Obeah belief fuels disputes, murders in St Thomas

BY TANESHA MUNDLE
Staff reporter
mundlet@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 01, 2018

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OBEAH is said to be at the centre of at least 40 per cent of all disputes in St Thomas, which sometimes resulted in wounding and murders, according to a senior policeman who works in that parish.

The cop, who spoke to the Jamaica Observer on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on behalf of the constabulary, said that problem is more common in communities such as Seaforth, Whitehall, Danvers Pen, and Middleton — all in western St Thomas.

“When you talk to people you get that undertone of obeah and there is always that lingering mention of obeah,” he said.

According to the veteran cop, many of the disputes arose because“a neighbour claimed that another neighbour has worked some obeah on him or her, causing the death of a relative or grave illness. As a result, it causes some reprisal, which would either take the form of wounding or murder.

“There are quite a few ongoing disputes involving neighbours where both parties believe that the other is working that sort of magic on the other and quite a lot of the police's time is taken up addressing these types of disputes,” he said.

However, the policeman was quick to point out that, the problem was mostly common among people from the lower socio-economic groups.

“It's sort of difficult to prove obeah as the root cause of a dispute, so we can only warn both parties to keep the peace and take whatever recourse they can take in law, and if it goes over the boundary of crime, then we can act,” he said.

“So usually we sit down with the parties and we can only speak to their conscience because, in most instances, we don't have any evidence of the neighbour working any obeah on anybody. It's just that the neighbour believes or because of something — some sickness or somebody falls ill or dies or some misfortune or misadventure of the sort — which is usually attributed to obeah,” the cop further explained.

At the same time, he said, it must be noted that obeah is an endemic in the culture of the parish and a lot of people are still steeped in their beliefs and link obeah to every single act.

Jamaican author Olive Senior, in her book the Encyclopaedia of Jamaican Heritage, described obeah as “The word used in Jamaica to denote witchcraft, evil magic or sorcery by which supernatural power is invoked to achieve personal protection or the destruction of enemies”.

The subject, once raised in any forum, will elicit a range of views from belief to non-belief, to an acknowledgement of its existence but a firm refusal to engage in its practice. However, very few people will admit active involvement.

The policeman who spoke to the Sunday Observer said he remembered a particular case in St Thomas in which a young man was laughing and talking to his friend and suddenly complained of feeling ill. By the time he arrived at hospital he died.

“I later heard that somebody threatened to kill him and gave him seven days to live and all sorts of stories, but when the post-mortem was done the young man practically had no liver; he had cirrhosis, because he hadn't stopped drinking [alcohol],” the cop said.

He said some of the residents' fixation with obeah is very evident not only in the number of disputes with witchcraft as its motive, but murder and wounding cases as well.

He cited two murder cases in which the victims' attackers felt that they had used obeah to cause misfortune for them.

“There was one recently discharged where a nephew murdered his uncle because he believed, in his mind, that his uncle worked obeah and prevented his mother from filing for him in the US,” the policeman related.

The cop, however, indicated that the nephew, who had confessed, was acquitted after he told the court that the police had beaten and forced him to admit to the crime.

In the other case about nine years ago, a man chopped a woman to death because he felt that she went to a obeah man and caused him to become impotent, the cop said.

He also said that there is a current murder case in which obeah is said to be the motive, but he refused to provide further details since the case is before the court.

Additionally, he mentioned the case involving St Thomas businessman Michael McLean, who murdered his girlfriend, her niece, and four children.

A witness in the trial earlier this year testified that she had accompanied McLean to an obeah man as McLean had said he was not feeling well and that his male member was not working.

During the trial, Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn theorised that he had murdered the victims as a blood sacrifice to overcome his impotence, which he believed was caused by eating fish provided by his girlfriend, or something that she had got from her obeah man and gave him to drink.

McLean, however, had denied those theories and maintained that gunmen killed the victims.

As it relates to wounding, there was a recent case in which the attacker, Everton Thompson, a 64-year-old resident of Arcadia in St Thomas, stabbed a 61-year-old justice of the peace 16 times following rumours that the JP had used obeah to kill a relative of his.

The injuries have since left the complainant with two punctured lungs and a disabled left hand.

Thompson was sentenced in May to 12 years in prison.

When asked what, in his view, keeps this black magic culture alive, the policeman said, “a certain level of ignorance and fear are what perpetuate the culture of obeah. So what we do is try to allay persons' fears and really try to mediate the dispute between both parties as best as possible.”

Meanwhile, many St Thomas residents who spoke with the Sunday Observer during visits to Yallahs, Port Morant, and Leith Hall indicated that they were convinced that obeah was real.

One vendor said that he has obeah to thank for his freedom.

“Science, man, a real. Mi visit fi win my case,” he said while revealing that he was twice charged with rape and was freed on both occasions.

When asked how he was certain that the “science” worked, the man said he had in fact raped the women.

An 82-year-old pensioner, who gave his name only as James, said he, too, believes that obeah exists, although he has never visited an obeah man.

“Mi say, it real. Right now mi feel sick and mi feel like seh a obeah. Mi head always good and it look like it nuh good again. Mi put down mi things and mi nuh know where fi find it,” he said.

However, James said he would not encourage anyone to work obeah against another person.

“It is not a good thing. I would not work it on anybody at all, but you have people who do it,” he said.

A young man who was among a group, including his sister and cousin at a shop in Port Morant, said he believes in the practice because he grew up with his grandmother who was a well-known obeah woman. His comments were corroborated by his two relatives.

“Mi granny mi grow wid and mi haffi say yes, 'cause a more than one sore foot dem come wid and who fah penis nah rotten off, and all a dem come back on dem foot. Mi granny fix dem,” he said.

The young man said his grandmother, who is now deceased, had a crystal ball which looked like a mirror, and that she could use it to tell people of their future.

According to him, his granny would chant some words and then images would appear on the crystal ball.

“To be honest, it real, but the greatest obeah a dem mouth. How mi see it work is that people talk things against you and a try set you up, but to me, nuh black magic nuh effective like the mouth.

“People quick fi believe seh people a work obeah and believe in necromancy, but it is really what manifest in their thoughts,” another man reasoned.

However, not everyone appeared convinced.

A 78-year-old man who gave his name as Watson in relation to so-called obeah men said, “If him can help you fi get money, why him nuh mek himself rich? Mi wi deal with herbal man 'cause all medicine come from bush.”

He said there was an obeah man in his area and that people used to travel from overseas just to see him. However, he said that he does not believe in obeah because that man could not prevent his own death.

“Him can stop mi from dead, but him cyaan stop himself from dead?” Watson asked.

Another man said: “If mi sick people try drive mi a obeah man fi go look wah do mi, but me a bigger obeah man, so all who a look fi nyam money dem nah nyam mine. People try dem voodoo oil and powder; mi nuh know if it work.”

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