“Superstition is the offspring of ignorance,” the suppression of African spirituality in the British Caribbean, 1650-1834

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University of New Brunswick


This thesis interrogates the suppression of the enslaved spiritual practice, Obeah, through African slavery in the British Caribbean from 1650-1834. Obeah is a syncretic spiritual practice derived from West African religious epistemologies. Practitioners of Obeah invoked the spiritual world for healing, divination, and protection. What is more, under the constant threat of colonial violence, they practiced Obeah for insurrectionary purposes. This thesis reveals and contextualizes the many ways in which Obeah faced cultural suppression at the hands of religious, colonial, and imperial authorities as a means to comply with and respond to sociopolitical conflicts occurring within the British Empire. British writers conceived of Obeah as ‘ignorant’ superstition and used this against Africans as justification for their subjugation by the British empire. Furthermore, this project traces the development of the English concern for Obeah alongside their preexisting conceptions of magic and religion, which influenced the ways in which British colonists confronted African practitioners.