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Mackinnon about the trouble at the time of the suspension of the Constitution and he said that if the British troops had not been brought in there would certainly have been serious rioting when the suspension came; the police would have been unable to control it. He had, himself, been relieved when the troops arrived. I asked about the threat of arson and the blowing up of key buildings and he said that while he knew of no proof that arson had been planned he knew for certain that caches of gelignite had been dug up at Port Mourant. He was whole-heartedly opposed to the P.P.P. but, like everyone else I had spoken to, he told me that if there were free elections tomorrow the P.P.P. would be elected. They made promises of material improvements, of sewing-machines and refrigerators for everybody, and the mass of the people sincerely believed that if the P.P.P. had continued in power these improvements would have come. When we had done with politics I asked him about Obeah and he told me he had been one of the policemen concerned in an Obeah murder a few years before.

Obeah is the British West Indian equivalent to the Voodoo of Haiti and both have their origin among the Ashanti tribes of West Africa. There are many ingenious explanations of the origin of the word. One, based on the assumption that believers in Obeah are snake-worshippers, traces it to Obion, the Egyptian word for snake, and another to the Biblical Hebrew Ob, meaning wizard or charmer; but there is an Ashanti word Obayifo, also meaning wizard, which must certainly have been the immediate origin of the word. Obeah has always been the aspect of the Ashanti religion concerned with evil and the perpetration of evil acts, and it would be wrong to suppose that it is the survival of a crude, barbaric religion concerned only with Black Magic and mumbo jumbo. The Ashanti faith, called Myalism, was advanced enough to believe that it was absurd to make images of an invisible God, and images were only made of their 'saints', the mediators between man and God. The necessary evil spirit in the pantheon, Sasabonsam, has a position exactly similar to that of the Devil in Christianity, and the Myal priests tried to lead their people away from the clutches of Sasabonsam. But Sasabonsam could be very useful; if you went, at dead of night, to the silk-cotton tree where his spirit lived and put a handful of earth, some twigs or a stone at the

foot of the tree, his evil power would enter them if you prayed to him. The earth could be sprinkled outside the door of someone whom you wished to die, the stone put under a pillow to induce terrible pains in someone who had annoyed you. Certain people, more than others, could induce Sasabonsam to lend them his power, and these were the Obeah-men or Obeahwomen. When a man had been bewitched by Obeah he would have to go to the Myal priests before he could recover. When slaves were first taken to the Caribbean, Myal priests and Obeah-men went with them, but—perhaps because evil and misery now seemed to out-balance goodness and happiness in the slaves' lives-Obeah began to triumph over Myalism. Myalism gradually died out, but now and then there would be hysterical recurrences. In a little book called Jamaica Superstition the Rev. Thomas Banbury describes an outbreak in 1842:

it consisted of hundreds of deluded fanatics. They went by the name of Myal people, they were also called "angel men". They declared that the world was coming to an end; Christ was coming and God had sent them to pull down all the Obeahs1 and catch all the shadows that were spell-bound at the cotton trees. In preparation for these events they affected to be very strict in their conduct. They would neither smoke nor drink. Persons who were known to be notorious for their bad lives were excluded from their society.'

In Black Jamaica (1895) W. P. Livingston says,

'The Obeah man is any negro who gauges the situation and makes it his business to work on the fears of his fellows. He claims the possession of occult authority, and professes to have the power of taking or saving life, of causing or curing disease, of bringing ruin or creating prosperity, of discovering evil-doers or indicating the innocent.'

Obeah exists in British Guiana today among a few old people and some fanatics. It is illegal and action is taken by the police whenever they hear of any Obeah practices or meetings. Until a few years ago no Englishman would dismiss his cook and keep her for the customary month; he preferred to pay her for the month and dismiss her immediately, rather than undergo the possibility of being poisoned with an Obeah powder intended to make him change his mind--perhaps the 'Boss Fix Powder'

1 The fetishes were also called ‘Obeahs'.

which was once advertised by an Obeah doctor.' There is an old Englishman who lives in Georgetown today, whose daughter, many years ago, was seized by Obeah-men, who tore out one of her eyes, impregnated it with the power of Sasabonsam and pinned it under her father's table to prevent him from dismissing one of the parties concerned.

I asked Sergeant Mackinnon to tell me about the last Obeah murder to take place in the Colony-on New Year's Day, 1950. It was a strange story, and when I had an opportunity I looked up the details of the case. During the last months of 1949 a New Amsterdam woman of forty-six, Kathleen Fullerton, learnt that when the Dutch settlers built the town they buried gold money in their gardens, for safety. Kathleen Fullerton became obsessed with the idea that a gold fortune lay buried somewhere in her back-yard. She wanted to get in touch with the spirits of the Dutchmen who had buried it so that they could tell her where to dig, so she went to an Obeah ‘bishop' named Eric Benfield. Benfield's 'reputed wife', Dorothy Brutus, and Kathleen Fullerton's brother, Jeremiah, entered the conspiracy and planned the ceremony of invocation. In Benfield's room the police later found the following strange document in his handwriting.


