Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 26, 1915.djvu/290

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

28o Obeah in the West Indies.

think that this is probably the result of these colonies being under British rule and protection.

Shortly after these prosecutions were set on foot the British Government at home seems to have called for a report upon the working of these new provisions of re- pression ; and accordingly the magistrates of the Leeward Islands, of which colony I can, of course, best speak, were called upon to furnish to their government for transmission to the Secretary of State a report upon the working of the Act of 1904 and on the practice of obeah as carried on there.

The best of these reports, I believe, was sent in by Dr. Robert Stephen Earl,^ who was not only otherwise well qualified to deal with the subject, but had had exceptional opportunities as British Commissioner and medical officer at Tortola in the Virgin Islands of studying its effects in those more distant and obscure parts of the colony.

From his report, which is a most admirable one and which he kindly accorded me the privilege of perusing, I venture to make observations upon and extracts from at some length.

Dr. Earl says that " this practice is best understood if it is regarded as the whole body of primitive beliefs and customs of fetichistic African tribes which has undergone a certain change by their fusion by being placed in a different environment, i.e. the West Indies, and by contact with a civilization having higher and different beliefs."

Without drawing the distinction which I have done between the worship of voodoo and the practice of obeah — both no doubt founded upon, or akin to, the juju system of the country of origin, i.e. West Africa — Dr. Earl speaks generally of the practice in the Leeward Islands as " obeah," and recognizes, as I have done, the less serious forms only of this practice as prevailing in the British West Indies.

  • Dr. Earl was subsequently appointed Chief Medical Officer at the Falkland

Islands, and has, I understand, since retired from the service.