Obeah and other Black Powers

So a man comes up to me after a talk hosted by the Windrush Foundation on Obeah Laws in the Caribbean to ask me how come I know so much about ‘dis ting’.  I told him to go home and do a search on Ifa/Orisa.  He had heard the word Orisa before but never Ifa. 

But it’s much deeper than that. Any self-respecting woman, regardless of ethnicity or culture needs to have a sense of her own personal power, her own obeah.  It is crucial to survival and self-preservation in a world that is quick to convince you that you are powerless. 

What was missing from the conversation today is what we know as obeah is really the practices of people trying to make sense of a world that was against them.  For example there was no suggestion of the possible connection between the word ‘obi’ aka bizzy or cola nut which is a central part of healing and divination in Ifa/Orisa belief – in the etymology of the word obeah. 

Just like in Trinidad, people laughed when one man talked about pouring rum at the four corners of a new house, or the experiences of Caribbean people who came to live in England and had to use their knowledge from home to confront the white ghosts they met in the houses here.

I fail to see what is so funny. No Catholic laughs at the suggestion that when you take the eucharist that it does not actually become the body and blood of Christ.
I can’t ever be afraid of the science of my ancestors, that’s part of why I am here today.  As CLR James pointed out in Black Jacobins voodoo was the medium of conspiracy. The idea of a black God still makes a lot of people very frightened. Especially, unfortunately, it terrifies black people.

I might not practice it in the same way but I understand that that body of knowledge is part of a wider corpus of ancient healing knowledge that is far more modern than the simi dimi that sometimes parades as Western medical and scientific knowledge. 

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3 thoughts on “Obeah and other Black Powers

  1. Hi Tilla,

    Nice bumping into you today at the Africa Writes conference. You may want to research the Igbo roots of Obi and Obeah (this Obi, in Igbo). Obi means the heart and as is well known, anyone with a bad heart could harm people while someone with a good heart could heal them. So it is not rare to see some one slap his/her chest during a bacchanal and boast that this Obi, or Obi a, will do something good or bad. W.E.B. Du Bois said somewhere that this is the etymology of Obeah. However, your explanation with reference to Ifa (or what the Igbo call Afa) and Orisa (or Arusi in Igbo) is not far-fetched because the Igbo and the Yoruba are one people and the Yoruba say in Ifa that the father of Oduduwa was Igbo, according to Acholonu, They Lived Before Adam.

  2. Hi Attillah, my family and I were listening to your commentary during the Emancipation Day celebrations on TV today. A blessed Emancipation Day to you. We believe Indians and Africans face many of the same problems in TnT. Like you said this morning, identity should not be boxed in yet many people here still understand only one story of who an African is i.e. can’t be African and also like jazz, be well traveled etc. Similarly many in TnT still have only one idea of who an Indian should be e.g. can’t have an Indian first name and also be well spoken, well educated, in good shape, not an excessive rum drinker etc. One thing we noticed while watching the parade is that there are not as many young people at the Emancipation celebrations as we would have liked to have seen. What do you think needs to be done to get younger people of African descent involved in their history and the culture of their ancestors and participating in these events? Best wishes and we couldn’t find an e-mail for you so we posted here.

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