see “Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End”! I am a big fan of the series so I had big hopes for this heavily anticipated release. "At Worlds End" was very diverse in that it had Asian, African, & Arab Pirates. I thought this was a good touch; especially the African Pirates because you do not hear much about them although they did exist. In the first 2 Pirates installments the “Tia Dalma” aKa Calypso (Hyper Sexual Magical Negro (played by Naomie Harris) role was pretty small so up to the end of “Dead Man’s Chest” I questioned her real character value to the story line. Well in “At Worlds End” her significance was made very clear because the movie surrounded her mystery as the Sea Goddess Calypso not to mention that she set off the fierce pirate ship show down. I will not give any details about the movie because I think this is a must see & if you haven’t seen the 1st 2 movies, check them out this week especially if you need an escape from real world drama like me. One thing I will say is I am surprised no Black Bloggers are discussing the hypersexual portrayal of “Tia Dalma” who has been all over the white men in the films. Maybe this is a minor issue & I am being sensitive. Not! Anyway during the course of the movie 1 of the pirates referred to “Tia Dalma” as an “Obeah Woman.” When I heard that reference, it made me think of the Nina Simone song by the same name. Although I sung the song many times, I never stopped to listen to what I was saying so I could not wait to get home to Google Obeah Woman to get the real meaning. So now it is 10pm & I am Googling and I find the words to the Nina Simone’s “Obeah Woman” & I trip out because it tied to the movie by way of loose interpretation. I find it funny how I tie most things that I encounter to a Nina Simone song; I guess that makes me the ultimate fan.
Obeah woman Yes, I'm the Obeah woman Do you know what one is? Ha do you know what an Obeah woman is? I'm the Obeah woman from beneath the sea To get to satan you gotta pass through me 'Cause I know the angels name by name I can eat thunder and drink the rain Been through enough Yeah they call me Nita and Pices too There ain't nothing that I can't do If I choose to, if you let me Ha I'm the Obeah woman, above pain I can eat thunder and drink the rain I kiss the moon and hug the sun And call the spirits and make 'em run You hear me? You hear me? 'Cause I ain't praying, never was Just waiting for my time Waiting for to die Hackle and patience Hackle and patience oh yeah Obeah Woman ~ Nina Simone: It Is Finished 1974
----------------------------------------------------------- Back-story of the Obeah MindspillA set or system of secret beliefs in the use of supernatural forces to attain or defend against evil ends. It is African in origin but on its arrival in the Caribbean certain aspects of Christian ceremonials and sacraments were integrated into its activities. It varies greatly in kind, requirements, and practice, ranging from the simple, such as the use of items like oils, herbs, bones, grave-dirt, blessed communion wafers and fresh animal blood to more extreme ingredients. Obeah men or Obeah women are names given to its practitioners. The term Pyai, from the Carib for shaman is also used in Dominica relating to the casting of spells. Origins for the word Obeah come from the Twi: o-bayo-fo (witchcraft man). From the Nembe: obi (sickness, disease), and Igbo: obi (a mind or will to do something) and the Ibibo: abia (practitioner, herbalist). Obeah is not a religion in the classical sense. That is to say, there are no meeting places such as a Churches, Mosques, Synagogue or any underlying infrastructure replicating such a system. Nor is there any sort of congregation or parishioners, although there are what may be called followers, albeit scattered. (Source) Obeah, as practiced in Jamaica and the Caribbean, takes the use of and knowledge of ancient occult powers originally handed down over the centuries by word of mouth from the remnants of a once very powerful and celebrated secret religious Order emanating from a remote age that has long since been lost in the mist of time. Over the centuries most of the original tenets became watered down, with the less powerful versions of Obeah incorporating various modifications of occult spellcraft as once practiced mostly by tribal people who spoke Ashanti from West Africa. However, the most secretive, powerful and dreaded purveyors of present day Obeah comes undiluted from the old Order. Practitioners of same will sometimes use the less volatile aspects of their brethren, but usually operate well beyond the confines of any traditional witchcraft, sorcery, shamanism, voodoo (voudon), or tribal magic. It is a dying breed shrouded in secrecy, with the most powerful versions known and practiced only by a select few. Even fewer ever truly enter the ranks of Obeah and able to successfully wield its will and awesome scope unscathed. An Obeahman can use any system and fuel it with the power of Obeah without the danger of disrespect for the gods, but, depending on circumstances, not necessarily without repercussions from the gods… (Source) ----------------------------------------------------------- Obeah, Jamaica & Slavery By 1760 we have early evidence for obeah in English. That year the Jamaican assembly enacted a bill "to remedy the evils arising from irregular assemblies of slaves...and for preventing the practice of Obeah." The bill stated "any Negro or other Slave who shall pretend to any Supernatural Power and be detected in making use of any materials relating to the practice of Obeah or Witchcraft in order to delude or impose upon the Minds of others shall upon Conviction thereof before two Magistrates and three Freeholders suffer Death or Transportation.” It was in vain; even after the introduction of Christianity to the slaves of Jamaica later in the eighteenth century, Obeah maintained its presence, as it still does today, long after the abolition of slavery. The religious practice known as Revivalism incorporates both Christianity and Obeah, and there are still Obeah men and women in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean. (Source) ----------------------------------------------------------- Back to me If you are from the West Indies/Caribbean or West African do you have any experience or knowledge of the Obeah.

