When I was a child my mother, Olga, used to tell me that her family practiced witchcraft (Obeah) in Jamaica, but I didn’t believe her. Being a good Catholic girl, I didn’t countenance such ‘mumbo jumbo’!
After Emancipation in 1834 the Government made Obeah illegal and it was hoped that it would be wiped out – but it just continued in secret, pretty much like when my mother was living in Jamaica in the 1920s and 1930s, and probably still continues today. It’s deep rooted in the black and coloured Jamaican’s heritage and culture and even though you might come across a family that is both Christian and well educated, the likelihood is that someone in it will be dabbling in Obeah, like my family!
Olga’s Diary (Continued from “Sydney and the Cook“)
She’s put a spell on him: Later Mammie told us why Sydney had stormed out of the house when he told us he was going to live with Aggie Burns. He called Mammie a hypocrite and said it was ok for her to live with a black man and cause huge misery and pain, not only for her parents, but also her sisters and children, of course, he meant Vivie and Aunt Martha.
Mammie replied that at least she and Pops had got married and anyway she didn’t think Aggie was the right person for him.
Sydney was in such a rage, Mammie said she was too frightened to say anything more to him. She told us that Sydney had been right about her objections to Aggie Burns because she was black.
“I experienced such hatred from people I never dreamt could behave in such an ugly manner and I don’t want any of my children to go through the treatment I received nor do I want Sydney’s children turning on him one day because of their colour.
“We’re not all prejudice like some of the others” dear Pearl told Mammie.
But Mammie’s convinced that Aggie Burns has put a spell on Sydney to make him fall in love with her. That’s the only explanation she says.
“Why else would he choose a short, fat, ugly black woman who practises voodoo.
“I’m going to turn the tables on Aggie Burns”.
“Olga, get Cassie. We’re going to see Annie Harvey.”
She’s the woman we go to for herbal remedies sometimes when we were ill. Well, as everyone knows, she also practises Obeah and Mammie wants Annie to work Obeah on Sydney to make him come home.
But I was worried about us going there because the punishment for practising Obeah is very harsh if you are caught by the police. It can be 20 lashes and a prison sentence of six months, with hard labour, if you are found guilty and even if you’re a woman.
I tried to talk Mammie out of it, but she was determined to go.
Annie Harvey makes quite an impression and is still a very striking woman in her white turban and red cloak. I was surprised when I saw her house, it’s rather nice, with a little white fence and pretty flowers in the garden. The sort of house I’d like myself one day. Anyway, Annie took us out to a shack in the backyard. Inside it was dark, and it took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust before I could see properly. You couldn’t see a single bit of the ceiling because there were dried herbs hanging from it everywhere.
There were wooden shelves on one side of the room with different sized coloured bottles and some were full of liquid, but others only half full. I recognised some zinc powder and ingredients for making a “medicine bath” and poultices. There was also a tin of Epsom salts sitting on one of the shelves, which I thought strange, because we have that at home.
There was another shelf with some pimento leaves and pieces of logwood bark, bird feathers, broken egg shells and some ashes. Cassie told me later she saw a chicken’s foot and a lizard’s tail.
Mammie explained to Annie Harvey that she wanted Sydney to return to the family. He had deserted us in favour of a bad woman who was a danger to him.
“We wanted to protect him from this evil woman who has cast a spell on him and taken him away from us” said Mammie to Annie.
Annie Harvey left the shack for a minute and when she returned she was holding a bunch of green leaves which she put into a wooden bowl and with a small piece of wood, rounded at the end; then she pounded the leaves together until they turned into a thick green paste.
Then she sprinkled some ashes into the paste and from a small blue bottle around her neck she sprinkled just two drops of a dark brown liquid into the mixture and then mixed it up again. Each time she mixed the paste she talked in a strange language that none of us had heard before. She covered the paste with some muslin cloth and then wrapped it in brown paper and tied it up with string and told Mammie to put it in Sydney’s food and he would come home.
On the way home, Mammie said we were going to stop at the Holy Trinity Cathedral to offer prayers to Jesus to pray for Sydney’s return and when I asked why after having just come from the balm yard, she said she was covering all options.
When we got home Mammie said she was sure Cassie would tell Aggie Burns that she had been to Annie Harvey’s balm yard and worked Obeah on him.
“It won’t be long before Sydney comes homes, but, in the meantime, Olga, you’re going to have to put the paste into Sydney’s food.”. I knew it.
When Annie Harvey gave Mammie the paste, I thought to myself, guess who’s going to have to do that little job Olga”.
“I can’t do it, I’ll get caught” I told her.
“Choose your time, when he’s out, make a nice sandwich for him, his favourite, pork with apple and ginger. Spread the paste in between the slices of meat or mix it in with the apples.
“You can do it Olga”.
“Mammie, if he catches me I’ll get a whipping”
“If he catches you, I’ll tell him it’s my fault. Please Olga, we need him”.
So I agreed to do it and, lady luck was on my side.
Sydney was expecting a shipment of bicycles to arrive from London the next day and fortunately for me the paper work was not in order, so he had to spend hours down on the docks sorting it out so by the time he got back to the shop he was ravenously hungry. I produced the sandwiches each filled with thick juicy pieces of pork, sliced apple, ginger and the paste and he just gobbled the sandwiches and, obviously, never tasted anything unusual.
Mammie was so happy when I told her. Oh I do hope it works, with all our wages going into the household pot, we have hardly anything to spend on ourselves and Sydney has a whole heap of money, tons of it, he’s just being nasty by making us suffer.
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