The Cultural Politics of Obeah
In The Cultural Politics of Obeah: Religion, Colonialism and Modernity in the Caribbean World, historian Diana Paton explores Obeah as an important practice and way of life for the people of Caribbean. Paton dares to take Obeah seriously and recognizes it not as a sign of the Caribbean being uncivilized, but rather a history of the people of that keeps them connected not only to one another, but their ancestors as well. Paton's work was critical to the creation of this exhibit, as it was one of few contemporary examinations of Obeah. Paton's intensive study of the Caribbean spans through the course of the 18th and 19th century, with some reflection on how Obeah is practiced in the modern day. The history of Obeah is not always a clear study, there are signs that it had been practiced years before it was deemed Obeah, and what is, and what is, and is not, Obeah is not always clear either. Despite the "complexity" of Obeah's history Paton manages to clearly outline Obeah, its practice, and its origin, as well as the all of its implications and effects in Caribbean history.
The chapter "The Emergence of Caribbean Spiritual Politics" outlines how the enslaved and later formerly enslaved, understood themselves and one another, as well as their relationships to the colonizers. It is particularly important and unique approach to understanding the social and cultural relationships across the Caribbean. Additionally, the chapter "Creole Slave Society, Obeah, and the Law" was germane to building the Obeah and the Law section, as Paton was able to sort through the messy legalities of Obeah, with particular emphasis on how inconsistent and non-sensical the laws surrounding Obeah often were. Finally, the chapter " Protest, Development, and the Politics of Obeah" was an important look into how Obeah acted not just as a spirituality/religion, but as a tool for the people of the Caribbean to strengthen, unite, and further their position as Caribbean people living in a post-colonized Caribbean world.
Paton's greatest strength is that she understands and portrays Obeah not just as a spiritual or religious practice, and does not limit it by that vantage point. Instead, she understands Obeah and its followers, as being tied up in the complications presented by colonization and the people's separation from Africa and their ancestry as well as its political and social empowerment, despite its legal criminalization and social taboo. The Cultural Politics of Obeah is an invaluable text for anyone concerned with not just Obeah, but Caribbean history in totality.
The Cultural Politics of Obeah by Diana Paton, Cambridge University Press, 2015.