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THE PRATICE OF OBEAH, OR NEGRO WITCHCRAFT— CHARMS-THEIR KNOWLEDGE OF VEGETABLE POISONS-SECRET POISONING.
OBRAH, a pretended sort of witchcraft, arising from a superstitious credulity, prevailing among the negroes, has ever been considered as a most dangerous practice, to suppress which, in our West India colonies, the severest laws have been enacted. The Obeah is considered as a potent and most irresistible spell, withering and paralyzing, by indiscribable terrors and unusual sensations, the devoted victim. One negro who desires to be revenged on another, and is afraid to make an open and manly attack on his adversary, has usually recourse to this practice. Like the witches' cauldron in Macbeth, it is a combination of many strange and ominous things. Earth gathered from a grave, human blood, a piece of wood fastened in the shape of a coffin, the feathers of the carion crow, a snake or alligator's tooth, pieces of egg-shell, and other nameless ingredients,
compose the fatal mixture. The whole of these articles may not be considered as absolutely necessary to complete the charm, but two or three are at least indispensable.*
It will of course be conceived, that the practice of OBEAH can have little effect, unless a negro is conscious that it is practised upon him, or thinks so ;t for, as the whole evil consists in the terrors
*Various etymologies have been suggested for the word obi. Mr. Long, in a paper transmitted several years since, by the agents of Jamaica to the Lords of the Committee of Privy Council, and by the latter subjoined to the report on the slave trade, expresses himself on this subject as follows: "From the learned Mr. Bryant's commentary on the word ОPH, we obtain a very probable etymology of the term; ‘a serpent,' in the Egyptian language, was called Aub or Ob.' 'Obion,' is still the Egyptian name of a serpent.' 'Moses, in the name of God, forbids the Israelites to inquire of the demon Ob, which is translated in our Bible, charmer or wizzard, Divinator aut sorcilegus.' The woman of Endor is called Oub or Ob, translated Pythonissa; and Oubaois (he cites Horus Apollo) was the name of the Basilisk or royal serpent, emblem of the sun, and an ancient oracular deity of Africa. Their etymology, if admitted, connects the modern superstitions of the west of Africa, with the ancient ones of the east of that continent, from which source they have also been spread in Europe. They are humble parts of the great system which is adorned with the fables of Osiris and Isis; and they comprise not only the Obi of Africa, but the witchcraft of our own country. That superstition is every where connected with the worship of the serpent, and with the moon and the cat. Skulls and teeth of cats are among the principal ingredients of the African charms or Obies.
† Mr. Long gives the following account of the furniture
of a superstitious imagination, it is of little consequence whether it be practised or not, if he only imagines that it is. But if the charm fails to take hold of the mind of the proscribed person, another and more certain expedient is resorted to-the secretly ad
of the house of an Obi-woman, or African witch in Jamaica : "The whole inside of the roof, (which was of thatch) and every crevice of the walls were stuck with the implements of her trade, consisting of rags, feathers, bones of cats, and a thousand other articles. Examining further, a large earthen pot or jar, close covered, contained a prodigious quantity of round balls of earth or clay, of various dimensions, large and small, whitened on the outside, and variously compounded, some with hair and rags, or feathers of all sorts, and strongly bound with twine others blended with the upper section of the skulls of cats, or set round with cats' teeth and claws, or with human or dogs' teeth, and some glass beads of different colours. There were also a great many egg-shells filled with a viscous or gummy substance, the qualities of which were neglected to be examined; and many little bags filled with a variety of articles, the particulars of which cannot, at this distance of time, be recollected." Shakespeare and Dryden, have left us poetical accounts of the composition of European Obies or charms, with which, and with more historical descriptions, the above may be compared. The midnight hours of the professors of Obi, are also to be compared with the witches of Europe. Obi, therefore, is the serpent-worship. The Pythoness, at Delphos, was an Obi-woman. With the serpent-worship is joined that of the sun and moon, as the governors of the visible world, and emblems of the male and female nature of the godhead; and to the cat, on account of her nocturnal prowlings, is ascribed a mysterious relationship to the moon. The dog and the wolf, doubtless for the same reason, are similarly circumstanced.
ministering of poison to him. This saves the reputation of the sorceror, and effects the purpose he had in view.
An ОBEAH man or woman (for it is practised by both sexes) is a very dangerous person on a plantation; and the practice of it is made felony by law, punishable with death where poison has been administered, and with transportation where only the charm has been used. But numbers have, and may be swept off, by its infatuation, before the crime is detected; for, strange as it may appear, so much do the negroes stand in awe of those Obeah professors, so much do they dread their malice and their power, that, though knowing the havoc they have made, and are still making, they are afraid to discover them to the whites; and, others perhaps, are in league with them for sinister purposes of mischief and revenge.
A negro, under the infatuation of Obeah, can only be cured of his terrors by being made a Christian : refuse him this boon, and he sinks a martyr to imagined evils. A negro, in short, considers himself as no longer under the influence of this sorcery when he becomes a christian. And instances are known of negroes, who, being reduced by the fatal influence of Obeah to the lowest state of dejection and debility, from which there were little hopes of recovery, have been surprisingly and rapidly restored to health and cheerfulness by being baptized christians. The negroes believe also in apparitions, and stand in great dread of them, conceiving that they forbode death, or some other great evil, to
those whom they visit; in short, that the spirits of the dead come upon the earth to be revenged on those who did them evil when in life. we see, that not only from the remotest antiquity, but even among slaves and barbarians, the belief in supernatural agencies has been a popular creed, not, in fact, confined to any distant race or tribe of people; and, what is still more surprising, there is a singular and most remarkable identity in the notion or conception of their infernal ministry.
In the British West Indies, the negroes of the windward coast are called Mandingoes, a name which is here taken as descriptive of a peculiar race or nation. There seems reason, however, to believe, that a Mandingo or Mandinga-man, is properly the same with an Obi-man. A late traveller in Brazil gives us the following anecdotes of the Mandinga and Mandingueiro of the negroes in that country. "One day," says Mr. Koster, "the old man (a negro named Apollinario) came to me with a face of dismay, to show me a ball of leaves, tied up with a plant called cypo, which he had found under a couple of boards, upon which he slept, in an out-house. The ball was about the size of an apple. I could not imagine what had caused his alarm, until he said that it was Mandinga which had been set for the purpose of killing him; and he bitterly bewailed his fate, that at his age, any one should wish to hasten his death, and to carry him from this world, before our lady thought fit to send him. I knew that two of the black women were at variance, and suspicion fell upon one of them, who was acquainted with the old Mandin