THE BBC website recently published a long feature about witchcraft in Jamaica. Or, as it is more commonly known, Obeah. The BBC reporter even went so far as to venture into deep rural St Mary to find an actual Obeah man.
The reporter explained:
"Locals point out a property that is surrounded by a corrugated metal fence, painted in bright blue and yellow. It is not exactly a discreet location for a man who takes part in illegal activity. But he is not hiding who, or what, he is.
"I'm an obeah man, I'm not a science man, I see things," says the man, who is known by only one name -- 'Judge'.
People come to him all day long for the advice that he dispenses from his veranda.
He is in his 60s but says he first got the "gift" as a child when he predicted the death of a neighbour.
"I have nothing to hide, it's what I do, and that's my work. If you are sick I can help you; if a man puts a curse on you I can take it off. That's what I do to help," he says.
He says he can help with all manner of things, from curing illness to removing curses.
The article also helpfully sets out a timeline for Jamaica's Obeah legislation:
1760: In response to a major slave rebellion, the colonial government outlaws Obeah for the first time in the Caribbean, with the Act to Remedy the Evils arising from Irregular Assemblies of Slaves, defining Obeah as: "The wicked Art of Negroes... pretending to have communication with the devil and other evil spirits."
1898: Under the Obeah Law practitioners face 12 months in jail and flogging. An Obeah practitioner is defined as: "Any person who, to effect any fraudulent or unlawful purpose, or for gain, or for the purpose of frightening any person, uses, or pretends to use any occult means, or pretends to possess any supernatural power or knowledge."
1908: Parliament passes the Medical Law, which was intended to regulate medical practice, but was also used frequently in cases to define difference between medicine and Obeah.
The writer goes on to quote from Jamaican politicians on the subject. Senator Tom Tavares-Finson apparently said, "We need to get rid of the Obeah Act. If people want to pay for someone to cast a spell or to give them some sort of help, that's their business."
And Justice Minister Mark Golding says, "What I've suggested is that they should bring a motion for debate in the Senate on the abolition of criminalisation of Obeah, and such a debate would trigger research and discussion that would be good for the society as a whole."
This is all very well. But it is a shame that some journalists only want to write about Jamaica when people are killing homosexuals or practising witchcraft. I believe that this type of journalism gives a misleading image of modern Jamaica. I don't doubt some Jamaicans practise Obeah. My mother used to say, "Belief kills and belief cures."
So, if you believe in Obeah, no doubt it works for you. It is no more irrational than studying your horoscope, which is something else that I don't happen to believe in. I only wish it was easy to get coverage in the British media for positive stories about modern Jamaica as it is to get coverage for silly and negative stuff.
Still, I suppose Judge, the St Mary Obeah man, will welcome the publicity. It can only be good for business.
— Diane Abbott is a British Labour party MP and spokeswoman on public health