13 Responses to “Term of the Week: Obeah”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Read a movie review & get some history. Nice!

  2. Terell Says:

    Uhh .. the mouse fell on my keyboard. That last comment was from me.

  3. Stephen Bess Says:

    Wonderful and informative. All I know of is the Root Doctor who practiced in the small town I grew up in North Carolina. :)He also owned a corner store.

  4. aulelia Says:


    big love to the woman who played calyspo in pirates 3! she is a London girl so always recognising the black british talent :)

    obeah strikes me as very interesting. is it linked to santeria? in east africa, witchcraft in itself is fighting with islam and christianity for the stronghold. it seems to me that it is taboo to proclaim that you go to witchdoctor for help but as long as you dont tell, no one tells either…

  5. Ro~ Says:

    Now I know I have got to see the movie. I had been puttin’ it off until all the hype died down. I will be at the AMC Gratiot TODAY!!!

  6. Bliss Says:

    Byg Baby can you check out my blog and answer the question that I posted.

    Thank you


  7. Bygbaby Says:

    Terell – that’s what I am talking about! Seems like a lot of period films have some buried truths in them, someone just has to dig them out. When go to the movies, I always go back & research certain elements especially if there is any reference to Black history of folklore.

    Stephen – In my old neighbor hood in B’ham, AL we had a woman known for putting roots on people. Needless to say,not many fucked with her. She is still alive & scary as hell to look at.

    Aulelia – Look at you with a pulse on pop culture! LOL I had a look at Naomie’s previous & up coming work 7 this sister is on the move!

    I am not certain if Obeah is link directly to Santeria because I could not find an origination of it while Santeria is closely tied to the Yoruba. Who knows, as a result of culture mixing via the Slave Trade/Diaspora there may very well be some intermingling.

    I saw a segment on National Geographic once where they talked about how some African villages ousted anyone linked to witchery & they even had villages for this “out casts” They did not once mention if the reigning religion of the villages were Christian or not. From what I could tell non of the villages were practitioners of Islam as most are in north & east Africa.

    Ro~ – You go! EAST SIDE!!!!!!!!!!!! let me know what you thought of it.

    Bliss – I did leave a response looking forward to see what others have to say.


  8. Anonymous Says:

    Is it more “powerful” than voodoo>

  9. Obi Says:

    Obia in my language, Igbo (Nigeria), means practitioner or sorcerer. There were oracles known as Obia and the practitioners were also known as Dibia. Jamaica, is very, very, very, very much so influenced by Igbo culture, e.g the word for your plural ‘unu’ is Igbo and Jamaicans still exclaim ‘awoh’ while Igbo people exclaim ewo (just check any of Chinua Achebe’s books).

    I know this is three years, but knowledge is good at anytime.

    Udo diri gi.

  10. Sheloya Says:

    Obeah, in the context of diaspora spirituality, is like somewhere between Vodun and Hoodoo. It’s not as official and standard as the Mami Wata way in west Africa, but not as distant from the deities as North American Hoodoo.

    An Obeah person draws from whatever techniques are most effective, whether or not they originated in Africa. So if, for example, you wanted someone to love you, they might not just make offerings and talismans for you related to Oshun, the Orisha of beauty and romantic love. They might also go to, perhaps the Mama Raccoon spirit to ensure the person be faithful to you. The talisman they give you might have a mix of symbols or objects.

    Some don’t like Obeah because it doesn’t follow a single ethnic tradition, but this is the same reason some people go to an Obeah person first. Many people today are of mixed ancestry, so they like a flavor of spirituality that takes this into account and doesn’t make them feel shut out or less than.

    Also, not everyone is very religious. Another thing Obeah people are very good at is making sure their work is both spiritually and scientifically sound. Where others sometimes put science and spirit in conflict, the Obeah person finds the bridge. So the work is often more effective because it makes use of things like evolutionary biology and psychology to get the job done.

    You’d be hard pressed to find a teacher since Obeah people don’t choose apprentices lightly. However, there are communities and teachers out there willing to share their knowledge with people who are finding their way. If it interests you, then do pursue it, and don’t be discouraged. Here’s a hint though, start with Eshu Elegbara. Learn about him and the many perspectives, and reach out to him. He will guide you.

    Blessings and Ase!

  11. Tafari Says:

    Sheloya, Thanks for taking the time out to impart your wisdom on the Obeah! I wrote this post 4 years ago and was excited to see that someone found it, especially with information to share. Best!

  12. Sheloya Says:

    It’s no problem. I noticed it was an old post, but figured I’d share anyway. It is important for Africans in the diaspora to know their spiritual roots.

    For me, Obeah was the way to go since I didn’t have to downplay or ignore the non African branches of my ancestry. It’s also not as community dependent as Santeria and other diaspora styles. On the other hand, it’s more spirit focussed rather than formula focussed like most of Hoodoo. It’s the “sweet spot” between African orthodoxy and diaspora abstract.

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