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Obeah Witches






Category: IN THE CARIBBEAN

Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

From the earliest days of Spanish occupancy the Antilles have been the
haunt of strange creatures. Mermen have sung in their waters, witches
and wizards have perplexed their villages, spirits and fiends have
dwelt among their woods. Everybody fears the jumbie, or evil spirit
that walks the night; and the duppy, the rolling calf, the ghost of
the murdered one; all pray that they may never meet the diablesse,
the beautiful negress with glittering eyes, who passes silently through
fields where people are at work, and smiling on any one of them compels
him to follow her,--where? He never returns. Anansi (grotesquely
disguised sometimes as Aunt Nancy) is a hairy old man with claws,
who outwits the lesser creatures, as Br'er Rabbit does. To him and
his familiars are attributed all manner of queer tales, one of which,
from Jamaica, may be quoted as an illustration:

Sarah Winyan, an orphan of ten, lived with her aunt, while her two
brothers kept house by themselves a mile or two away. This aunt was
an Obeah witch, the duppy, or devil ghost, that was her familiar,
appearing as a great black dog that she called Tiger. Sarah stood
between this old woman and a little property, and after finding that
the child endured her abuse with more or less equanimity and was
not likely to die, she told her that she was too poor to support
her any longer, and she must go. Sarah sat on a stone before the
house, wondering how she could make a living, and all the time sang
mournfully. A racket as of some heavy creature plunging about in the
bushes aroused her with a start and she scrambled into a tree. It was
Tiger who had been making the disturbance. He told her to descend at
once. If she would go with him peacefully, and would be his servant,
all would be well, but if she refused he would gnaw the tree down and
tear her into a thousand pieces. He showed his double row of teeth,
like daggers, whereupon Sarah immediately descended. As she walked
beside him to his lair she sang low, in the hope of being heard
and rescued. It was well that she did so, for her brothers, who were
hunting in the wood, recognized her voice and softly followed. Peering
in at the cave where Tiger made his home, they saw him sleeping
soundly with his head in Sarah's lap. Cautiously, slowly, she drew
away, leaving a block of wood for his head to rest upon, and crept
out of the cavern. Then the boys entered, and with their guns blew
the head of the beast into bits, cut his body into four parts, buried
them at the north, south, east and west edges of the wood; then killed
the wicked aunt. And since that day dogs have been subject to men.

The evil eye is not uncommon in the Antilles. It blights the lives of
children, and it is one of the worst of fates to be "overlooked" by an
Obeah man possessing it. Higes, or witches, too, are seen, who take off
their skins, and in that state of extra-nudity go about looking for
children, whose blood they suck, like vampires. Lockjaw is caused by
this loss of blood. There is a three-footed horse, also, that gallops
about the country roads when it has come freshly out of hell and is
looking for victims it can eat. If it halts before a house, that stop
means death to somebody within, and the peculiar sound made by its
three hoofs tells what has passed. It is not well to look, because
the creature has an eye in the centre of its forehead that flashes
fire. One who meets it is so fascinated by this blazing eye that he
cannot look away. He stares and stares; presently paralysis creeps over
him, and in a little while he falls dead. Sometimes a creature is seen
riding on this horse,--a man with a blue face, like that of a corpse,
and with that face turned toward the tail. Related, in tradition,
to the horse was the king-snake of Carib myth, a frightful creature
that wore a brilliant stone in its head, which it usually concealed
with a lid, like that of the eye, but which it would uncover when it
went to a river to drink, or played about the hills. Whoever looked
on this dazzling stone would lose his sight on the instant.

The Obeah man has an hereditary power that comes to him in advanced
age, and that, when at its strongest, enables him to send an evil
spirit into any object he pleases. Not only do the people believe in
him, but he has the fullest faith in himself. When he boils a witch
broth of scorpions' blood, toads' heads, snake bellies, spider poison,
and certain herbs picked by moonlight (an actual mixture used by
Obeah witches),--boils it over a fire of dead men's bones, between
midnight and dawn,--he has no more doubt of its power to harm than
the physician doubts the power of his quinine and antipyrin for good.

A Cuban planter who suspected one of his older slaves of being an Obeah
man determined to punish him if he were found guilty, and to suppress
the diabolism attending the midnight meetings. Watching his chance,
he followed his slaves into the wood, peeped through the crevices of
the deserted hut which they had entered to perform their fantastic
rites, saw their mad dance, when, stripped and decorated with beads,
shells, and feathers, they leaped about with torches in their hands;
then saw his suspected slave enter through a back door, his black skin
painted to represent a skeleton. The old man held up a fat toad, which,
he said, was his familiar, and the company began to worship it with
grotesque and obscene ceremonies. Though he felt a thrill of disgust
and even a dim sense of fear at the spectacle, the planter broke in at
the door and confronted the Obeah man. Had he ordered the old fellow
to do any given task about his house or grounds in the daytime, that
order would have been obeyed. What was the planter's astonishment,
therefore, when the slave calmly disregarded his command to return
to quarters, and bade his master leave the place at once and cease
to disturb the meeting, or prepare for a great misfortune. Enraged,
and fearing lest this defiance might encourage the other slaves
to mutiny, the master shot the old man dead. A few days later the
planter's wife died while seated at the table. A week after his
daughter died, a seeming victim of poison. All the latent superstition
in his nature having been aroused, he sought out another Obeah man,
to beg that he would intercede with the powers of darkness, but the
wizard was stern. He told him that the slave he had killed was the
most powerful master of spirits in the country, and that nothing
could stay the revenges of fate. When the planter reached his home
he found a letter there announcing the death of his only son in Paris.





Next: The Matanzas Obeah Woman

Previous: The Two Skeletons Of Columbus



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