Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 26, 1915.djvu/274

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264 Obeah in the West Indies.

their posts where, as they occasionally were, they were within easy range of a stone from the high road ! No wonder they did not readily conform to the protection afforded to their crops by the strong arm of the law !

His further remarks as to the origin and prevalence of these superstitious practices in the West Indies are very interesting. He says (p. 8) : " Naturally the hundreds of thousands of African slaves imported during two centuries into the West Indies brought with them into their new homes the same superstitions as were rife in Guinea and on the Congo, ... Of late years, with the progress of educa- tion among the negroes, they have become a little asham.ed of their belief in obeah, but still cling tenaciously in secret to the mysteries they were taught in their youth to dread and venerate, and any man with the reputation of ' working obeah' is looked on by all with the greatest fear and treated by the utmost deference. . . . Before the emancipa- tion, however, the practice of obeah was rampant in all the West Indian colonies, and laws and ordinances had to be framed to put down and combat its baneful influence. There were few of the large estates having African slaves which have not one or more obeah men in the number. . . . 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 working of the spells of obeah, and never to the more simple effects of the scores of poisonous herbs growing in every pasture, and which have formed the ingredients of the obeah mixture. Owing to the defective state of the laws relating to the 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."

Sir Hesketh Bell's concluding remarks on this subject are well worthy of note, and afford strong confirmation of