Obeah, “spiritual and healing practices developed among enslaved West Africans in the Caribbean” is considered magic and/or demonic through racist doctrine. We disconnect from it because we have internalized the misinformation. This “power to influence the course of events…”, done through prayer, ritual, supplication and worship may receive admiration or condemnation depending on whose “God” is being privileged. This affects testimony, determining which outcome is a ‘curse’ or a ‘miracle’.
Further, we live in a state of cultural and spiritual denial, trying to reason how religion has been co-opted to regulate our identity as Africans. Conversations around spirituality in the Caribbean often resonate around the legacy of enslavement and current issues of race and representation that suggest that the region is in an identity crisis.
It would take a confident faith leader to apologize for the atrocities done in the name of her/his religion and argue for spiritual reparation for the sake of peace. In a United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG) Rethinking Missions Conference held in the UK earlier this year Rev. Winnie Varghese invited leaders to embrace the uncomfortableness, apologise, seek forgiveness and unmake these systems, to “correct the injustices done … undo, create, remake and restore the breech”, for change to occur (Varghese). A necessary step, easy to say, difficult to act on.
Afro-centric and indigenous practices offer options to connect and align with ancient practices in order to seek enlightenment and to fulfill purpose. Indigenous ministries co-ordinator Canon Ginny Doctor encourages Indigenous leaders in Canada to:
- create “a safe, sacred place to heal… before they can become effective and healthy lay leaders.”
- “understand history on national, state or provincial, local and personal levels”, with respect to racism, internalized oppression, internalized white superiority, internalization of inferiority, and counter-acting passive-aggressive behaviours (Ginny).
Similarly, African Spirituality offers:
The awareness of positioning the egotistical materialistic self in a position of prostration before the great divine ancestral wisdom, giving the opportunity, if it so desires, to humble ourselves to the lowest level that it manifests itself through our bodies and into the world as we walk this earthly plane.Ikaivla (The Great Divine Ancestral Wisdom, Barbados Dagara Village)
Beyond talk, ritual work engages participants in acts of inclusion, reconciliation, rehabilitation and transparency.
Decolonization becomes an ongoing creative project that seeks to – undo racism, face errors with humility, reforming and transforming communities
…to restore and regain creation, not numbers … not consensus, not to be competitive or domineering.Varghese
Maybe what lies beneath the surface, ‘bubbling’ with its contexts, clashes, competitions, complexities, complications, contestations, and contradictions is ‘Obeah’.
I, for one, see no conflict in embracing ‘obeah’ holistically. In this framing, regardless of who we attribute our gifts to, we all practice. If we deconstruct our concerns, we may find threads that connects us to our divine selves and celebrate that divinity in the many ways that are open to us. Maybe we can find that “stone that will confound the void”.Kamau, Negus
Culture Clinic is a weekly column crafted by Dr. John Hunte. Photography by Adrian Richards.