Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 26, 1915.djvu/265

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


OBEAH IN THE WEST INDIES.

BY HIS HONOUR J. S. UDAL., F.S.A.

I trust that the members of this Society will not be disappointed when they fail to find many traces of original thought or work in a paper which has been thrown upon me, I may say, by my desire not to let slip or lose any items appertaining to folk-lore which I have come across in many years’ sojourn and legal administration amongst the negro races of the British West Indies, particularly when they happen to form part of such a vast and interesting system of superstition as that known as “Obeah.”

The origin of Obeah is known and its materials can be investigated. I have been content to note and record its instances as matters of folk-lore, rather than as anthropology, as I came across them. That, I think, is sufficient for those of my generation of folk-lorists.

What is Obeah? One is apt, if one wants the best definition of a word, to turn to the Oxford English Dictionary. From it we learn that “Obeah,” or “Obi,” is a West African word. And it gives two meanings (i) an amulet, charm, or fetish used by negroes for magical purposes, and (ii) a kind of pretended sorcery or witchcraft practised by the negroes in Africa, and formerly in the West Indies and neighbouring countries. This latter definition—with the exception that the learned editor is much too optimistic, I think, in using the word “formerly” with regard to the West Indies—I accept as sufficient for my purpose, and as being more true to what Obeah is, as I know it, in the West Indies. In this definition there is a