ONLINE READERS COMMENT: Supporting Obeah is tantamount to supporting murder

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ONLINE READERS COMMENT: Supporting Obeah is tantamount to supporting murder

Thursday, June 20, 2019

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Dear Editor,

Recently, I watched Rungano Nyoni's I Am Not A Witch, a Zambia-set movie in which Shula, a nine-year-orphan, is banished from her village after she is tried and found guilty of practising witchcraft.

She is later confined to a government-run 'witch' camp where she spends her days tethered to a long white ribbon, as she, and others believed to be like her, perform menial tasks.

All occupants of the camp are intimidated into remaining leashed. They are told that if they cut the restraining ribbons, they will turn into goats.

Of course, the law enforcers feel justified in their doing. After all, according to the villagers, Shula had used her power to poison the local well water and to mercilessly axe off one man's limb.

Although Shula is, in fact, entirely innocent, I am still horrified by one obvious message: witchcraft, or Obeah (as we call it in Jamaica), is intended to unleash pure evil and damnation on its targets.

In fact, Obeah, according to Olive Senior's Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage, is “witchcraft, evil magic or sorcery by which supernatural power is invoked to achieve personal protection or the destruction of enemies.”

Not surprisingly, many Jamaicans, like the villagers in this movie, fear the practice, given all it portends.

When I was growing up, I often heard stories about the immense suffering that alleged Obeah victims bore for years.

I heard of a teenage girl whose schooling had to be curtailed when she developed a mysterious illness that covered her body in oozing blisters and sores. She eventually became too frail and emaciated to live, and so, at only 14 years old, she took her last breath as her mother watched helplessly.

There is also the story of a grade-six student who developed excruciating abdominal pain and found no relief despite a consistent diet of heavy medications. At only 12 years old, she died, leaving her parents despaired, desolate and childless.

There are several other narratives about Obeah being used to “tie” and “hold” men, to give others “big ole sore foot” and to forever “salt up” the life of many trying people.

There is no incontrovertible evidence to support these claims of Obeah. Nevertheless, the very fact that such suffering is attributed to Obeah is testament enough of this practice's potential damage.

Therefore, although Obeah is heavily cultural and religious, I cannot support its legalisation. To do so is tantamount to supporting murder – except, in the case of Obeah, the victim will undergo a slow, torturous and painful death.

Inarguably, we should be tolerant of differences – religious, cultural, political. However, differences that, when freely exercised, threaten or compromise humans' physical and emotional well-being, should be shunned.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5, “No one has the right to inflict torture, or to subject anyone else to cruel or inhuman treatment.”

Article 30 also states that “No government, group or individual should act in a way that would destroy the rights and freedoms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Consequently, when we permit Obeah, a practice that is believed to hurt and maim, we violate the foregoing inherent human rights.

Let us not be bewitched into becoming too liberal and tolerant. Before long, we may plunge headlong into our own graves. Be careful!

Shawna Kay Williams-Pinnock

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