Many of the laws that made obeah illegal during slavery were part of ‘slave codes’, and expired when slavery ended. However, most colonies replaced them with other means of criminalizing obeah. Some, such as Jamaica, implemented specific laws such as the Obeah Law of 1898, whose sole purpose was to make obeah a crime. Others, such as Trinidad, included obeah as one among many relatively minor activities prohibited by laws against vagrancy, ‘summary convictions’ laws, or ‘small charges’ laws.
Trinidad’s Summary Convictions Ordinance of 1868 made Obeah punishable with whipping and imprisonment (for men), or whipping alone if committed by women. Although the Summary Convictions Ordinance was updated in 1901, 1925, 1941 and 1950, the clauses relating to obeah remained nearly identical throughout this period. The anti-obeah clauses were removed from the law in 2000.
Extracts from the Ordinance
An Ordinance Enacted by the Governor of Trinidad with the Advice and Consent of the Legislative Council thereof, for rendering certain Offences punishable on Summary Conviction.
1. The following Words and Expressions in this Ordinance shall have the Meaning hereby assigned to them unless there be something in the Subject or Context repugnant to such Construction; that is to say:-
The word ‘Obeah’ shall signify every pretended Assumption of supernatural Power or Knowledge whatever, for fraudulent or illicit Purposes, or for Gain, or for the Injury of any Person. …
XXX. Every Person who by the Practice of Obeah or by any occult Means or by any Assumption of supernatural Power or Knowledge shall intimidate or attempt to intimidate any Person or shall obtain or endeavor to obtain any Chattel, Money or valuable Security from any other Person, or shall pretend to discover any lost or stolen Goods or the Person who stole the same, or to inflict any Disease, Loss, Damage or personal Injury to or upon any other Person or to restore any other Person to Health, and every Person who shall procure, counsel, induce or persuade, or endeavour to persuade any other Person to commit any such Offence, shall on Conviction before any Stipendiary Justice, be imprisoned with or without hard Labor for any Term not exceeding Six Months, and if a Male may be once privately whipped during the Continuance of such Imprisonment, and if a Female may during such Imprisonment be kept in solitary Confinement not exceeding three Days at any one Time, and not exceeding one Month in the Whole, as such Justice shall direct
XXXI. If it shall be shewn, upon the Oath of a credible Witness, that there is reasonable Cause to suspect that any Person is in Possession of any Article or Thing used by him in the Practice of Obeah or Witchcraft, it shall be lawful for any Justice of the Peace, by Warrant under his Hand, to cause any Place whatsoever belonging to or under the Control of such Person to be searched either in the Day or in the Night, and if any such Article shall be found in any Place so searched to cause the same to be seized and brought before him or some other Justice of the Peace, who shall cause the same to be secured for the Purpose of being produced in Evidence in any Case in which it may be required.
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