Sunday, March 10, 2013

Old Time Obeah or Voodoo Spell

An 18th century poem by James Grainger about the sugar industry and the keeping of slaves, provides a white man’s description of an “Obia” spell used to keep from being struck by “a conjurer’s snake-mark’d staff”:

“Fern root cut small, and tied with many a knot
Old teeth extracted from a white man’s skull;
A lizard skeleton; a serpent’s head;
These mixt with salt, and water from the spring,
Are in a phial pour’d; o’er these the leach [doctor]
Mutters strange jargon, and wild circles forms.
Of this posesst, each negro deems himself
Secure from poison; for to poison they
Are infamously prone: and arm’d with this
Their fable country demons they defy.”

-- James Grainger, The Sugar Cane.

A footnote to the poem elaborates: “The negro-conjurers, or obia men, as they are called, carry about them a staff, which is marked with frogs, snakes &c. The blacks imagine that its blow, if not mortal, will at least occasion long and troublesome disorders.”

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