This paper will examine the prosecution of obeah, a form of spiritual healing, in the Anglo-Creole Caribbean. Drawing on systematic research on prosecutions in Jamaica and Trinidad conducted for Paton’s recent book The Cultural Politics of Obeah, the paper shows that prosecutions relied on a triad of forms of evidence relating to objects, rituals, and money, to persuade magistrates to convict people accused of obeah. As a result, the evidence left by obeah trials includes a wealth of detail about the everyday material culture of spiritual healing in the region. At the same time, obeah trials also helped to construct popular understanding of what was and what was not obeah. Healers worked with a range of material both mundane and esoteric, and courtroom decisions often turned on fine decisions about whether a particular object—often something as ordinary as a candle or a bottle of rum–should be identified as an ‘instrument of obeah’. Policemen and magistrates developed personae as specialists in obeah, and their testimony informed the development of later anthropological knowledge of the subject.
More information about Prof. Paton’s work can be found here.