Who are the Practitioners of Obeah?
—Nathaniel Samuel Murrell
in Afro-Caribbean Religions: An Introduction to Their Historical, Cultural & Sacred Traditions
Obeah was typically practiced by the Maroon, Creoles, Blacks, and Africans (both free and enslaved) in Jamaica initially, but later expanded into all of the Caribbean, and then the newly colonized Americas. While the Obeah-man was a title given to all practitioners of Obeah, keeping in line with its inclusive and resistance-based nature, Obeah was practiced by both men and women, regardless of age, initial social status, or location. For many, the gift of Obeah, that is the ability to have premonitions or be inclined to heal, is hereditary. However, many others believed that with proper training and dedication almost anyone could take on the role as an Obeah-man.Nature vs. nuture were two common approaches to 'creating' and Obeah practitioner.
Obeah-men often took on additional roles in their society, as priests, social clerics, medicine men/doctors, and sages. They were the go-to figures for guidance, whether the problems their solicitors had were health-related, spiritual, or social. They acted almost as informal political figures, tasked with aiding their people through whatever aliments (whether individual or group based) that the people were experiencing. Practitioners of Obeah had extensive knowledge of the healing powers of medicinal plants and they also often had insight into the human psyche; allowing them to support their people with wisdom, and sometimes psychic premonitions, in addition to medical help.
Image of a confiscated Obeah figure from Jamaica, 1887.