How “Black Magic” Changed The Caribbean

jamaican flag
Graciella Ye’Tsunami
May 21, 2024

Obeah is an Afro-Diasporic spirituality that combines traditional African spiritualities, Caribbean Indigenous wisdom, and Christian teachings reimagined through a Black lens. Obeah practitioners throughout the Caribbean were known for practicing “black magic” as a form of spiritual resistance.

Obeah practitioners used their magic to make enslavers sick and crops die. They even controlled their enslavers by capturing their shadows. Once enslavers realized how powerful Obeah was, Christian missionaries swarmed the Caribbean forcibly converting enslaved people to Christianity. Colonial governments passed laws prohibiting the practice of Obeah.

Anyone suspected of practicing Obeah was punished with fines, imprisonment, and/or hard labor. But because there was such a variety of Obeah practices, many innocent Black people, free and enslaved, were accused. Some people risked their lives to preserve Obeah.

In the 19th century, William Lauron DeLaurence documented Obeah practices. Even after Jamaica became independent in 1962, his books were banned for profiting from superstition and for encouraging antisocial behavior. In 1915, an Obeah practitioner was sentenced to a year in prison for owning copies of DeLaurence’s books and some paraphernalia.

Obeah is still illegal in Jamaica, but widely practiced. Practitioners’ refusal to give up Obeah has forced Jamaica’s government to stop enforcing the colonial-era prohibitions. Hopefully Obeah will soon be decriminalized entirely. Like Obeah practitioners, let’s use our ancestral wisdom as a form of resistance as we fight for abolition and liberation for all Black people.