Editorâ€™s note:This is a guest post from Danielle Edwards – a Literature and History student and an aspiring Journalist.
Evil exists, no doubt. But do we sometimes feel so haunted by the threat of evil that we allow our minds and bodies to be controlled by unsubstantiated beliefsâ€¦?
It is rumoured that some Haitians claim the practice of Obeah is more prevalent in Dominica than Haiti! – I must say I would be very surprised if this were to be proven. In a nation of so many Christians, it is necessary to wonder why superstitious beliefs are so rampant, and why they exert such a powerful force on our lives. There must be a reason why people hold on to such beliefs, even when they profess that Christ is in control- or do these beliefs hold on to the people?
Do Superstitious beliefs in the Caribbean exert a sort of mental slavery on our people, the way our colonizers once did, particularly in rural communities- or have WE allowed ourselves to be enslaved by unquestioning belief in irrational myths?
Think of the number of Dominicans who have testified to seeing a â€˜soucouyantâ€™ or â€˜la diablesseâ€™ in the forest, or a â€˜jumbyâ€™ dancing late at night in Roseau. They are not alone- many Jamaicans believe in the â€˜Olâ€™ Higueâ€™ who is fabled â€˜to be a witch or sorceress, who enjoys humans and preys especially on infants.â€™ She bears an uncanny similarity to out local soucouyant. Some Jamaicans also believe that when a person dies, his â€˜earthly spirit remains for three days in the coffin with the body, where it may escape if proper precautions are not taken, and appear as a duppyâ€™, or ghost.
Iâ€™ve heard so many soucouyant stories from persons of all walks of life- from varying backgrounds, degrees of education, communities and ages- that Iâ€™ve come to the conclusion that some of these things really do exist- and Iâ€™m not being sarcastic. How could so many people be wrong? Our grandparents and great aunts and uncles are such keen-sighted people, I would hate to think that NONE of them know what theyâ€™re talking about.
But perhaps this is the root of the problem- that superstitious beliefs have been allowed to seep into all generations- and classes- so they will never die.
Many West Indians, educated and uneducated, acknowledge that legendary folkloric characters, many of whom originated from West Africa, really do exist. Even Bob Marley expressed his belief, in â€˜Duppy Conquerorâ€™. A thrill comes from knowing supernatural creatures exist, and the exciting stories of the deeds of the Obeahmen in numerous rural communities can certainly be magnetic. In fact, any student of the arts ideally should have some level of appreciation for superstition- it makes a fine subject of fantasy for painters and poets, and a great subject for theatre, dance and music.
Superstition has given such vibrancy and colour to our culture: We have been warned to beware of who gets a slice of our wedding cake- because some people allegedly have the power to destroy a marriage before it starts. And to be wary also of the people who hide consecrated bread under their tongues during the Sacrament of the Eucharist. I once heard a tale of a person who placed the names of his enemies in a paper bag with rotten eggs in a coffin at a funeral ceremony. I was even told a story, 9 years ago, of a polling station that mysteriously became filled with candles, all ablaze on the eve of an election- soon after it was dead-bolted. More recently, I have heard stories of people who eat garlic and bathe in jays to keep â€˜soucouyantsâ€™ away. And when youâ€™re about to construct your next house, do not be surprised at the number or Dominicans who may be willing and ready to sprinkle the blood of a dead chicken on your foundation.
I must say these stories and superstitions are all quite interesting, even if some of them are unbelievable. I certainly donâ€™t find them all ridiculous. Like I said, our older and wiser citizens canâ€™t all be at fault. And when it comes to dreams, Iâ€™ve personally found many of them reliable and meaningful.
While superstition is one of the few aspects of our life which is dominated by African heritage, it has made too many of our people vulnerable to mind-control â€“not least by Obeahmen. I donâ€™t think there is a logical explanation for everything in this world, so itâ€™s sometimes necessary to give people the benefit of the doubt. But I think if some of us took the time out to recognize that many of these beliefs are really shackles on our minds, we would be able to learn from our mistakes instead of blaming them on â€˜bad mind peopleâ€™.
And we would realize, ironically, that we have more power over our lives without adhering to superstitious beliefs than when we submit to the Obeahmen who propose they have a remedy for everything.