chapter  6
21 Pages

Fetishes and the Fetishized

Material Culture and Obeah in the British Caribbean
WithVictoria Barnett-Woods

This chapter examines the multifarious and culturally coded receptions of obeah fetish objects from the perspective of colonial law, white creole literature, and from within the slave communities. Perspectives for the colonial law are drawn from various slave codes across the Caribbean (Trinidad, Jamaica, and British Guiana). Examples of white creole literature consider works like Cynric Williams’ Hamel the Obeah Man (1827) and William Earle’s Three-Fingered Jack (1800). References to these objects as technologies of spiritual divination from among the slave communities can be registered through criminal cases against obeah men and women in which slave testimony acknowledges these objects’ importance. An example can be found in the 1819 criminal court case against Hans in British Guiana, who was discovered with multiple fetish objects during his criminal investigation for practicing obeah. In giving detailed focus on the transgressive and simultaneously powerful representations of these objects in slave communities, as well as an examination on how they participated and circulated in the colonial imagination, this chapter helps trace the intersections of the material and spiritual worlds in the long eighteenth-century Atlantic.