This bad business: Obeah, violence, and power in a nineteenth-century British Caribbean slave community Public Deposited

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Last Modified
  • March 22, 2019
Creator
  • Browne, Randy M.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
Abstract
  • This thesis examines the practice of Obeah--an Afro-Caribbean system of healing, harming, and divination through the use of spiritual powers--within two slave communities in Berbice and Demerara (British Guiana). This study is based primarily on legal documents--including testimony from more than a dozen slaves--generated during the criminal trials of two men accused of practicing Obeah in 1819 and 1821-22. In contrast to most previous studies of Obeah, which have been based largely on descriptions provided by British observers, this project takes advantage of this complex, overlapping body of evidence to explore the social dynamics of Obeah as experienced by enslaved men and women themselves, including Obeah practitioners, their clients, and other witnesses. This study reveals that Obeah rituals could be extremely violent, that Obeah practitioners were feared as well as respected among their contemporaries, that the authority of Obeah practitioners was based on demonstrable success, and that slave communities in general were complex social worlds characterized by conflict and division as well as by support and unity--conclusions that combine to produce a fresh, humane vision of Afro-diasporan culture and community under slavery.
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  • In Copyright
Advisor
  • Sweet, John Wood
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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  • Open access
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