The Leeward Islands Obeah Act, passed in 1904, was largely modeled on the Jamaican Obeah Law of 1898. It applied to Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, Nevis, St Kitts, and the British Virgin Islands, and remains the basis of the law in several of these territories.
The Obeah Act,1904, TNA CO 154/12. Images courtesy of The National Archives, UK
An Act to prohibit the practice of certain vulgar frauds commonly known as obeah and other pretended supernatural or occult practices in this Colony.
Be it enacted by the Governor and General Legislative Council of the Leeward Islands as follows :-
1. This Act may for all purposes be cited as “The Obeah Act 1904.”
2. This Act shall come into operation upon such day as the Governor shall name in that behalf by proclamation.
3. The expression “Obeah” means obeah as ordinarily understood and practiced, and includes witchcraft and working or pretending to work by spells or by professed occult or supernatural power.
The expression “instruments of obeah” means anything ordinarily used in the practice of obeah or intended to be so used in such practice, and anything used or intended to be used by a person and pretended by such person to be possessed of any occult or supernatural power.
4. Any person accused of having committed any of the offences hereinafter set forth may, notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, be prosecuted on complaint before a District Magistrate in the manner proscribe by the Magistrates’ Code of Procedure Act, 1891, or any Act or Acts amending the same and shall upon conviction be offences; Provided always that, where any such Magistrate shall impose a term of imprisonment on any person so convicted as aforesaid, such imprisonment may be either with or without hard labour.
5. Wherever whipping shall be ordered for any offence under this Act the number of strokes shall in no case exceed twenty-four, and such whipping shall be carried out subject to the provisions of Leewards Islands Act No. 4 or 1900, intituled, “An Act to limit the number of strokes to be inflicted in case of sentences of flogging.”
6. Any person who pretends or professes to tell fortunes, or uses any subtle craft, means or device, by palmistry or otherwise, or pretends to cure injuries or disease, to intimidate or effect any purpose by means of any charm, incantation or other pretended supernatural practice, shall be liable to be imprisoned for any period not exceeding six months.
7. Every person practising, or in any way concerned in the practice of, obeah or using any subtle craft means or device by obeah or otherwise shall be liable to be imprisoned for any period not exceeding twelve months, and, if a male in addition thereto or in lieu thereof, to whipping.
8. Whosoever, for the purpose of effecting any object, or of bringing about any event, by the use of occult means of any supernatural power or knowledge, consults any person practising obeah shall be liable to a fine not exceeding £50 or to be imprisoned for any period not exceeding twelve months.
9. Wherever it is made to appear on oath that there is reasonable cause to suspect that any person is in possession of any instrument of obeah it shall be lawful for any District Magistrate or Justice of the Peace by warrant under his hand to authorize any member of the Leeward Islands Police Force or any rural constable to enter (and if necessary by force) and search any place, either in the day or in the night, and if any instrument of obeah is found in any place so searched, to seize and secure the same for the purpose of being produced in evidence in any proceeding before any Court of Justice in which the same may be required. And any person who hinders or molests any person acting under the authority of any warrant issued under this Section, shall be liable to pay a fine not exceeding £50 or to be imprisoned for any period not exceeding twelve months.
10. Whenever upon any such search as in the last preceding section mentioned, any instrument of obeah is found the person in whose possession or on whose premises it is found shall be deemed, unless and until the contrary is proved, to be a person practising obeah within the meaning of this Ordinance, at the time when such instrument of obeah was found.
11. It shall be lawful for any member of the Leeward Islands Police Force or any rural constable to arrest without warrant any person practising obeah, or reasonably suspected to be practising obeah.
12. Any person who shall compose, write, print, sell, distribute, publish or circulate any pamphlet or printed or written matter calculated to promote the superstition of obeah shall be guilty of an offence against this Ordinance and shall, on conviction thereof, be liable to pay a fine not exceeding £50 or in default to be imprisoned for any period not exceeding six months.
13. When any person is convicted of any offence against this Act the District Magistrate before whom such person is convicted may, in his discretion, and in addition to any sentence of imprisonment imposed on such person, order and direct that such person shall be subject to the supervision of the Police for a period not exceeding two years commencing immediately after the expiration of the sentence imposed, and such person shall thereupon be subject to the provisions of Sections 7 and 8 of Act No. 4 of 1874, intituled “An Act for the more effectual prevention of crimes.” Provided always that it any such person shall fail to comply with the requisitions imposed by the said Section 8 such person may be tried and, subject to the defence in the said Section referred to, punished for such failure of compliance before a District Magistrate who shall hae full power on conviction to inflict the sentence of imprisonment referred to in the said section 8 of the said Act.
Passed the General Legislative Council the 8th. February 1904.
EDWARD B. JARVIS,
Dated at Antigua the 2nd day of March, 1904, in the fourth year of His Majesty’s reign
[A true copy, signed Edward B. Jarvis]
The Obeah Act,1904, CO 154/12, The National Archives, UK