Legislation

This section presents extracts and transcripts of several Acts and Ordinances passed by different local legislatures within the Anglophone Caribbean against obeah and other spiritual practices deemed dangerous. The first law against obeah was passed in 1760; it is still illegal in many places today. The examples here demonstrate this longevity and highlight trends in how obeah was described and understood by colonial Caribbean authorities, how it was criminalised and the types of penalities to which alleged obeah practitoners were subjected.

For a detailed exploration of legislation passed against Obeah in the Anglophone Caribbean, see the book Enacting Power: The Criminalization of Obeah in the Anglophone Caribbean, 1760-2011 by Jerome S. Handler and Kenneth M. Bilby, published by The University of the West Indies Press in 2013.

Legislation presented here is:

Jamaica’s ‘Act to remedy the evils arising from irregular assemblies of slaves‘, passed in 1760; the first law against obeah.

Grenada’s 1825 Consolidated Slave Law, an example of a ‘slave code’ from the late period of slavery that included a provision against obeah.

Trinidad’s 1868 Summary Convictions Ordinance, one of several post-emancipation laws that included obeah as part of controls on vagrancy.

Jamaica’s 1898 Obeah Law, an influential and long-lasting law.

The Leeward Islands’s 1904 Obeah Act, largely modelled on the Jamaican law of 1898

Jamaica’s 1908 Medical Law. This did not prohibit obeah, but was often used against people who were also prosecuted for obeah.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Shouters Prohibition Ordinance of 1917, used against members of the Spiritual Baptist Faith.

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