In case of charms for any one you can get a tabigo of silva or gold and full it with Parchment Paper stateing name of Person and canfao2 with Obya or Spiritualism call, to get money you have to kill a child about 7 or 11 years of age to give the spirit to the ducth3 as a sacrifised to dutch for money. Obya All these are be used 1. Charm oil 2. Musi leaf or musi liquor 3 Jamramien oil 4 White lavinder 5 Black pin canfao with clove 6 Incense Burnt to be Burn into some thing as a little Brass Bole.

ginnie Peper, line, sulfa, armitie-vinigar,
canfa any Bushes all these are false thing.

Benfield and his mistress shared a house with an East Indian and his wife who had a six-year-old daughter named Lilowatee; on the afternoon of New Year's Eve, 1949, Benfield invited her and some other children to a party. None of the children came, but the four members of the conspiracy held a rum party on 1 The other powders were 'Early Life Dust', 'Tying Down Goods' and 'Chasing Away Goods'. 3 i.e. Dutch.

2 i.e. camphor.

their own which developed into a 'Shakers', with all four dancing themselves into a state of frenzy. Then, by candlelight, eggs were ritually broken and water sprinkled. Benfield now seems to have gone to Lilowatee's room and carried her to his own room. Here he raped her and partially strangled her before taking her unconscious body into the yard and throwing it into the deep, open latrine. The medical report said that the actual cause of her death was drowning.

A Shakers' meeting

The four conspirators were brought for trial and scores of depositions were taken by the police. One of them, by Albert King, gives a vivid picture of the organization of modern Obeah, which seems to combine some of the ideas of Myalism:

'In the year 1936–1944 I was a follower of spiritual1 churches, on the East Bank.... In these churches there is a head-man who is called an Elder. At the end of each year... these spiritual churches must give a feast. The feast does be an ordinary feast for the poor, rice and greens does be cooked; no meat nor fish. Then is also higher Sp. churches who make use Black Art Books, six and seven Books of Moses and Rosicrucian Books. When that Church is using such books, the Elder

1 Spiritualist.

calls himself a Bishop or God. Whenever he styles himself as such that means he has left serving the true and righteous God and is serving the Devil. That being so, whenever that Bishop is having a feast he must have a sacrifice; that is to say if he ask his spiritual God Lucifer, the Devil of a human sacrifice. That sacrifice will be a boy or girl between the ages of seven to eleven years. Whenever there is such an offering the Bishop must inform his followers of the sacrifice. Whenever the hour comes for the Bishop to offer his sacrifice this sacrifice is given some stimulant to drink and with other hypnotic powers become stupefied, then is led in a room by the Bishop who will call for the spiritual God Lucifer three times talking in foreign language which no one of his followers can understand. Whenever Lucifer arrives, the sacrificed human, who is still stupefied in the room, will automatically fall to the ground if no one is holding him at the time, and do as if someone is choking him. He or she will be gasping for breath and kicking until death intervenes. The followers at the time will be singing hymns or any song the Bishop asked for. Sometimes later, the Bishop will throw away this offering to some creek or river, where the water wash and falls.'

Three of the four accused of conspiracy to murder Lilowatee were found guilty and hanged. Since the hanging there has been no known case of human sacrifice by the Obeah-men, but only the spread of education will bring the practice of the Black Art to a final end.

Our conversation that night in Father Heal's sitting-room seemed concerned with rather morbid matters. Jimmy Chapman the cook, an excellent raconteur, began to describe an African wake--the preparation of the body and the scenes in the room of the dead-with such vividness that he seemed to transform the whole room into the scene of a wake.

When someone is about to die everyone who is in the house clusters round his bed, and the moment he is dead all begin to shout and cry, the women closest to the 'dead', as the dead body is called, making most noise. Someone goes to ring the churchbell to let everyone know that death has come, and messengers on bicycles are sent to let kinsmen in other villages know, so that they can come to pay respect to the dead. When the first show of grief is over the dead is turned face downwards to allow fluids to drain from him. In the next stage of preparation of the body only men will take part if the dead is a man, and only women if it is a woman. The body is turned on its back, the jaw is tied, the body bathed, and the lower orifices are plugged with a paste made of tobacco leaf, grease and nutmeg; then the paste

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